MINISTERS are spending £9m to charter an 'emergency' vessel for nine months - which cost its owners just £5m more to buy outright, it has emerged.

MV Alfred, which is at the centre of a crash investigation after a grounding in July, last year, is due to join the fleet from April 18 when she will undertake berthing trials before being made available for service.

It can be revealed that a similar vessel could have been bought for the same cost as the charter and was rejected.

Concerns have been raised about the expense of the £1m a month vessel while critics have described it as a "panicked decision".

A subscription to The Herald will give you full unlimited access to our agenda-setting reporting on the ongoing ferries fiasco. It is only £1 for three months.
This offer ends Friday so click here and don't miss out!

Pentland Ferries staff, who will operate services on behalf of Scottish Government-owned CalMac, bought MV Alfred for £14m in 2019 to operate between Caithness and Orkney.

It was built in Vietnam and can accommodate 430 passengers and 98 cars, or 54 cars and 12 articulated vehicles/coaches.

At the time it was described as the "most environmentally-friendly ferry in Scotland".

READ MORE: Ferguson Marine: Finance chief embroiled in bonus payments row quits

Under the new deal all crew will be provided by Pentland Ferries who will be responsible for delivery of service and the operational, technical and safety management of the vessel, including maintenance, repair, overhaul and provision of crew throughout the charter period.

Transport Scotland said the £9m will cover berthing dues, fuel, the commercial charter rate and other undisclosed costs.

It comes amidst widespread disruption to services because of faults with vessels discovered during the annual overhaul process.

The Herald:

Joe Reade, chairman of the Mull and Iona Ferry Committee said: "The ferry is desperately needed, but it is a phenomenal amount of money and they could have bought one for that price. "It is another example of profligate spending and poor decision making."

Two years ago a deal to buy a vessel similar in design to MV Alfred for £9m collapsed after the Scottish Government-owned procuring and ferry owning company Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) demanded a foreign firm pay up to £100,000 to pay for modifications that would allow it to gain UK maritime approval for it.

Negotiations had been taking place to secure the Indonesia-built vessel for months but the owners of the catamaran said they believed CMAL were never serious in completing the sale.

READ MORE: Ferguson Marine: Finance chief embroiled in bonus payments row quits

The vessel would be able to take around two thirds of the number of cars that MV Glen Sannox would be able to accommodate and a condition of the sale was that it would have had to be approved by the the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), which provides official certification for all ships.

The over-200 foot metre roll-on roll off ferry could take 300 passengers and around 80 cars and was originally designed for a non-UK company, and was regulated for the Australian market.

MV Alfred has space for up to 430 passengers and 98 cars, or 54 cars and 12 articulated vehicles/coaches. CalMac says it can operate to some ports, but will not be able to deliver services in line with current timetables, due to the vessel's design.

Because the vessel operates 'single ended' - an estimated turnaround time of around 45 minutes is required.

Mr Reade said the Indonesia-built vessel would have been capable of working to all ports in the network with a full drive-through operation.

He said that failure to deliver the vessel was "shameful".

CMAL said at the time : "We simply cannot spend millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on a new-build vessel that may not be able to secure a passenger certificate and therefore never be able to operate on Scottish routes.”

Another ferry user group official said: "While it is great news that there is extra resilience for CalMac, the cost of the charter compared to what the ferry actually cost Pentland Ferries beggars belief."

With a nine month charter, the chartered vessel will be in service until the first of two long-delayed ferries, Glen Sannox is in service, which is at best for the summer 2014 timetable.

It comes as the CalMac fleet is continuing to be hit by ferries out of action due to technical issues.

Last month there were seven ferries out of action in one week.

And last week, islanders warned of the threat of business closures as a wave of disruption caused by an extension of the crucial Skye port Uig had turned a drama into a "crisis".

Uig, which is part of the Skye Triangle route, serving Uist and Harris is now to to re-open on March 23 at the earliest - having been shut since January.

The Scottish Government-owned ferry operator said the primary focus for the use of MV Alfred was to have her available for resilience purposes and provide relief benefits across the network.

The ferry operator said it should help mitigate the impact of disruption or where certain islands are reduced to single vessel service.


MV Alfred was at the centre of controversy when on July 5, it partially ran aground on the Isle of Swona, the more northerly of two islands in the Pentland Firth between the Orkney Islands and Caithness on the Scottish mainland.

RNLI lifeboats were called to evacuate the Vietnam-built – with one person being rushed to hospital with a fractured shoulder.

Dozens more were feared to have suffered mental trauma and physical injuries including fractures, sprains and soft tissue damage.

It emerged that six passengers injured are seeking compensation.