DRIVE FOR CAR FERRY GATHERS PACE – AFTER SAFETY SCANDAL BOSS SUMMONED TO TOP-LEVEL GOVERNMENT MEETING
August 3, 2012
DUNOON is today edging closer to having a car ferry service reinstated on the town’s lifeline link with Gourock following a showdown meeting involving Infrastructure Minister Alex Neil and embattled Caledonian MacBrayne boss Archie Robertson.
It is understood that Mr Neil told the safety scandal-hit chief executive that he wants controversial lightweight tub MV Ali Cat replaced with a robust vehicle and passenger ship as soon as possible – and that consultants have been ordered to carry out a thorough search for a suitable ferry.
Robertson was summoned to the hush-hush talks at the Scottish Government’s offices in Atlantic Quay, Glasgow, on Wednesday evening after finally apologising for threatening to sue retired CalMac Marine Superintendent Sandy Ferguson over the Ali Cat safety debacle.
Captain Ferguson – who attended the meeting with Argyll and Bute MSP Michael Russell – today declined to go into detail about what was said to Robertson at the tense meeting but confirmed that he had left agreeing that a car ferry should now replace the Ali Cat.
Captain Ferguson said: “I can say that Alex Neil, who chaired the meeting, announced that he would like to see the Ali Cat replaced with a vehicle ferry and had consultants working at the minute trying to identify such a vessel.
“The Argyll Ferries delegation then confirmed that they would wish to operate a vehicle and passenger ferry on the Dunoon-Gourock route if a suitable ferry could be identified.”
Under-fire Robertson had previously tried to rubbish Captain Ferguson after he exposed the fact that the “not fit for purpose” Ali Cat is only permitted to sail in “favourable weather” – meaning “fine, clear and settled conditions” and a sea state which causes ”only moderate rolling and/or pitching” as a condition of a special exemption certificate which allows her to operate without any rescue boat onboard.
The ferries boss insisted that he knew about the restriction, but his leadership of CalMac is now being called into serious question after a probe carried by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency found that the boat’s masters “were not fully aware” of it.
An inspection of how the boat is operated on a daily basis led to an improvement notice being served on CalMac’s Argyll Ferries outfit amid concerns that passenger safety was being routinely put at risk.
It is understood that three senior MCA chiefs as well as CalMac chairman Peter Timms and Transport Scotland officials also attended the Atlantic Quay summit on Wednesday night.
We can reveal that Robertson – who had previously flatly refused to say sorry to Captain Ferguson and is yet to comment publicly on the scandal – wrote a letter of apology to him on 20 July.
Referring to his correspondence which threatened to take legal action against the widely respected master mariner, Robertson wrote: “I realise that the tone and assertiveness of my letter was not appropriate, and certainly not appropriate to communication what became as public as it has, and I apologise for this.”
Captain Ferguson – who shook hands with Robertson at Wednesday’s meeting – said: “I accept his apology.”
MSP Mr Russell – who fought on Captain Ferguson’s behalf on the issue – said: “I am pleased that CalMac has realised that the way Sandy was treated was very bad.
“But the important thing here is that Sandy was telling the truth about the safety and operational issues surrounding the Ali Cat.
“The company should now acknowledge that publicly and put it right.”
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