An emergency ferry is being kept on for another six months - in a new twist to Scotland's  ferry fiasco.

It means that the MV Alfred will have had to provide lifeline services for nearly two years.

It is estimated that the further charter agreement between Scottish Government agency Transport Scotland and state-owned CalMac will cost the taxpayer a further £6m.

It means that the vessel will remain in place until March 2025.

It comes after delivery to CalMac of the already wildly delayed and massively overbudget ferry Glen Sannox, was delayed by another three weeks because of issues with the so-called green dual fuel system. It is not expected to be handed over until the week beginning August 19.

Deputy First Minister Kate Forbes said any delays were “disappointing” but delivery from the nationalised shipyard firm Ferguson Marine will take place this summer, while the Conservatives said the delays will hit the tourism economy.

Ferguson Marine’s interim chief executive officer, John Petticrew, outlined the change in a letter to Holyrood’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee.

John Petticrew  (Image: George Munro)

The shipyard continues to have trouble with the so-called green liquefied natural gas (LNG) fuel system for the ferry after facing delays from suppliers.

Both Glen Sannox and its sister ship, also delayed, Glen Rosa, are designed to run on both traditional marine gas oil and LNG.

In April, after Mr Petticrew was appointed, wellbeing economy secretary Màiri McAllan condemned the latest in the 'never ending farce' of delays on delivery of Scotland's ferry fiasco vessels - but believed it would be the last.

MV Alfred has primarily operated to and from Arran whilst on charter, sailing the Ardrossan/Troon - Brodick route. Her current charter ends on August 21 and she is timetabled to operate from Troon – Brodick until then. Plans beyond then will be agreed in consultation with stakeholders in the next few weeks.

CalMac’s interim chief executive Duncan Mackison, said: “MV Alfred has proven to be an invaluable addition to our fleet during a particularly challenging period, and we are pleased this extension will see her remain in service until next year.

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“The extension of her charter will add resilience to our service for the remainder of the summer period, and over the winter months when vessels enter overhaul for annual maintenance. During this extension period, we expect two new major vessels in MV Glen Sannox and MV Isle of Islay to enter service, putting us in a strong position to improve the lifeline services we provide to islands across our network.”

Mr Petticrew has previously admitted that the installation and commissioning of the LNG has been "particularly challenging".

He said following his appointment, the team has now determined a "more focussed approach" to the completion of the Glen Sannox Ousted chief executive David Tydeman was fired in March after a tumultuous two years at the helm of the nationalised shipyard as he warned of yet more delays to delivery.

The continuing delays means that Glen Sannox has not been able to serve Arran for the peak summer season.

Both Glen Sannox and Glen Rosa, still to be completed at Ferguson's were due online in the first half of 2018, with both now due to serve Arran, but will be over six years late, with costs expected to be quadruple the original £97m contract.

One ferry user group official said that the extra ferry would be "welcomed" but added: "It is adding chaos over what is already a fiasco that the continuing delays of these ferries have forced this charter extension. The mismanagement of our ferry services really does know no bounds."

Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Fiona Hyslop, said: “I’m pleased CalMac have reached an agreement with Pentland Ferries on a further six-month extension of the charter for MV Alfred, helping to maintain resilience on the Clyde and Hebrides ferry network for the rest of the summer and into the winter months.

“The Scottish Government is committed to improving our lifeline ferry services and better meeting the needs of island communities, with six new vessels currently under construction set to join the fleet by 2026.”

Nationalised Ferguson Marine warned at the end of December that there could be a further delay of two months as it was facing "supplier issues" which is delaying the commissioning of the vessels' LNG propulsion systems.

A further delay was going to push back the completion of Glen Sannox beyond a scheduled date of March, and would be expected to affect sister vessel Glen Rosa’s arrival on May 2025.

The Scottish Government has previously said all systems – including the LNG propulsion – will need to be completed before the state-owned ferry and port-owning agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd can take delivery.

Plans for the introduction of the 'eco-friendly' vessels had already been thrown into new chaos as it has emerged two key Scots ports will not be capable of providing the 'green' fuel.

Ardrossan Harbour

In what was described as a "new ferry shambles", the Scottish Government confirmed that there is no budget to provide the necessary port facilities for LNG at either Ardrossan or Troon in 2024/25.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator CalMac has already been planning to use Troon rather than Ardrossan for the two ferries that will serve Arran. That was when it was hoped that the first of the vessels would be ready for passengers in the Spring of last year.

The dual-fuel ferries which were meant to be identical, were lauded by then First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as the 'sustainable' ferries that would "contribute to Scotland's world-leading climate change goals".

They were hailed as a step towards a greener future for Scotland's state owned CalMac ferry fleet as they were to be the first UK-built ships capable of running off liquefied natural gas, or LNG, as well as conventional diesel.

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

MV Alfred was first chartered from Pentland Ferries in April 2023. Since joining CalMac, modifications have been carried out to her ramp to allow a wider variety of vehicles to travel onboard.

CalMac has also confirmed that MV Caledonian Isles, one of the largest vessels in its fleet, is still on schedule to return to service by the end of August. The vessel, which has always served Arran, has been in drydock for extensive repairs since January.

Mr Mackison added: “The loss of MV Caledonian Isles for a significant chunk of our summer timetable has had a detrimental impact on Arran and the wider network, but we are confident that she will be in service by the end of August.”

CalMac will consult with communities and stakeholders soon on service provision, considering both MV Alfred’s charter extension and MV Caledonian Isles' return to the fleet.