SHIPBUILDING was once the pride of Scotland but has now become a political nightmare for the Government as questions mount over £240 million spent on two ferries which are now nearly four years late.

The Scottish Government has pledged lessons will be learned from the saga to avoid spiralling costs and delays in the future.

Beyond the political mudslinging, experts have laid the blame at the feet of “bureaucrats”, allegedly resistant to change, who lack expertise in maritime engineering.

Roy Pedersen, a member of the Scottish Government’s Ferry Industry Advisory Group and ferry expert, thinks “ministers, mostly, have acted in good faith but have been seriously badly advised by officials”.

He said the two public companies responsible for most of Scotland’s Clyde and Hebridean ferry services, both of which advise Scottish ministers on ferry services – CalMac and CMAL – are in need of overhaul.

“CalMac is a disaster area,” said Pedersen, the architect of the Scottish Government’s system for calculating ferry fares.

“You have officials relying on the most inefficient operation for advice and then passing that on to ministers.

“The whole state-funded system is pretty rotten and needs radical overhaul.

“The idea of building and owning ships as a nationalised company and CalMac renting the ships and terminals – that’s a model that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. It’s chronically inefficient.”

Pedersen backs a change in the type of ship used for the Clyde and Hebridean routes. When the contract to build the 801 and 802 ferries was awarded to the Ferguson Marine yard in Port Glasgow in 2014, the firm was tasked with designing and building the ferries to CMAL’s specifications.

But Pedersen’s suggestion of switching to smaller, more nimble boats such as catamarans would see a reduction in staff levels.

Both ships languishing unfinished in the nationalised Ferguson Marine yard are to be fitted out to allow crew to sleep on board. Smaller boats used in the Shetlands do not have this facility and the crews live on the islands served by the ferries, said Pedersen.

He went on: “For every person unnecessarily employed on the ferry sector, it’s denying education and the health service to somebody.”

His suggestion was met with fierce opposition from the Rail, Maritime and Transport union.

General secretary Mike Lynch said: “The problems on CalMac are not of the crews’ making.

“We need a people’s CalMac with proper investment in the vessels and a board with representatives from the islands and the workforce, ensuring CalMac is adaptable and responsive to the needs of these fragile island communities and the loyal hard-working crews who staff these vessels in often very trying circumstances.”

A simple solution to the SNP’s watery woes would be to put into action a policy the party backed at their 2019 conference, said Pedersen, which called on the Government to draw on independent shipbuilding expertise in Scotland.

“My colleague Alf Baird [retired professor of maritime business] and I drafted a maritime policy for the SNP,” he added.

“It was approved unanimously at the Aberdeen SNP conference in 2019 but has never been acted upon.

“What we recommended was the setting up of a maritime agency under the auspices of the Scottish Government.”

Both Pedersen and Australia-based shipbuilder Stuart Ballantyne – who said he was flown over to Scotland by the Scottish Government to advise on ferry policy in 2008 – agree CalMac services are “overmanned”.

Catamarans are smaller than the style of boats used by CalMac – though the company, CMAL and ministers insist they are open to other designs. They also require less crew because they carry fewer people.

Ballantyne insists the more agile boats, which are easier to manoeuvre in choppy waters and used in other non-CalMac services in Scotland, are not favoured by the state operator.

Ballantyne said: “The designs that CMAL are requiring and specifying are just unrealistic.

“Bureaucracies do not like to make a decision, they like to go with the flow and don’t buck the system because you won’t lose your job.”

While CMAL does not own any catamarans, it says it has considered them in the past and one is being considered for the Dunoon route.

A spokesperson added: “Vessel choice is informed by a wide range of factors: current passenger and freight demand, as well as future projections; comfort; safety; reliability; sustainability; efficiency; and cost – to name a few.”

Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac, said: “Crew numbers are set by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and a vessel is legally required for safety reasons to operate with a minimum number on board. Our crew numbers are not large when compared to ships carrying similar numbers of passengers.

“The majority of our fleet operates with very small crews, typically three or four people, who all live ashore. Only the larger vessels, a total of 14, operate with live-aboard staff.

“Our large vessels must employ seafarers with specific qualifications and while 70% of our workforce live locally, crew with this particular skillset may live further afield.

“If they did not live onboard, they would have to be accommodated in hotels.

“As our vessels are sometimes deployed to help elsewhere on the network, crew may have to travel for several hours to get back to on-shore accommodation, which can affect crew availability and legal hours of rest. They also berth in different locations overnight so if this had to alter to allow crew to get home, this would affect timetables and reduce resilience.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We do not recognise these allegations. We remain open-minded however to all viable vessel concepts in the future.”