A Scottish shipyard that went bust a year ago has been named preferred bidder for a £97m contract to build new ferries after being saved by a local entrepreneur.
The Ferguson shipyard will build two 100m ferries built at its base in Port Glasgow, the largest new ferries on the Clyde since 2001, which can accommodate 127 cars or 16 HGVs or a combination of both and up to 1,000 passengers.
The deal could secure more than 150 jobs at Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd (FMEL), which was taken over by Scottish billionaire and former independence supporter Jim McColl, who has said he plans to invest up to £65m in the business.
The design and tendering of the ferries have been overseen by Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited and CalMac Ferries, both wholly owned by the Scottish Government, and the SNP said the contract is "just reward" for McColl's investment McColl and should act as a springboard for further contracts.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: "This is an excellent result for Ferguson Marine Engineering Limited and I am delighted to name them as preferred tenderer for the contract to build two new ferries, the largest commercial vessels to be built on the Clyde since 2001.
"Today's announcement proves that Scottish shipbuilding can succeed in a competitive market, with the FMEL team submitting the highest quality bid that offered best value for money.
"This contract will see the 150-strong workforce retained and more staff taken on at the shipyard, underlining our commitment to creating the vital jobs needed to boost local economies and help stimulate growth across Scotland."
The new ferries will be ‘dual-fuel’ vessels meaning they can operate on both marine diesel and liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is considerably cleaner than traditional maritime fuels.
The first ferry is expected to be delivered in early 2018, with the second vessel following a few months later, and they are currently earmarked for the Ardrossan-Brodick and the Uig Triangle routes.
Tom Docherty, chief executive at Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited, said: "CMAL is committed to leading the way in innovative and greener ferry design and this dual fuel ferry is further proof of that. When fully operating on LNG, these ferries will greatly contribute to Scotland's ambitious climate change targets.
"Subject to agreement on all final contractual elements with FMEL, we hope to be in a position to finalise the award of the contract in September."
Cash flow problems at the shipyard, which dates back to 1902 and is the last commercial shipbuilder on the River Clyde, saw it go into administration last August with the loss of 70 jobs, McColl's company Clyde Blowers Capital fought off four other bids to take control of the business.
Stephen McCabe, the leader of Inverclyde Council, said: "Looking at the way the company has been turned around it is easy to forget that, just one year ago, Inverclyde Council and the Scottish Government sat together on a joint taskforce to try to help the workforce and company.
"In just one year, the company is physically expanding, has plans to deliver potential total jobs of 1,300 in five years and the fantastic news today. Credit for this should clearly go to Jim McColl for his vision to see the potential of Fergusons in Port Glasgow and to deliver on his promises.
"Also, the Port Glasgow workforce has shown that, with support and investment, they can rise to the challenges set for them. Together, they have taken a business on its knees and put it in a position where it can stand proud and ready to take on the world."