NICOLA Sturgeon has been asked to personally intervene in Scotland's ferry crisis - as campaigners make a desperate push for purchase of an emergency vessel for sale for a fraction of the the £52.5m being spent for each new ship being built in Turkey.

Transport chiefs are being urged to buy Pentland Ferries' MV Pentalina which has been on the market for between £5.6m and £7m - having already successfully tested her with a view to a lease deal.

It can carry up to 350 passengers and 58 cars.

Officials have signed off on a £105m contract to have two new lifeline ferries built in Turkey - each can carry up to 100 cars and 450 passengers.

Despite successful berthing trials Pentland Ferries, which runs a ferry service connecting Orkney to the mainland, decided not to enter into a leasing agreement in the summer of last year, as it said it would have the potential to cause “severe risk and reputational damage”.

Andrew Banks, head of Pentland Ferries had spoken out as unions raised safety concerns over the 13-year-old Pentalina catamaran which the Scottish Government was considering for charter on CalMac routes.

The Herald on Sunday understands that while Pentland Ferries were unwilling to lease the vessel, it would look at a sale.

It comes as Arran islanders face at least 16 days of chaos as one of the biggest and oldest vessels in Scotland's lifeline ferry network is expected to be out of action till May 3 suffering an engine failure.

Some marine experts have predicted it will take weeks to fix the ferry.

Easter holiday weekend services on what is one of Scotland's busiest ferry crossings to and from Arran were disrupted with a series of cancellations after the engine failure and a subsequent 'crash' involving the 29-year-old MV Caledonian Isles last Sunday morning.

The incident only caused superficial damage to the vessel belting at the stern on the starboard side.

READ MORE: One of CalMac's oldest lifeline vessels out of action for a further 11 days at least after engine fail

But now main Arran ferry will be out of action until May 3 "at the earliest", CalMac said.

The state-controlled ferry operator has said the vessel was withdrawn from service and moved to Troon to undergo essential works.

CalMac launched a probe at the start of last week as some users expressed fears over the safety of the vessel, following reports that at the time when investigating the issues, the hinges failed on the hatch to the engine, causing it to fall onto the car deck.


CalMac has cancelled bookings and has forced all but priority drivers, such as those carrying food and fuel supplies, having to queue for sailings.

It comes as frequent technical faults, Covid outbreaks, staff shortages and bad weather have been blamed for the reduction of the lifeline sailings over the past year.

An economic study commissioned by North Ayrshire Council found that disrupted ferries cost the Isle of Arran up to £170,000 a day in lost revenue to businesses.

Visit Arran, the not-for-profit tourism body, has been appealing to the First Minister to intervene and bring in another vessel in the wake of the latest ferry breakdown.

Sheila Gilmore, chief executive of Visit Arran and the Arran Trust told Nicola Sturgeon: "Yet more ferry fiasco for Arran.

"We need another vessel and we need it now. MV Caledonian Isles capacity is 1000, MV Isle of Arran is 444, so this will not cover the passengers and vehicles already on Arran. We are the busiest route in the CalMac network with the worst service.

"It's crippling our economy and our community. Businesses are losing custom, visitors do not wish to return given the unreliability, more and more residents are moving off-island, and one business has reported losing 11 staff in the last six months due to the ferry situation. Who wants to live and work on an island when you can't get away to visit family when you have time off. The Pentalina must be revisited."

She told the First Minister about cars queued right along the front of Brodick, trying to return home after a holiday weekend. "Babies were still in their jammies and parents were fractious; arguments were breaking out among people in the queue. It was very upsetting to see. Most will not return to Arran - why would you have that hassle when it's easier to go to Spain or France. And throughout all of this, we hear nothing from the Scottish Islands team in terms of support," she said.

"VisitArran spends considerable time promoting Arran as a place to visit, and as a place to live - as per our recent videos.


"We are diligent in our messaging that Arran is a living, working island in balance - for how much longer though?

"As before, I am not requesting a reply from a civil servant - I just want to see our island have a decent ferry service.

"Please do something before our islands end up completely desolate."

Ferry bosses had first inquired about chartering Pentalina on March 26, last year - nearly three weeks before the engine failure of CalMac's biggest vessel, MV Loch Seaforth, which caused seven weeks of chaos across Scotland's lifeline ferry network.

