A FERRY service to the Western Isles will cost t a x p ay er s at le a st £67 million by 2022 – but bankers will still own the 700-passenger ship.

The MV Loch Seaforth was leased by ferry operator CalMac from banking giant Lloyds in 2014 and transport chiefs kept details of the taxpayer-funded deal secret.

The eight-year lease will cost around £ 36 million on top of £31m spent on upgrading harbours to accommodate the boat.

The deal struck with Lloyds does not allow CalMac to buy the vessel in 2022 and it is understood the terms of the contract also mean the ship has to be returned “as new”.

This means that in less than four years’ time the ferry operator will need to negotiate a new lease or find a replacement vessel for the Stornoway to Ullapool route.

The £ 42m MV Loch Seaforth broke down earlier this month halfway to Stornoway, leaving 343 passengers and crew stranded for hours before power was partially restored.

Transport consultant Roy Pedersen, a retired SNP councillor and serving member of the Scottish Government’s Expert Ferry Group, said: “Since its formation, Caledonian MacBrayne has always been secretive about its costs and we deserve a lot more openness about this deal. We know from the leasing deal for the NorthLink ferries (which serve the Northern Isles) that the bank involved there, RBS, did very well out of that so it would not be surprising to see Lloyds cashing in as well.”

The 380ft Stornoway to Ullapool ferry came into service in 2014.

Islanders say their requests for a two- ferry service were ignored as a single, privately- financed ferry was ordered.

Lloyds Bank now owns the ship and leases it to the Caledonian Maritime Assets ( CMAL), who manage the ferries.

CMAL is owned by the Scottish Government and in turn leases the vessel to publicly- owned operator Calmac.

Professor Alf Baird, a member of the Scottish Government’s expert ferry group, said: “We seem incapable of making sensible decisions when it comes to the public procurement of ferries.”