Shipping & Shipbuilding News -  02 July 2007 - The Brightest Maritime Daily

The SOUND OF SHUNA was built at Ferguson's on the Clyde

Ferry boss blasts Calmac
Western Ferries calls for 'open waters' policy from Scottish Executive and criticises Calmac operations

Western Ferries' Managing Director Gordon Ross, speaking at the opening ceremony for new linkspans at their Hunter's Quay terminal near Dunoon and at McInroy's Point, Gourock on the Firth of Clyde, told of his company's wish to expand their routes on the west coast of Scotland and took the opportunity of taking a few swipes at their rival, Calmac.

Despite having pulled out of the tender process for Calmac ferry routes earlier this year, he said on Friday (29th June) that Western Ferries were looking at routes to Arran, Islay and Mull and also a new route to link Cowal with the Isle of Bute.

Addressing the invited guests at the opening of the new berths between Gourock and Hunter's Quay he said:

"I believe there are significant commercial opportunities waiting to be exploited and I want to see this new Holyrood government institute an open water policy that will allow us to compete fairly with Cal-Mac."

He went on to make a dramatic statement regarding the loss-making Calmac services:

"If the commercial barriers were removed, Western Ferries could turn most, if not all, of Cal-Mac's subsidised loss-making services into commercially viable, more frequent services, and with the bonus of significant savings to the taxpayer."

In what could be seen as a swipe at Calmac's procurement of vessels from Poland, due to the state owned ferry company being bound by EU regulations on tenders, he flagged up his own company's 'buy local' policy:

"Western Ferries has a purchasing ethos of sourcing locally whenever possible. We are a significant employer in Dunoon - the company has over 55 Cowal employees. And we are proud of the fact these vessels and linkspans were both manufactured and delivered by Fergusons' Shipbuilders, Port Glasgow."

Western have often promised that should they win more work then that would translate into more orders for Ferguson Shipbuilders. The company runs two ferries built by the local shipyard in 2001 and 2003.

Western Ferries competes with Calmac Ferries on the lucrative Gourock-Dunoon routes, operating their own terminals at Hunters Quay near Dunoon and McInroy's Point outside Gourock. Calmac, hampered by rules regarding how often they can sail and having to provide for foot-passengers needs, complain they cannot compete effectively with WF who take the lion's share of the vehicular traffic. WF meanwhile point out that Calmac operate with huge subsidies that WF don't have.

Bad blood has existed between WF and Calmac since 1974. The private company began operating services to Islay back in the late sixties. They revolutionised sea transport to the island, providing more sailings and modern RO-RO vessels. By 1974 the newly formed Caledonian MacBrayne deployed their new vessel, the PIONEER, with subsidies, under-cutting the private operator and, according to Western Ferries, effectively ousting the private company from the trade they had built up.

Mr Ross went on to further lambast the state-owned ferry company's subsidies and operations:

"Western Ferries received a capital grant of 400,000 from HIE Argyll and Islands in respect of these improvements to our Dunoon terminal. That is all the subsidy we have had.

"Cal-Mac has had 13m in direct subsidy on the Gourock-Dunoon route over the past six years, yet it still makes a loss. Over the same period we've turned over 5.5m a year, and grown the traffic by almost 40%, most of it new traffic. On the Wemyss Bay-Rothesay route, the last ferry is at 7.45pm, and although they've put on two new boats, they've only managed to grow that by 8%.

"And not only does Cal-Mac receive subsidy, they control all the portage and berthing. And they don't even try and open it out to other traffic."

He then went on to criticise the new breakwater at Dunoon Pier built by Argyll & Bute Council:

"They have had a brand new breakwater and linkspan put in at Dunoon at a cost of 6.5m."

"It is lying unused because they say they do not have the vessels to serve it. But they have never so much as lifted a phone to ask me if I wanted to use the berth. That is money they could be making, yet they leave it idle."

Mr Ross then turned his attention to Islay: "On some routes [Calmac's] approach is not just non-reactive to passenger needs, it's an actual constraint on growth. Take Islay. The distillery industry there is having serious problems moving its product off the island.

"If Cal-Mac won't react, then for the good of the Scottish economy, it is time to open these routes to fair competition."

So far Calmac have not reacted to the comments made by Mr Ross.


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