The lease of Pentalina was planned to allow the operation of services to Arran and Mull to “enhance capacity and resilience” within the CalMac network.

CalMac at the time expressed "surprise and disappointment" at the inability to charter the vessel last summer having already investigated its use to add additional resiliance to lifeline services.

Berthing trials had shown she could successfully operate services to Arran and Mull and the state-controlled ferry operators had said they were "looking forward to her deployment".

The Herald revealed the MCA, the agency regulating safety standards, said the MV Pentalina catamaran would remain out of service until technical issues would be resolved, after being raised by the RMT union.

The MCA said there were "discrepancies" uncovered over structural fire protection relating to the passenger accommodation and a corridor providing access to the crew accommodation and galley servery.

But insiders say that the matter could easily have been sorted out and were never fundamental safety issues.

Pentland Ferries had said at the time that the MV Pentalina had undergone annual surveys and inspections by authorities and remained available for charter or sale.

Sam Bourne, chairman of the Arran Ferry Action Group, a naval architecture and small craft engineering graduate with 20 years experience in the performance leisure marine industry, said that the purchase of Pentalina has to be an option and said it was "unbelievable" that there had been no recent contact about a purchase from Transport Scotland.

He said the vessel was available at a cheaper price than MV Utne, which was bought from Norled, the Norwegian shipping company for £9m as a replacement for the 18-year-old MV Coruisk.

The seven-year-old Utne which carries 195 passengers and 34 cars was earmarked for the Oban to Mull route.


MV Coruisk. Source: ER 20 YouTube

That was seen as a downgrade on MV Coruisk - which can carry 30% more passengers, 17% more cars and at a 14 knot top speed was faster.

That catamaran was similar in design to the MV Alfred owned by Pentland Ferries which was operating to and from Orkney.

Negotiations had been taking place to secure the Indonesia-built vessel for months to secure the ferry before the 'summer of chaos' across Scotland's ageing ferry network before they fell through in August, last year.

It was claimed Scottish Government-owned procuring and ferry owning company Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) made an "incredible" move to have the overseas owners fork out for the official approvals for any modifications to make it suitable for Scottish waters which were estimated to have cost no more than £100,000.

Scots ex-pat Ken MacArthur, the commercial lead for Sealease, the Hong Kong based company selling the catamaran criticised the handling of the failed potential purchase by CMAL who he believed were never serious in completing a sale.

More than half of CalMac's 31 working ferries deployed across Scotland are now over 25 years old.

The oldest in the CalMac fleet is is the Isle of Cumbrae which is 45-years old.

The network issues have come as would-be ferry replacements MV Glen Sannox and Hull 802 are still languishing in now state-owned Ferguson Marine's shipyard, with costs of their construction more than doubling from the original £97m contract to nearly £250m. Their official in-service launch is running at least five years late.

The first ship was meant to enter service on the Arran route in the summer of 2018 but is not expected to be ready until next year at the earliest - five years late. Hull 802, destined for an Outer Hebrides route, has gone the same way. The latest estimated cost for both ships is at least £250m off an original fixed contract price of £97m.

Ferguson Marine's financial collapse in August, 2019 resulted in state takeover.

The ferries contract was plagued by design changes, delays and disputes over cost, with the yard’s management and Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), the Scottish Government-controlled taxpayer-funded company which owns and procures ferries for state-owned CalMac, blaming each other.

When asked about buying MV Pentalina, Transport Scotland responded: “The [vessel] was considered for a possible charter in 2021, although it was withdrawn from availability by its owner before the formal agreement was signed.

"We remain open to exploring a charter option should this be reconsidered by the vessel owner. We would of course have to consider the terms and affordability of any arrangement.”

When asked the same question, CMAL said: “CMAL spends considerable time searching the global second hand market for ferries to bring resilience to the fleet. During this search, we have considered and surveyed the Pentalina. Due to the results of this survey, we found the vessel unsuitable for purchase. We continue to explore all viable solutions to provide relief to the Scottish ferry network.”

CMAL was asked why it was deemed suitable to lease but not to buy.

CalMac managing director Robbie Drummond said:"We appreciate the impact this is having on islanders and visitors alike and we are doing all we can to help passengers complete their journeys.

"We apologise to our customers for the inconvenience caused by this technical breakdown and can assure them that we are doing all we can to minimise the impact."