SCOTLAND's richest man has revealed plans to resume the construction of ocean-going commercial ships on the Clyde.

In a dramatic statement of confidence in what was once thought a dying industry, billionaire Jim McColl has mooted a take-over of Britain's largest dry dock "to make big boats".

The entrepreneur has already scouted the 1000ft-long Inchgreen dock in Greenock as he looks to expand capacity beyond the Ferguson Marine, the smaller yard at nearby Port Glasgow which he saved from bankruptcy last year.

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Mr McColl said that just nine months after rescuing Ferguson, he was already getting "requests" to build ships bigger than those his yard can currently handle.

He stressed that he was looking at building a "broader range of ships" than the ferries that Ferguson has focused on in recent years, including military vessels and ocean-going commercial carriers.

His interest in Inchgreen – which has just been put on the market for a lease by its owners Peel Ports – comes after BAE Systems signalled that it would keep its yard at Govan in Glasgow.

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Mr McColl said: "We are investing quite a bit in Ferguson to up our capacity. We are getting in the position to build four ships a year, six at a push.

"With the modifications we are making, we could make a vessel of 150 metres, even slightly bigger. That is the size of a ferry that would go from, say, Edinburgh to Zeebrugge, an ocean-going ship.

"Before we did this work, 100 metres was the maximum."

"We are bidding a broader range of ships just now, not just ferries.

"We have been inundated with proposals for vessels we can make at Ferguson.

"But there are other requests we are getting we would probably need additional capacity for.

"We would be looking to expand if we could. Govan would have been a good site to look at, if the yard had been vacant.

"We have looked at Inchgreen, the dry dock. It is a fantastic, fabulous facility, one of the biggest in Europe."

Mr McColl, who splits his time between Monaco and Glasgow, confirmed he had personally scouted the 31-acre Greenock site.

Inchgreen, designed to repair ships as big as the first Queen Mary, was opened in the early 1960s at the cost of more than £4m, half of the money provided by the UK government.

In today's money, its pricetag would be nearly £90m.

Mr McColl said: "Nobody could afford to build a dry dock like that any more. It still has its heavy cranes but, of course, would need investment."

It is not clear how much Mr McColl or other investors would have to put in to Inchgreen to make it competitive with high-end yards in Germany or Norway.

He raised the possibility of leasing it for short periods if Ferguson won orders for ships just a bit too big for its current yard.

The Inverclyde dock, was part of Scott Lithgow, the Greenock shipbuilding giant which also eventually owned Ferguson Marine.

It is currently rarely used, leased for brief periods to carry out repairs.

Owners Peel Ports, which bought out the old Clydeport, are looking to lease site, with a clear emphasis on its potential for "ship repair and marine construction", rather than the "yuppy flats" that other parts of Inverclyde's waterfront have been used for.

Mr McColl, meanwhile, hinted he would be interested in offering BAE Systems competition for defence contracts. He said: "The British government will want to keep buying military ships in the UK.

"With what we are doing, we could start getting in to military ships. A bit of competition would not be bad for BAE Systems."

BAE Systems has dropped plans for a £200m frigate factory at Scotstoun, a state-of-the-art facility that would have allowed them to free up Govan for other use.

Instead, the company has pursued what its own managers called a "sub-optimal" solution of assembling a new generation of frigates across both yards.

BAE Systems took over the Govan yard from Kvaerner, which had made commercial bulk carriers, the last large Clyde-built commercial ships.