OWNERS of a ferry that is being considered for use in an emergency to deal with Scotland's ferry breakdown crisis has denied that it is unsafe.

Andrew Banks, head of Pentland Ferries spoke out as unions raised safety concerns over his MV Pentalina catamaran which the Scottish Government is considering for charter on CalMac routes.

Scottish Government's Transport Scotland agency says it is continuing to consider the suitability of Pentalina, which can hold 58 cars and 350 passengers.

Ferry bosses inquired about chartering Pentalina on March 26 - nearly three weeks before the engine failure of CalMac's biggest vessel, MV Loch Seaforth,  which caused seven weeks of chaos across Scotland's lifeline ferry network.

READ MORE: Four support boats drafted in eight days to resolve latest CalMac lifeline ferry 'chaos'

Some 16 of state-owned ferry operator CalMac's 31 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.

The oldest in the CalMac fleet is is the Isle of Cumbrae which is 45-year-old and is still a regular summer ferry on Argyll and Bute's Tarbert to Portavadie route.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said that the Pentalina has been laid up in Kirkwall since November 2020 and we that the union was "very concerned that crew and passenger safety could be threatened by the chartering of an inappropriate vessel... as well as leaving the taxpayer with a significant dry dock bill".

The Herald:

He added “Specifically, we understand from former crew members that the MV Pentalina, a catamaran, has undergone significant alterations to its aluminium superstructure which make it inappropriate for CalMac routes. Those structural alterations may also have rendered the vessel unsafe to operate commercially.

“My members working on CalMac Ferries are very concerned at the impact on maritime safety and their terms and conditions of employment from the possible introduction of the Pentalina on routes. I would, therefore, be very grateful for an urgent update from MCA [Maritime and Coastguard Agency] surveyors on the structural integrity of the MV Pentalina, when a survey was last conducted, what the results were and the details of any structural alterations to the Pentalina which have been reported to the MCA since 2015.”

Mr Banks replied: "The MV Pentalina has held a Maritime Coastguard Agency (MCA) approved Passenger Ship Safety Certificate and has been Lloyds Register classed since going into service in 2009. The vessel has undergone regular surveys and inspections by both authorities in this time, with the most recent survey in March of this year, when she was re-issued with a full Passenger Ship Safety Certificate.”

Campaigners have been appealing for the chartering of the vessel as an emergency back-up before because of a series of breakdowns to CalMac's ageing fleet.

On Tuesday, CalMac had to bring in a ferry to deal with a backlog of passengers, vehicles and vital freight following problems with access to two islands and after repairs to one of Scotland's oldest publicly owned lifeline vessel.

It is the fourth time and the third vessel that has needed to be enlisted by CalMac in the past eight days due to faults with one of its ferries and because of problems with the pier infrastructure on two of Scotland's islands.

There have had to be three charters from private companies.

READ MORE: And the 'farce' goes on - Anger over more CalMac chaos as two island ferries are hit by 'issues'

The CalMac relief vessel MV Loch Bhrusda was brought in on Tuesday for the island of Eigg to deal with booked vehicles, passengers and freight yesterday - two days after the 21-year-old MV Lochnevis returned to full operation after completing two rounds of repairs.

Issues with the vessel have combined with problems with getting the ferry to dock at the piers on islands of Eigg and Muck due to what CalMac described as "infrastructure" issues.

Issues with the ferry network have come off the back of the country's ferry building fiasco with two lifeline vessels being built at nationalised Ferguson Marine, owner of the last civilian Clyde shipyard. They were due to be in service in early 2018, are now up to nearly five years behind schedule and their is now over double the original £97m contract.

The first of the ferries the MV Glen Sannox is now destined for the Arran to Ardrossan route - Scotland's busiest ferry crossing - between April 2022 and June, 2022.

Ferguson Marine, led by tycoon Jim McColl went into administration in August, 2019 following a dispute with Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) - the taxpayer-funded company which buys and leases publicly owned CalMac's ships on behalf of the Scottish government - over the construction of the ferries under the fixed price contract.

The Scottish Government pushed ahead to take full control of of the shipyard company as it went under with blame attached to soaring costs of the ferry contract.

Transport Scotland said that any vessel operating in the network needs to ensure it receives certification from the MCA and CalMac would have to ensure Pentland ferries have this in place.

A spokesman said: "The Minister for Transport recently held a constructive meeting with local elected representatives where he heard directly of the specific issues and challenges faced by their constituencies. The MSPs welcomed the early meeting and took confidence that the Minister understands and is taking these matters very seriously. They agreed to continue this important dialogue as Government addresses the key issues facing the ferries network.

The Pentalina was being offered by ship brokers in the summer of last year

“We recognise communities’ frustration at the current disruption and the impact it is having. We are doing everything that we can, supporting Calmac to maximise available capacity across the network and to ensure the timely resolution of these issues.

“We are also delivering new tonnage to support our communities and working with CMAL, Calmac, MSPs, community representatives and others to develop investment programmes for major vessels and small vessels - investing at least £580 million over the next five years.

“In relation to short term issues, we are actively exploring opportunities for chartering additional tonnage, including consideration of the suitability of the MV Pentalina and looking at other credible, affordable and viable options to improve resilience.”

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “We have said many times that we would welcome any additional vessel on our network as long as it was safe and suitable. There are detailed processes and checks in place through the Maritime Coastguard Agency as well as Lloyds Register to ensure that safety and suitability is in place. We continue to work with Transport Scotland to look at the possibility of the MV Pentalina being brought onto our routes and discussions are ongoing."