COMMUNITY groups, businesses and islanders have today called on the Scottish Government to "stop dithering" and buy an environmentally-friendly catamaran to curb congestion on the ferry route to and from Mull and Iona.

The groups have uncovered a vessel on the market for around 10% of the £100m being paid for each of the partially completed dual-fuel ferries being built in Port Glasgow.

The Craignure to Oban ferry route that serves Mull and Iona is said to be the most congested service in the entire CalMac network.

But the Scottish Government-owned procuring and ferry owning company, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) said it was not currently a viable option as there were problems with establishing whether the Indonesia-built catamaran complies with regulations that would allow it to get a passenger certificate.

The call from the communities of Mull and Iona has come in a letter to islands minister Paul Wheelhouse.

Among those lodging the protest is the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee who carried out after an analysis of passengers levels in 2018/19 raised concerns that ferries on all major routes in Scotland are already currently too large for the number of passengers and are are overstaffed.

They say that the the catamaran is due to be finished in the spring and that the designer was confident that with some modifications at a cost of just £2m, it would be a "very good fit".

READ MORE: Anger as Scotland's ferry fleet deemed too 'big for islands and a taxpayer burden'

The Ferguson Marine shipyard in Port Glasgow which was awarded a £97 million contract to build two ferries, designated 801 and 802, collapsed into administration last August and was taken into state ownership by the Scottish Government. The cost of the ferries has since doubled.

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Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull & Iona Ferry Committee, said CMAL had an "excellent and immediate opportunity right now to bring a much needed new vessel – which is already built - into the fleet, and satisfy the task they were given by the Scottish Government to buy from the used market as soon as they can".

“Progress has been torturously slow and for some reason they seem unwilling to take this opportunity that could have such a positive impact for our ferry operator and for our islands," he said.

“This ferry can fit our piers, it can cope with our seas, it can carry all the cars and people necessary – in short, it can do exactly what CalMac and the islands need of it. Despite it being an excellent option, CMAL is in danger of letting the islands down by not acting quickly enough and there is a real risk now that this boat will be sold elsewhere as CMAL dithers and delays.”

The two lifeline ferries being build at Ferguson Marine which were due to be in service in early 2018 are now up to nearly five years behind schedule.

The first of the ferries the MV Glen Sannox is now destined for the Arran to Ardrossan route between April 2022 and June, 2022.

Pre-lockdown the already delayed timetable had the Glen Sannox in action by October to December, 2021. A second vessel, known only as Hull 802, which was supposed to be delivered to state-owned CalMac in the first half of 2018 for use on the Uig-Lochmaddy-Tarbert triangle - will not now be in service until between December, 2022 and February, 2023.

The committee said that CalMac’s ferry fleet is "stretched to breaking point", with more breakdowns and congestion every passing year with the "dire situation" accelerated by the ferry delay "fiasco".

It said that the delay with the two ferries is being felt across the entire Hebrides, but no more so than on Mull.

Sandy Brunton, convenor of the Mull and Iona Community Trust said it was a clear test of whether the needs and views of island communities are being listened to or not "an instruct CMAL to complete the purchase".

The MIFC supported by community councils, community trusts, councillors and other island groups have told Mr Wheelhouse to make a firm and early decision to buy the ferry currently on offer saying they are only asking him to complete on a promise repeated many times.

The ferry the is a catamaran, similar in design to the MV Alfred owned by Pentland Ferries and operating to and from Orkney It ferry committee said it is widely appreciated by Orcadians for its reliability in poor weather, and by the ferry company for its low running costs.

Dubbed the most environmentally-friendly ferry service of its kind in Scotland, it is said to burn one third of the fuel of an equivalent CalMac ferry with space for up to 430 passengers and 98 cars, or 54 cars and 12 articulated vehicles/coaches. A shore-based wind turbine provides power when the vessel is docked overnight.

According to Finlay MacDonald, vice chairman of the MIFC: “This ferry could transform our service to the mainland. Not just because it would increase capacity, but thanks to it’s shorter and lower proportions, it would be able to berth overnight on Mull, year round. This is something our 32-year-old ferry (MV Isle of Mull) has never been able to do, and as a consequence our timetable is restricted by the need for the ferry to retreat to Oban every night. We’re the only major island in the Hebrides where that is the case. This ferry would massively improve our connectivity, and do so very economically.”

Orcadian catamaran expert Professor Alf Baird added: “Catamarans are far simpler than the typical over-complicated CalMac vessel. They’re cheaper to build, cheaper to run, and the choice of progressive cost-conscious commercial ferry operators across the world. Eight such ferries could have been bought for the price of either of the hulks still languishing on the Clyde. Plenty of money is being spent on the Scottish state ferry system – it’s just being spent badly.”

A CMAL spokesman said: “The catamaran in question is being built in Indonesia; it has been designed and is being built primarily to operate on Pacific Island routes. "We have engaged significantly with the seller of this vessel over many months and have requested, on several occasions, full details of its compliance with UK Flag State regulations. "All our vessels must comply with UK Flag State regulations to secure a passenger certificate.

"From our investigations, it is clear the vessel would require significant modification to meet the Flag State standards. To date, the seller has been unable to provide assurances on meeting these. Until the standards are met, the vessel remains non-compliant and is not currently a viable option.

“We will continue to explore all viable solutions in the second hand ferry market, having considered more than 100 candidate ferries throughout 2020.”

A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “We are aware of this vessel and have been engaging with the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee on this matter.

"CMAL, as the prospective buyer, has been engaging with the vessel sellers. We are keen both parties work together to resolve technical, regulatory and commercial matters and we are following progress closely."