Ferguson Marine's delivery of two new ferries is set to face further delays due to supplier issues with specialist pipework essential for the vessel’s fuel system, but what of the future of the yard itself?

The recently announced delay has pushed the commissioning of the fuel system to late May. The yard has consequently postponed the launch of a second ferry, MV Glen Rosa, by four weeks to prioritise the completion of Glen Sannox. Both vessels, originally scheduled for delivery in 2018, have experienced a series of design and construction setbacks.

The launch of the second vessel, the Glen Rosa, originally due on March 12, has now been delayed to April 9 to allow Glen Sannox to remain at the shipyard's quayside for an extended period. When first contracted, the two ferries were lauded as "green ships" due to their hybrid engines that can alternate between Liquefied Natural Gas and conventional marine diesel. The project has been marred by disputes, particularly over the new fuel system's complexity and regulatory demands. Despite these challenges, there's reason to be optimistic.

Read more: Ferguson Marine: Glen Sannox sets sail on first round of sea trials

David Tydeman, CEO of Ferguson Marine in Port Glasgow, recently expressed his hope to secure further substantial work from the Royal Navy's Type 26 Frigate programme, potentially utilising over half the yard's capacity. Despite the uncertainties surrounding the future of the shipyard, Tydeman was confident about this Royal Navy work supporting the yard during a recent Public Audit Committee meeting.

"We have been planning for some time," he said, "and I am delighted that we were able to sign a framework agreement with BAE Systems."

According to Tydeman, the agreement with BAE Systems would help address the workforce surplus at the Ferguson Marine yard as work on two ferries progressively winds down over the next 12 months. He further added: "Both those yards (BAE and Babcock) have more work than they can do on their sites - as I said, this is a buoyant time in the shipbuilding market - they need supporting contractors."

Ferguson Marine started work on the first sections for a Type 26 Frigate last year. In terms of scale, Mr Tydeman compared the additional, potential future work from the Type 26 programme to ongoing projects at Ferguson. "Hull 802 will be about 3,000 tonnes of weight when she launches down the slipway later this year, and a bow block unit for type 26 ship 4 - which we hope to do with BAE - will be about 900 tonnes," he stated. Elaborating on this, he said: "A programme of work with BAE can use more than half the capacity of the yard, and I hope that we can complement that with the CMAL small ferry programme."

Read more: Call to save Ferguson Marine as fears grow over new ferries contract

Additionally, he mentioned that the company is actively tracking opportunities in the market. "We have a small commercial team that is tracking the market and we have been putting in proposals to the patrol craft market," Mr Tydeman disclosed. There are also ongoing discussions with operators in the wind farm market, providing potential long-term work. "The first of those ships could be built in 2027. That does not fill the immediate gap, but... that is a very significant opportunity for us in the future."

He has also said that the Ministry of Defence work could potentially provide a “solid base” for the future of the Port Glasgow ferry builders. Mr Tydeman insisted the shipyard was now in much better shape and was ready to re-establish its reputation with new orders.

"We have the opportunity, starting with 802 over the next year, to show we are as good as we were 10 years ago," he said.

He added that, despite the difficulties with the current CalMac ships, the yard is also hopeful of future work for the state-run ferry operator, particularly for smaller vessels similar to ferries the yard has successfully delivered in the past. "They are exactly in our sweet spot of what we could do well. We’ve just got to price them properly and deliver them on time - and win some hearts and minds to give us that contract,” Mr Tydeman said.

On a brighter note for the yard, Ferguson Marine recently announced that it intended to continue work with defence contractor BAE Systems "to re-engage with them as a supply-chain partner" for the eight complex Type 26 Frigates being built upriver. Ferguson says that this third-party work will contribute millions to the costs of running the shipyard and help sustain workforce skills. Luckily for them, they got the work.

Not only have they been getting the work, the workforce themselves are engaged in this effort in a way that boosts their own skills as Ferguson Marine workers have been seconded to BAE Govan since January 2023. The company recently reassured stakeholders that the secondment does not divert resources away from the completion of the ferry projects but instead allows for knowledge transfer and upskilling of the workforce across the industry, a critical factor in ensuring the shipyard remains competitive in securing future contracts.

The Herald: The Glen Sannox began her sea trials earlier this weekThe Glen Sannox began her sea trials earlier this week (Image: Jane Barlow/PA)

The third-party work on behalf of the military shipbuilder upriver in Govan requires quality, precision and exacting standards. It’s a very big deal when it comes to sustaining the future of the Port Glasgow yard and it demonstrates the trust the shipbuilding industry has in the Port Glasgow shipyard.

It’s no secret that the two vessels, Glen Rosa and the Glen Sannox, will be over budget and late. I believe the yard will, despite all of the setbacks, weather the storm it is currently facing. Commercial activity at the yard is increasing and if recent statements are anything to go by, I think the transparency the yard now appears to be committed to shows a far more professional situation than the yard’s workforce endured previously. Yes, there are setbacks - massive setbacks actually - but fact is the largest shipbuilder in the country has given them a vote of confidence and that speaks volumes.

George Allison is the editor of the UK Defence Journal