Nationalised Ferguson Marine have denied a breach of the ferry fiasco agreement after cutting the contracted size of the two lifeline ferries by 300 passengers.

The Herald can confirm that a redesign of the two ferries, as a result of safety concerns, will cut its passenger carrying capacity below that specified when the contract was signed in October, 2015.

And there remains uncertainty over the number of cars and lorries the ferries will be able to hold.

This latest development has raised questions over whether compensation will be paid if the ferries are finally accepted by the owners and procurers Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL).

The Herald has confirmed that the build contract for the wildly over budget and delayed lifeline ferries Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa was that the carrying capacity should be not less than 1000 passengers on each vessel. It also had to be capable of carrying not less than either 127 cars or 16 heavy goods vehicles.

READ MORE: No new support for island after latest CalMac ferry 'shambles'

As a result of the changes the number of passengers has been cut on each to 852. It means that the ability to carry passengers on both vessels together will have been cut by 296 against the agreed contract.

Ferguson Marine insist that there is no breach of contract because it is being amended to reflect the latest developments. It did not respond to a questions about compensation.

The shipyard firm have said that the final vehicle numbers will only be clarified as part of the handover processes.

The redesign came on June, last year, when official clearances of the vessels by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which is responsible for implementing British and international maritime law and safety policy, were rejected.

David Tydeman, chief executive of nationalised Ferguson Marine admitted he knew about the problems within three months of joining the firm in February, 2022. But the issues did not become public knowledge until September, last year.

The Herald:

Among the issues to be resolved were the installation of the evacuation routes on the ferries in order to satisfy the MCA.

Nationalised Ferguson Marine has said it has had to make "significant changes" to the designs for the stairwells and passageways to secure safety certification.

The new design affects the passengers and crew areas on three decks.

The Scottish Government had expected that the passenger capacity cut would be accepted through contract amendments but questions remain on what compensation, if any, will be agreed.

One ferry user group official said that at the very least there should be compensation due to loss of capacity on the ferries and therefore fare-paying revenue through what he said "clearly appears to be a breach of the original contract".

"It is another sorry tale in this relentless ferry mess-up," he said. "If this was a situation between two private companies, and not two companies owned by the Scottish Government, even if an agreement is reached to accept the deficiencies, there would normally be compensation.

"It is clear from the contract what the capacity should be, that is what the travelling public would expect from all the money that has been blown on and it is clear that island users and also visitors will once again lose out."

The two ferries - Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa being built at the nationalised Ferguson Marine shipyard were due online in the first half of 2018, with one initially to serve Arran and the other to serve the Skye triangle routes to North Uist and Harris, but are at least six years late, with costs expected to more than quadruple the original £97m contract. It has been confirmed that both are now to serve Arran.

Glen Sannox, was launched by Nicola Sturgeon nearly seven years ago and is not expected to be ready for passengers till August at the earliest.

Glen Rosa was meant to be delivered to CalMac in August 2018, but that is currently scheduled to be completed in May 2025 - meaning it would be ready for passengers the following August.

The dates of arrival and the costs have been in a constant state of flux as their construction has been plagued by design challenges, cost overruns and delays.

The Herald: Glen Rosa launch date

In the midst of the delays and soaring costs, Ferguson Marine under the control of tycoon Jim McColl fell into administration and was nationalised at the end of 2019 with CMAL and the yard's management blaming each other.

Mr Tydeman said on Friday: “The MCA gave approval for the carrying capacity of both ferries to be reduced to 929, to accommodate the necessary adjustments to escape routes and additional staircases. CMAL and the Scottish Government subsequently requested that we provide higher quality, less dense seating arrangements for 852 passengers. The contracts are being amended to reflect these latest client requirements, and there is no breach of contract.”

A spokesperson from CMAL said: “Any contract amends are agreed by all parties ahead of being made.”

Neither Ferguson Marine or CMAL addressed questions about compensation over the changes to the contract.

Concerns have previously been raised that regulatory clearances for the two fiasco ferries at Ferguson's were not made in good time - after it emerged they failed to comply with safety rules that are seven years old.

The extra work to meet MCA standards was estimated to have contributed to cost rises of £21m.

In November, Mr Tydeman had to do an about turn and accept full responsibility for the delays.

He previously said that the issues had been the result of the MCA reassessing cargo ship rules.

But he changed his position after the chief executive of the MCA said the safety rules relating to the vessels had been in place since 2009.

The MCA denied that it has changed any rules, saying it had been working with the shipyard since 2015 before it was nationalised, with a working relationship restarted in August 2020.

In a letter to MSPs, the MCA chief executive, Virginia McVea, said the agency had been “consistent” in its application of safety rules.

She said that so-called “cargo ship” rules referenced by Mr Tydeman had been in place since 2009 and was legally required to be met under 2020 legislation.

The Herald:

Mr Tydeman said part of the problem was that local MCA officials in Glasgow had been "overruled" in relation to clearances by the head office in Southampton.

He said the "conversation" with MCA officials locally was that "we're going to get compliance".

While he was aware of the issue within three months of taking on the job at the beleaguered nationalised yard, in February 2022, it wasn't until April, 2023, that they realized that the MCA head office had a "more strict approach to application of rules... and we had to do some rethinking between April and June".

But he had to carry out a U-turn on his version of events and indicated the fault did not lie with the MCA.

He told MSPs: “In the interests of trying to reach early clarity and to progress the decisions with trials for Glen Sannox and with the build of Glen Rosa, 802, I can confirm that [Ferguson Marine] and the MCA team I met are agreed that the Glen Sannox was designed with the application of ‘cargo rules’ in mind by FMEL for crew spaces and was built by FMEL in 2015-2019 without the relevant plan approval processes being completed.

"I can also confirm that the ‘[Ferguson Marine] over-confidence’ I referred to in committee and in letters to you, should now include  interpretation of conversations with the Glasgow office. It is now clear to me that the issues lie within the history of events and not between the local office and head office of the MCA as I was previously advised.

"I believe that we do now have a ‘shared understanding of events’..."