A Turkish shipyard has won a £105 million contract to build two new lifeline CalMac ferries for Islay.

Cemre Marin Endustri has been announced as the preferred bidder for the order against three other yards which will increase vehicle and freight capacity by nearly 40 per cent.

The move was described as an "embarrassment" for the SNP by the Scottish Conservatives.

The first vessel is expected to be delivered by October 2024 and will enter service following sea trials and crew familiarisation. The second vessel will follow in early 2025.

Scottish Government-controlled Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL), which owns the nation's ageing ferry fleet, had invited four overseas companies to bid for the contract to build the two vessels - and excluded Inverclyde shipbuilder Ferguson Marine.

The shipbuilder which runs the last remaining shipyard on the lower Clyde was nationalised after it financially collapsed in August 2019, amid soaring costs and delays to the construction of two lifeline island ferries.

READ MORE: Anger as state-owned Ferguson Marine loses £100m CalMac ferries contract to overseas firms

It came five years after tycoon Jim McColl first rescued the yard when it went bust.

The new ferry announcement comes as the delivery of new island ferries MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802, which were due online in the first half of 2018, was found to be between four and five years late, with costs doubling to over £200m.

'Embarrassment':  Two CalMac ferries to be built in Turkey

Transport Scotland said that the intention was to award the Islay ferries' contract to the Cemre Marin Endustri shipyard after a 10 day standstill period.

Scottish Conservative shadow transport minister Graham Simpson MSP, said of the contract announcement: “This is an embarrassment for the SNP. Their government-run yard at Port Glasgow is in no fit state to be considered for this contract.

“The two ferries being built there are nowhere near finished.

“It would come as no surprise if the Turkish yard completed these very welcome new vessels for Islay before anything leaves Ferguson Marine.

“The award is good news for islanders who will have a degree of confidence that they might actually see new ferries at the end of it.”

The successful initial bids were from Damen Shipyard in Romania, Remontowa Shipbuilding in Poland, and Turkish shipyards Sefine Denizcilik Tersanecilik Turizm, and Cemre Marin Endustri.

It was confirmed Ferguson Marine embarked in a bid for the contract through the initial Pre-Qualification Questionnaire process but failed to make the shortlist.

Minister for Transport Jenny Gilruth said: “I’m very pleased to see CMAL name the preferred bidder for this vital project, which will see two new ferries built to serve the Islay routes.

“These links are some of the busiest services for freight on the Clyde and Hebrides network and the new vessels will help to grow the island’s economy, as well as bring added resilience to the fleet.

“This underlines the Scottish Government’s commitment to bringing in new ferries to support our island communities. We want to continue to see progress on bringing vessels into service on time and budget.

“We look forward to continuing to work with key stakeholders to develop programmes for major vessels and small vessels - investing at least £580 million as part of our Infrastructure Investment Plan.”

The Alba Party is amongst those who have complained that there will be no possibility of there being any community benefits for Inverclyde the Islay contract.

Scottish Government-controlled Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL),  said that each submission was to rigorously assessed against "quality, technical and commercial criteria", and the contract was expected to awarded to the winning shipyard no later than the end of March 2022.

Jim Anderson, director of vessels at  CMAL said: “Identifying a preferred bidder is a big step forward in the project to provide new vessels for Islay and Jura. All four shipyards submitted compelling bids, but with robust assessment of technical and financial criteria, Cemre Marin Endustri was the winner.

“We will now enter a 10 day standstill period before finalising the contract, at which point we will work closely with the yard to move on to the next stage of the procurement.”

The Islay route is already one of the busiest services for freight on the Clyde and Hebrides network, and CMAL said that the incoming ferries will support the island’s vital economic activity. 

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, added: “We very much look forward to welcoming these two new vessels into the CalMac fleet. This will help us deliver a service we can all be proud of”.