One of the wildly delayed and over-budget Scotland's fiasco ferries has begun a first round of sea trials, marking a first step toward an eventual handover to support lifeline CalMac services.

Ferguson Marine say MV Glen Sannox's first trip under her own propulsion marks day one of the builder's sea trials.

The nationalised shipbuiliding firm says that during the initial tests, the vessel will gather pace, slow down and stop many times with a tug attached for safety. The first round will focus on testing the principal machinery on board and anchors will also be tested. Some testing has already been taking place at the yard's quayside.

If all goes well, on Wednesday and Thursday she is expected to make some longer trips up and down the river as far as Gourock.

Endurance tests - when Glen Sannox will operate at higher speeds for longer periods of time - will form part of a further trials programme scheduled after her dry-docking in April.

Glen Sannox and sister ship Glen Rosa, were due online in the first half of 2018, with both now due to serve Arran, but are at least six years late, with costs expected to be quadruple the original £97m contract.

Glen Rosa was meant to be delivered to CalMac in August 2018, but that is currently scheduled for May 2025.

Glen Sannox, was launched by Nicola Sturgeon nearly seven years ago and the last analysis estimated that it was not not expected to be handed over till the end of May at the earliest.

A latest hold-up has been blamed on a supplier delay around specialist pipework for the 'green' liquefied natural gas fuel system which will be used on the dual-fuel ferry.

The Herald:

In an update to MSPs, a the shipyard firm said the pipework arrived on site in January and the installation will be finished by mid-March - and that 10 weeks of commissioning and testing will be required before it can be approved for use.

Chief executive David Tydeman warned of further delays and cost overruns on both vessels.

Glen Sannox requires further dry dock work before any official handover happens before CalMac carries out two months of familiarisation training and safety drills.

Bad weather in December meant Glen Sannox missed an earlier major milestone as it forced executives to call off a planned trip to a dry dock.

MV Glen Sannox was due to be moved from her mooring outside the Port Glasgow shipyard to Dales Marine shipyard in Greenock for works but high winds prevented the journey.

It meant that the dry dock work had to take place just before the handover.

Tugs had been dispatched to help the ferry make the trip under her own propulsion to Dales Marine until the weather conditions meant that the move was called off.

The Herald:

The ferry was also originally due to travel under its own power last month but that also was cancelled due to bad weather.

It comes as ministers have been told to act urgently to save the nationalised firm as concerns grow about its future over grave fears that it will not get a vital ferry contract to build a fleet of seven lifeline ferries.

The Scottish Government has confirmed that no decision has yet been made to invest in the new wave of 'loch class' vessels which is already delayed.

And GMB Scotland, the biggest union at nationalised Ferguson Marine, fears that when a decision is made by ministers, it will announce the contract must go to a competitive tender - ruling out a direct award to the yard to safeguard hundreds of jobs.

Gary Cook, senior organiser at GMB Scotland said the start of sea trials is welcome but called on the Scottish Government to signal the start of a new phase for Ferguson Marine by awarding the yard an imminent contract for seven small CalMac ferries..

He said: “No one, apart from the islanders who have waited far too long, want these two ferries completed more than the workers.

“They have been blameless throughout this work and their skill and commitment is beyond question and they now want to ensure taxpayers begin to get value from money from their yard.

“That depends on securing a pipeline of work, starting with the small ferries.

“It makes no sense for a private operator to profit from the investment that has gone into this shipyard after all the pain that has been endured over the current contracts.

“This yard and these workers must be allowed to turn the page and move on to secure the shipbuilding legacy of the Clyde for generations to come.”

There are concerns that the Scottish Government are treating the loss-making yard very differently to its sister state-owned ferry operator CalMac as it has already decided that the preferred option for the next contract over the future of lifeline island ferry services was a direct award - closing the door on bringing in private operators.

The Herald:

And the Scottish Government has already ruled out, for the time being, ploughing a further £25m requested for the modernisation of their shipyard firm as part of a new business plan to secure a sustainable future beyond just the delivery of the two much-delayed and over-budget lifeline ferries vital for its hopes of getting the contract for the Small Vessel Replacement Programme.

The union, responding to speculation that ministers are in preliminary talks with prospective buyers of Ferguson Marine, has also said the yard should remain in public ownership with secure work until taxpayers secure a return on the millions already spent there.

Responding to news of the sea trials, CalMac chief executive Robbie Drummond said Glen Sannox would be one of several vessels joining the fleet in the coming years.

He said: “We are very much looking forward to welcoming MV Glen Sannox into the CalMac fleet.
“She will provide much-needed resilience to the Arran community, and will be the first of the six large vessels and 10 small vessels joining us over the next five years.”

David Tydeman, chief executive of Ferguson Marine said: "Glen Sannox confidently left the quayside under her own propulsion for the first time.  She sounded her horn and began the first in a series of rigorous sea trials.  We began with the anchor and moved onto propulsion and manoeuvring tests.  This will continue for the rest of the week.  I would like to thank my colleagues at the shipyard and the team at CMAL for their hard work in achieving this key milestone.”