SCOTTISH Government-owned ship and harbour owner Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited has been condemned for agreeing to send two key figures to a ferry conference cruise 'junket' on the Med in the midst of the nation's ferry fiasco.

Both CMAL chief executive Kevin Hobbs and its director of vessels Jim Anderson are lined up to head to Barcelona to check in on April 24 for the three day jaunt at a cost of between £1800 and £2400 per person for two nights. A shared cabin costs between £3000 and £4000.

The Shippax Ferry Conference will be on board Cruise Barcelona, one of the largest of its kind that cross the Mediterranean Sea and a flagship of the Naples-based shipping firm Grimaldi Lines.

The conference is due to bring together between 450 and 500 delegates from more than 200 companies and between 50 and 60 ferry operators and promotional material states that it is a "guaranteed entertaining and fun event you will remember for a long time!"

READ MORE: One of CalMac's busiest routes shuts as MV Isle of Arran breaks down

Jim Anderson is due to speak about the fleet renewal programme, while Mr Hobbs is due to take part in a panel debate on short-range operators.

It comes amidst a series of breakdowns of ferries owned by CMAL and operated by Scottish Government-owned CalMac while two long-delayed lifeline vessels being built by sister shipyard firm Ferguson Marine remain incomplete with costs quadrupling.

The Herald:

The previous Ferguson Marine owner, tycoon Jim McColl (above), who rescued the yard when it went bust in 2014, blamed repeated design changes by CMAL which owns ferries for the issues in building the vessels for operator CalMac, which is also publicly-owned. CMAL have blamed the shipyard firm.

Yesterday services on one of Scotland's busiest ferry routes to and from Arran ground to a halt after the sole ferry, 40-year-old MV Isle of Arran was withdrawn after a leak was found from its exhaust system.

It also comes as CMAL has awarded over £220m in contracts to build four ferries to Turkish shipyard firm Cemre Marin Endustri - who are one of the 50 paid-for sponsors and exhibitors. They are 'night cap' sponsors.

Ferguson Marine are not represented.

READ MORE: 'Catastrophic': Island 'inaccessible' claim after  70 per cent ferry fare rise

Former justice secretary now East Lothian MP and Alba Party deputy leader Kenny MacAskill has attacked the move saying he was "outraged" by what he called a "junket" and lodged a complaint with the transport minister.

He said: "Given the total mess where is the credibility. Besides this isn’t about securing work for Ferguson Marine, and more like networking with foreign competitors."

The Herald: Kenny MacAskill

He told the transport minister: "With delays to the vessels lengthening and indeed their costs rising, I am writing to query why two senior CMAL officials are engaging on what frankly appears to me to be a junket.

"It is noticeable that Ferguson's are not one of the companies represented at the conference and that raises questions about just what the purpose of the attendance by Kevin Hobbs and Jim Anderson will be.

"The priority for Scotland must surely be ensuring the renewal of the Cal ac fleet and the construction work of the vessels staying in Scotland at Ferguson's yard.

"The fact that they are not present, but other foreign yard operators are, gives cause for concern."

CMAL will be attending the 20th anniversary of the conference which is to feature "professional and well-renowned speakers and experts, captivating debates and interactions, unbeatable networking, world class organisation and service and value for money".

With a capacity of more than 2,500 passengers, the floating hotel hosting the conference features 411 air conditioned en-suite cabins and 70 luxury suites alongside a choice of restaurants and bars, a swimming pool and casino.

The Herald:

The Herald: Prices for delegates to the conference includes a single cabin, and a return trip from Barcelona to the Civitavecchia region of Rome. The fees for the conference state beer, wine, dinner drinks, a happy hour and night caps included as well as two breakfasts, lunches and dinners.

READ MORE: Emergency call out concerns in Corran ferry fiasco

Conference details state: "To meet and discuss in combination with having a memorable and enjoyable time together with friends and colleagues in the industry is what the Shippax Ferry Conference is all about, while being on board a ferry ensures a familiar and close connection between all delegates. Educational and fun!"

The ex-leader of the SNP group on Inverclyde Council and now Alba Party's general secretary Chris McEleny said CMAL was "not fit for purpose" and should be done away with.

"This is the latest slap in the face by CMAL fat cats to our island communities and to workers on the Clyde," he said.

"The Auditor General has been scathing in his criticism of Ferguson’s top bosses handing out huge bonuses to themselves, now CMAL - the Government body responsible for bringing global ridicule to Scottish shipbuilding - are off on a cruise around the Mediterranean.

"It is of course surprising that anyone would want to listen to CMAL bosses give talks on ferry procurement, so it’s more likely their interest will be in lobbying for more work to be sent abroad from CMAL's massive order book.

"It is time for the Scottish Government to bring together ferry procurement, ferry building and ferry operations into one body.”

A spokesperson from CMAL said: “CMAL is at the forefront of ferry decarbonisation research, and the Shippax Conference is an opportunity to share this knowledge with our counterparts in the global shipping industry, while also supporting efforts to source second hand tonnage for the Scottish ferry network.

“CMAL has a responsibility to engage with shipyards globally to ensure it is able to fulfil the delivery of up to 21 vessels in the next 10 years.”

Last year it emerged that taxpayer-funded CMAL spent hundreds of pounds more on monthly overseas travel during the pandemic than before Covid hit.

CMAL racked up £170,000 in foreign travel over the five years to 2022.

Official figures reveal that CMAL was spending nearly £300 a month more per month on overseas travel during the pandemic than in the five years before the virus hit.

It was spending an average of £2836.06 a month over six months during the Covid pandemic in 2020 and 2021 having previously forked out £2547.22 a month in the five years before the virus restrictions.

On board Cruise Barcelona

On Thursday, one of CalMac's oldest vessels, MV Isle of Arran had to be withdrawn from services after a leak was found from her exhaust system into the engine room.

CalMac has told users that a repair is required for safety reasons and is the latest in a series of breakdowns in recent weeks.

The ferry operator has said crew were attempting a repair and external contractors are being mobilised to support.

Users were asked to detour onto the route to Lochranza on Arran to Claonaig, a hamlet on the east coast of the Kintyre peninsula in western Scotland, as an alternative.

By road, that meant those travelling from Ardrossan going on a 125 mile detour to get to and from Claonaig - a journey that would take around three hours. The Ardrossan to Brodick ferry crossing usually takes just 35 minutes.

Buses were laid on at 3.30pm to take people from Ardrossan to Claonaig to provide a connection to Arran for foot passengers.  Buses are also to leave Brodick at 6pm for Lochranza to provide a connection to the mainland for foot passengers. There is  be a connecting bus from Claonaig to Ardrossan.

But CalMac warned that buses were "severely limited".

The 40-year-old Isle of Arran had been taken off its normal Ardrossan to Campbeltown service to stand in on Arran for other ferries that have been sidelined for weeks due to problems found during an annual overhaul.

It comes after CalMac's biggest vessel MV Loch Seaforth which operates to and from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis returned to action on Wednesday evening after being sidelined for three days, suffering engine issues on Monday evening.

The 31-year-old MV Loch Tarbert, 32-year-old MV Loch Fyne were added to the roster of vessels needing repairs over Easter Sunday and Monday causing further headaches for the Scottish Government-owned ferry operator. They have returned to service.

Three more of CalMac's fleet MV Caledonian Isles, MV Hebridean Isles and MV Clansman have remained out of action since the summer timetable began on April 1 having spent weeks on the sidelines for repairs after problems discovered after overhauls.

MV Isle of Arran had been serving Arran for weeks on its own because of the issues with Caledonian Isles and MV Hebridean Isles, cutting the number of available vehicle spaces to about half.