Scottish Government-owned CalMac is planning for the future 'on an assumption' neither vessels at the centre of Scotland's ferry fiasco will be in service in the winter of 2025.

The Herald understands that the ferry operator is already making preparations for the 2024/25 winter timetable without Glen Sannox - the first of the vessels that were due to be delivered by nationalised Ferguson Marine.

The latest in a long series of rescheduled delivery dates had Glen Sannox due to be delivered in March, 2024 but there have been doubts over whether that schedule will be met with Ferguson Marine chief executive David Tydeman saying it will "depend" on how well vessel trials progress. The second vessel, Glen Rosa was due in May, 2025.

It is said that once handed over there will be a two month period where they will carry out crew familiarisation and network trials.

After a summer update, CalMac had expected Glen Sannox to be handed over in December 2023, and Glen Rosa in December 2024. Both are scheduled to operate on services to and from Arran.

READ MORE: Ferguson Marine: Public cost of ferry fiasco firm at nearly £600m

This made Glen Sannox over six years late as it was originally due at the end of 2017, whilst Glen Rosa would be more than seven years late as Transport Scotland once said it would be delivered ‘some months after’ the first vessel.

The Herald: Glen Sannox Ferguson Marine, Port Glasgow.

Now the Herald understands that CalMac is having to make its plans without Glen Sannox because there is no definite confirmation over when it will join the fleet.

It is understood that the timetables would be reconfigured once Glen Sannox is actually delivered.

It is treating the delayed ferries in the same way as the stricken MV Hebrides, which was sidelined for the best part of ten months due to engine problems and only returned last month.

There are concerns that CalMac does not yet have enough confidence in delivery dates given by Ferguson Marine nor her fitness for service to schedule her into into timetables.

READ MORE: ScotGov warned of ferry privatisation threat after decision 'fudge'

Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee said that CalMac was clearly using the working assumption that the Glen Sannox will not be in service next winter.

He said that while it does not necessarily mean that it will not be available in winter - the situation shows that CalMac is not confident in Glen Sannox's fitness for service to consider scheduling her into future service.

He said: "It says a lot about CalMac’s confidence in the delivery of Glen Sannox that they daren’t make any timetable changes that could take advantage of her, some six months after she is due to be finally delivered. From their perspective, it's reasonable that they don’t want to commit to anything they might not be able to deliver. But what an indictment of their confidence.

"The benefit of these new ferries is supposed to be felt across the network, by freeing up ferries that can work elsewhere."

In Mull, the hope was that they would get the MV Isle of Mull back into permanent service on their main route, one of the busiest in the Clyde and Hebrides lifeline service, to Craignure.

"For much of the winter we are reliant on the slow and small Loch Frisa, that CalMac acknowledge is not up to the job," said Mr Reade. "She has to have the Isle of Mull alongside her, but until the Glen Sannox arrives that’s not possible.

The Herald:

"We just have to cross our fingers that the Glen Sannox is working and reliable by October next year, and that they will then be able to move ferries around. A third winter where CalMac attempt to deliver a service for long periods to Mull with just the Loch Frisa will be untenable."

CalMac confirmed that it was in consultation with stakeholders for the 2024/25 timetable and that it was "standard practice" to plan for what they know is available.

It said it is better to add ferries in afterwards when available than to cancel sailings later on and a similar approach was taken with the stricken MV Hebridean Isles when it was unavailable.

Questions were raised about whether MV Hebridean Isles, which is one of CalMac's oldest vessels, would return after it was sidelined at the end of 2022.

The 38-year-old ship is the second oldest of CalMac's large vessels and some feared it might be scrapped.

Unsuccessful attempts had been made to fix its problems at Greenock, Ayr, Troon and Birkenhead before the ship went into dry dock in Aberdeen in August.

But it finally made a return at the end of October.

The winter timetables launched in mid-September were planned without the vessel which CalMac says is normally the "backbone" of the relief programme during the annual overhaul of the fleet. They said at that point there were "ongoing investigations and uncertainty" over the vessel.

The costs of the two ferries being built at the Ferguson shipyard have risen again after regulators ordered safety changes.

Completing Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa will now cost at least an extra £21m and an additional £30m is needed to cover contingency contingency issues that may arise, particularly during the sea trials that need to take place before final handover over the ferries.

The extra month is subject to due diligence by the Scottish Government although it is widely expected that ministers will not pull the plug on the finance.

Ferguson chief executive David Tydeman has said the yard has continued to face "design gaps, associated re-work and surprises".

He believes this is due to errors made in the past, both before and after the Port Glasgow shipyard was nationalised in 2019.

The latest costs increase is partly driven by changes required by safety regulator the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA).

The ships were not to be allowed to carry passengers unless improvements were made to emergency evacuation routes.

Plans to widen corridors and fit extra staircases on each ship have now been agreed with the MCA.

When government-owned ferries procurement agency CMAL placed the order with the Inverclyde shipyard nearly eight years ago, the two ferries were expected to cost £97m and were due for delivery in 2018.

When the ferries contract was awarded in 2015, the yard was owned by tycoon Jim McColl, a successful businessman who had rescued it from administration just weeks ahead of the previous year's Scottish independence referendum.

The Herald:

His company Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL) beat off competition from some of Europe's leading shipbuilders after CMAL officials judged its proposed design to be the best in terms of "quality" despite being the most expensive.

But the project soon ran into trouble as design challenges led to mounting costs and delays.

CMAL blamed this on "catastrophic contractor failure", while Mr McColl maintains the problems stemmed from CMAL's flawed concept design and repeated interference in the design process.

FMEL fell into administration in August 2019, and the yard was later nationalised by the Scottish government.

Robbie Drummond, chief executive, CalMac said: "We are currently working on the summer 2024 timetable that will be published in due course. We will shortly commence consultation over the winter 2024/25 timetable in line with normal process where we consult on behalf of Transport Scotland.

"Until we have final confirmed dates for deployment of new vessels we will continue to plan timetables without them, adding them as they become available.

"This is our standard approach with vessels, such as the MV Hebridean Isles when it was unavailable, which we took out of the timetable until we were confident it would be deployed and in service. We look forward to welcoming six major and 10 small vessels in the near future. We remain committed to delivering the best possible service to our island communities.

"It is standard practice for all ferry operators to only timetable vessels when they have a confirmed deployment date. This is to avoid disrupting customer travel plans if bookings had to be subsequently cancelled should a vessel be unavailable.”