STATE-CONTROLLED shipyard firm Ferguson Marine has defended itself after an oil firm which ordered a 'first of its kind' air cushioned barge said it was towed away semi-finished vessel to be completed elsewhere.

The construction of the 55-metre barge for CMI Offshore began in 2018, two years after the work started on Glen Sannox and Hull 802, which are at the centre of Scotland's ferry building fiasco.

But CMI said it was so frustrated with the standard of work, it set up its own operation to finish the project, claimed that welding on the barge was defective, that the yard had "extremely low productivity and quality control" and that its faith had been "totally misplaced".

When the barge finally left the Inverclyde shipyard in June 2020 - ten months after the yard was brought under state control after it fell into administration - to be completed elsewhere, Tim Hair, the turnaround director, said: "The launched of the barge represents a key milestone in the recovery of Ferguson Marine”.

He said the launch signalled that they were able to operate effectively with social distancing controls in place.

He added: "In addition, this project was at a critical stage when [Ferguson Marine] entered administration and achieving a positive outcome has only been possible due to the combined efforts of people in both businesses."

The vessel had left to be completed and outfitted in the Caspian Sea where it was to be used to provide support to the oil industry.

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Scottish Government-controlled Ferguson Marine (Port Glasgow) said that it was "important to recognised the majority of the experience described by this customer was under the previous management, before administration and public ownership".

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The yard firm added: “There is acknowledgement of the challenges experienced by the shipyard in the post-administration period, exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.

"While significant operational improvements have been made in the past two years, we know further changes are needed and are being implemented.

"Our new chief executive, who joined in February, has already made changes to project management, and the new programmes for the dual fuel ferries are making a difference.

"The approach to completing hull 802 will be more reflective of Ferguson Marine’s historical reputation for quality shipbuilding.”

The ferries at the centre of the ferry-building fiasco are at least over five years late and at a cost of at least a quarter of a billion pounds is at two-and-a-half times the original £96m contract.

Richard Keisner, managing director of Mangistau ACV Solutions, part of CMI, said: “Our experience at the Ferguson shipyard was affected by a shortage of direct labour throughout, which seemed to move from one vessel under construction to another, which was combined with extremely low productivity and quality control."

The hoverbarge contract was signed between Mangistau ACV Solutions - an offshoot of CMI Offshore Group - with Jim McColl's Ferguson Marine.

The order was supposed to be for the 'world's first self-propelled, air-cushioned barge' capable of carrying a load of 150 tonnes 'over tundra, swamps, ice and water'.

Work started in October 2018 shortly after the deal was signed.

The shipyard was supposed to deliver the innovative barge fo CMI Offshore by July or August 2019.

But a deal was eventually struck after the shipyard firm was taken over by the Scottish Government that would allow the vessel to be built to a standard that would allow it to be launched and then handed over to the company to complete the rest of the work, such as installation of equipment, propulsion systems and carry out sea trials.

Mr Keisner added: “Much of the work had to be redone or completed at other shipyards following Ferguson’s bankruptcy, particularly given that the new state-owned enterprise and its management were unwilling to commit to a certain time or cost to complete their contract. In retrospect, any confidence that we placed in the ability of the yard, its management or workforce to build vessels was misplaced.”

Colin Smyth, former Scottish Labour transport spokesman said: “Reports of firms having to tow their barges away from the yard to be completed elsewhere are utterly shocking. Ministers need to get a grip and put in place a proper strategy.”

And Graham Simpson, the Scottish Conservative transport spokesman, said: “This firm has had a rotten experience at the yard, both prior to and since nationalisation. I hope the new management can turn things around.”