WHO Pays the Ferryman? Not an original phrase, but a question which the Scottish Government must address. It is borrowed from the title of one of Roy Pedersen’s books, which, in conjunction with Western Ferries, Taking on the Giants, should be set as compulsory homework for Cmal and Scottish Government ministers. The answer to the question is disgraceful: we all do.

Reading these books is enlightening. Contrast Pentland Ferries, a family-run company, now with a new £17 million catamaran running from Gill’s Bay to St Margaret’s Hope in a shorter time, at a cheaper price and carrying more cars, completely free of subsidy, in competition with the Northlink Scrabster to Stromness service for which we, the taxpayer, pay a reported subsidy of £350 per return passenger. Nothing has changed since, some 40 years ago, with government collusion, Western Ferries was forced from its profitable Islay run by the Government-run, heavily subsidised Caledonian MacBrayne. Western Ferries has gone on to provide an excellent service to Dunoon with no government subsidy and could, with its model, provide further un-subsidised services.

Imagine if Pentland Ferries, with two similar catamarans, with the same frequency, was operating on the Oban-Craignure route, with greater capacity than the present two heavily-subsidised vessels, and with their reduced windage offering fewer weather-induced disruptions. This route could operate at a profit, offer a better service and, probably, at no cost to the taxpayer.

Cmal is stuck in a time warp. It is time to move on. There is a strong case for scrapping the Ferguson-built vessels and having a rethink. Building larger and larger vessels with ever greater windage though still-constrained draught is not sustainable; neither are the infrastructure requirements.

J Patrick Maclean, Oban.

WITH regard to the Cmal/Fergusons ferry debacle, some points:

For the Government and its agencies:

It has been reported that much of the onboard piping is not to the original specification, implying that it was a detailed document, but did it say anything useful about liquefied natural gas (LNG), other than "we want it"? If not, why not?

As LNG is a specialist field, involving a lot more than just things being a bit colder than usual, what pre-contract checks were made to ensure that Fergusons and its designers were competent to handle this element of the contract?

Has the overall environmental impact of trucking LNG from the major import terminals in the south been modelled?

As the onshore facilities haven't been built yet, it suggests that the LNG was a "wouldn't it be good if we had..."-type idea. So, if they are to go ahead, will they get someone competent to do that work? Otherwise it'll be another mess, and I look forward to lots of stories along the lines of "it could flatten the whole of Ardrossan if something happens".

For Fergusons:

Did it think that the LNG would just be a little bit of extra work that could be bolted on to the main design, rather than something that would have a big impact, and was depending on the designers to deal with it? If so, does it now feel that it was incredibly ambitious and naive?

Was there a contractual LNG utilisation performance criteron in the specification? If there wasn't, why all the noise about onboard reliquefaction, a technology which is only now being installed on new LNG carriers, and which is far more sophisticated than anyone would expect to find on the Arran ferry.

Derek Robertson, Newbury, Berkshire.

THE recent BBC video of the MV Caledonian Isles entering Ardrossan Harbour in bad weather illustrates the lack of stability and "top-heaviness" of our current style of ferry.

The video clip also shows both the limits of the ferry design (metronome motion), and the unsuitability of Ardrossan Harbour without proper breakwater protection.

Vessel stability and maneuverability is much improved with the catamaran design adopted by Pentland Ferries. That design has proved its weather capabilities in the Pentland Firth, incidentally at a fraction of the cost.

Robert Kerr, Lochranza.