THE quango that gave the go-ahead to a disastrous ferry contract has denied it holds any responsibility for the fiasco.

Bosses at Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) insisted they did nothing wrong and blamed “new management” at Ferguson Marine shipyard.

They accused billionaire Jim McColl, whose Clyde Blowers empire owned the yard, of giving “disingenuous” evidence to an ongoing Holyrood inquiry.

And they said the yard’s bosses had been “designing as they went along" – leading to “many mistakes that have to be rectified".

Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow was handed a £97 million contract to build two new CalMac ferries in 2015.

But delays and disputes have seen the total cost spiral to around £250m, while the vessels will be around four years late.

The calamitous contract eventually saw Ferguson fall into administration before it was nationalised last year.

Holyrood's Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee is now probing how the contract went so badly wrong.

CMAL is a Scottish Government-owned firm that procures ferries for use by operator CalMac.

James Anderson, director of vessels at CMAL, said the quango made Transport Scotland aware of its concerns as early as March 2016.

He told the inquiry he had no regrets over handing Ferguson the contract ahead of five other bidders, adding: “Something went wrong after we signed the contract.”

He said: “This was a failure of management, of new management.”

Mr Anderson also rejected any suggestion it was CMAL’s responsibility, adding: “We’re just going about our normal business, which we’re highly skilled in, and we’ve delivered.”

Earlier, he told MSPs the ships were “standard engineering”, but said workers had been asked to start building the vessels before designs were finalised.

In written evidence, CMAL said the vessel “superstructures” were initially supposed to have been fabricated off-site and shipped to the yard by barge, but that methodology was not ultimately followed.

Mr Anderson said: “The yard go ahead, they send out the drawings, as was reported in an early evidence session by the workforce.

“The workforce were even telling the shipyard, the bosses, ‘This isn’t right.’ And what were they told? ‘Crack on.’ That was it."

He later told MSPs: “I find it really just incredible that we’re even having this conversation – how these people behaved.”

Mr Anderson earlier took aim at managers in the yard, as opposed to the owners.

He said: “These people have already been mentioned. The word ‘bullying’ came up at one of the other sessions.”

He said Ferguson Marine had insisted everything was fine up until mid-2017.

It then made a claim for an extra £17 million “out of nowhere”.

Mr Anderson said: “I’ll never, ever forget that meeting, for a long, long time, when me and my projects director went in with someone we had never met before from the parent company, the CEO, the project manager, and the chief naval architect.

“The project manager and the chief naval architect couldn’t even look at us. They couldn’t even look at us, because they knew what was coming.

“They couldn’t even look me in the eye because they didn’t believe it themselves. They knew it wasn’t to be true.”

Kevin Hobbs, chief executive officer of CMAL, said bosses at Ferguson were “designing as they went along”, and accused them of “not being truthful”.

He said: “They were sending drawings out on to the shipyard floor, for construction, without sign-off by us…and that is a major part of the failure.

“That then means that the blocks and ultimately the vessel has many mistakes that have to be rectified."

Mr Hobbs rejected claims from Mr McColl that the price of the two vessels was announced by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon prior to the agreement of that figure by the shipyard.

He said: “The chronology of that is not correct.”

He added: “We had the final negotiated stamped payment schedule, which you have access to, which came in on August 27.

“The First Minister announced it on August 31.

“Obviously you’ve listened to evidence from other people, and I think quite a lot of that evidence is disingenuous.”

He said the £17m claim was "a work of fiction".

Elsewhere, he said £30 million of public money was paid out for work that was never completed.

In written evidence to the Holyrood inquiry, CMAL previously said Ferguson Marine had "insufficient manpower" and ran out of money because it started building the vessels before their design was finalised.

Mr McColl, a member of Ms Sturgeon's Council of Economic Advisers, has claimed he was "shafted" by the Scottish Government and called for a full public inquiry.

The two new dual-fuel CalMac ferries at the centre of the controversy are earmarked for Arran and the Hebrides.