Orkney Ferries Fleet needs to be replaced

Ferry, Varagen, tied up in Kirkwall

Why has the Orkney Ferries fleet not been replaced?

Orkney Ferries Earls heading for home
Earl Sigurd and Thorfinn heading for home.

The Orkney Islands Council (OIC) and the Scottish Government (SG) have been arguing about replacing Orkney Ferries fleet for ages. The OIC, for financial or political reasons, want the SG to fund it. The SG cannot build ferries at a reasonable price, even after bailing out a shipyard to complete a contract. In the meantime, Orkney residents put up with old and failing vessels.

It’s time to get this sorted.

Catamarans could solve this problem. They’re cheaper to build, can carry more cargo for the same length and are cheaper to run. Various financial models can help the authorities’ budgets. Orkney is a world leader in many areas. A modern fleet of catamarans powered by renewable energy would enhance our reputation on the world stage.

Professor Alf Baird describes the solution.

Catamaran Ferry

In March this year (2020), Alf Baird gave a presentation to the Orkney branch of the SNP. It impressed us so much we asked him to record it so everybody in Orkney can see the benefits.

Mike RobertsonMike Robertson

Author: Mike Robertson

The Secretary, Treasurer and Organiser of Orkney SNP, and the webmaster for this site, Mike is a retired software engineer and company director. When not working towards an independent Scotland Mike enjoys photography, woodworking and cooking, but not all at the same time.

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10 thoughts on “Orkney Ferries Fleet needs to be replaced

  1. I have some questions.
    1. I see you are not promoting the construction of new vessels in Scottish shipyards. Is this going to be part of a local SNP campaign, not to use Scottish yards?
    2. Has any thought been given to fixed links where it would be feasible rather than continuing with ferries to those islands where it is possible? And what would be the costs?
    3. North Ronaldsay – would new infrastructure be built on the island so that it can accommodate a ro – ro ferry and has this been costed?
    4.With increased vehicles arriving on Orkney’s smaller islands would there be a road construction programme running alongside this and has this been costed?
    5. How is the SNP in Orkney going to advance this campaign to renew the inter islands fleet given that it is an urgent matter?

    1. Fiona, you make some good points. I am going to ask Alf himself to comment on those that are his area of expertise.

      In the meantime, I would like to make clear that we are not trying state SNP policy. We simply felt this information needed wider distribution and discussion. Personally I would be delighted if vessels of this kind could be built in Scottish yards.

      The whole transport system for isles could do with revision but at the moment we seemed to be bogged down in financial aspects of replacing the ferries.

      As the local branch of SNP, we are trying to provoke an open discussion about the ferries. Catamarans are widely used in other parts of the world with similar conditions and we would like to see this being part of that discussion.

      1. Thank you for the answers. I’m interested in the discussion that’s why I raised these points

    2. Fiona,
      1. Please see my response below to David re the shipbuilding opportunity and specific reasons why it has not yet been exploited in Scotland. I would only add here that shipbuilding is a high risk business and the only hope for long-term viability is if using the absolute best proven and most competitive ferry designs, top quality workforce and systems/infrastructure, and superb management/global expertise in place. In my opinion none of these key aspects yet exist at Ferguson’s, which reflects the ongoing fiasco there.
      2. Fixed links are not my area of expertise I’m afraid.
      3. You would need to ask OIC about any plans for NR roro. My presentation only covers replacement of vehicle ferries.
      4. Landside integration is also a matter for OIC. My focus here is on the now very urgent imperative for new ferries, and necessary additional vehicle carrying capacity to meet island development needs.
      5. I think Mike addresses this aspect below.

      1. Thank you. An interesting discussion to be had especially as public transport is so poor and a sustainable Orkney economy relies on ferry infrastructure

  2. The use of catamaran was discussed at the science festival 3-4 years ago. There may be a need to modify most harbour berth facilities. I understand the MV Alfred cannot use existing ramps as the vessel ramp is not compatible. A view at the conference was that a new company could be formed to construct the vessels from a supplied kit format. That would be useful if enough orders were forthcoming.

    1. David, ensuring catamaran ramps fit narrower linkspans designed for monohulls can be done relatively easily and use of split ramps at stern and bow can allow either port or starboard berthing. Pentland Ferries catamarans replaced narrow ex-CalMac monohulls, with ship ramps aligned to port side. Orkney also has some wide shore ramps such as at Kirkwall, and slips for ferries which catamarans can readily use. I think I gave the Scifest presentation you refer to. The catamaran designer/builder has twice offered Scottish Ministers an option to assemble under license his lower cost proven catamaran designs in Scotland, which is similar to the strategy used to build catamarans in Asian yards. However as you may know Scottish Ministers are still dealing with the fall-out from CMAL/CalMac’s poorly designed monohulls at state-owned Ferguson’s which are now several years overdue and costing several times more than planned. I might add that these two incredibly expensive monohulls (now costing a total of perhaps £300m) have also required massive port investment requirements (£100m+ across 4 piers) which could have been avoided with low cost, proven designs of catamarans. For an investment of £400m it would have been possible to replace the entire now mostly outdated 30-ship CalMac fleet with catamarans, which is more or less what the catamaran designer/builder has offered to Scottish Ministers. The blockage on this badly needed fleet modernisation is mainly coming from CMAL/CalMac and RMT and their traditional thinking on poorly specified monohulls.

    1. Mike, the catamaran designer has proven designs suitable for hard shore ramps/slips such as the Rousay etc. route. The catamaran also benefits from its reduced draft compared with a similar capacity monohull which facilitates access to small, shallow piers and reduced need for dredging.

  3. Two leased fifty metre catamarans, and a roro service to Papa Westray from Westray , new ferry for Rousay , keep one of the re-engined Earls for North Ronaldsay and for dangerous goods , cattle etc. etc.
    The combination of efficiency and increased capacity which is desperately required , will in turn will generate more commerce to the isles , and will allow islanders to commute more often without worrying if they will get home again due to lack of capacity. This combination of efficiencies and revenues will go towards the leasing costs and wouldn’t involve a large initial outlay.
    This should of been done 10 years ago

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