Isles of Scilly Steamship Group announced on 13th September that Piriou had been named as their preferred shipbuilder to construct and deliver two new vessels for the Group, the Scillonian IV and a freight ship. Back in April 2023 the company announced a private financing solution for the replacement of the vessels due to complications with the government’s levelling up funds, and the intent to select a preferred shipyard. Piriou is a long-established shipbuilder with over 50 years’ experience building more than 600 vessels. It has over 1,400 highly-skilled employees, including an in-house design team and production facilities in Europe, Africa, and Asia. The shipyard group has a strong balance sheet with an annual turnover of over €300 million.
The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group and Piriou commenced detailed design work with the intention of signing contracts in October 2023 for the new ships to replace the current 1,346gt/1977-built Scillonian III (above) and 590gt/1981-built Gry Maritha. Construction of both vessels will commence in Piriou’s Vietnam yard in spring 2024 before transfer to Piriou’s yard in France for commissioning and testing, ready for delivery ahead of the 2026 season. Working with a team of experts, the project will be managed by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group’s two on-site project managers to make sure that there is constant representation at the shipyard and to ensure that the build programme remains on budget and on time for delivery. The new faster passenger ferry, designed by Damen Group, will provide passengers with greater comfort through improved stabilisation, accessibility, and an overall enhanced experience, in line with feedback received during the Group’s consultation with visitors and residents on Scilly.
The new cargo vessel will have increased freight capacity and provide comfortable transport for up to 12 passengers per sailing during the winter. Both vessels will use the latest propulsion technology with improved environmental credentials along with the capability to be upgraded as green technologies mature. Piriou was delighted to be named as the preferred shipyard by the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group and, as they have been building and maintaining lifeline ferries for decades, they know how important this project is for the communities depending on the sea link service. Working closely with the Group’s project team, Piriou’s teams in Brittany and Vietnam were already fully dedicated to deliver the most suitable vessels, designed for rough seas, with increased comfort and a reduced environmental footprint. Also, Concarneau and Penzance have been twin towns since 1982 so this project can only strengthen the links between Cornwall and the Breton “Cornouaille.”
The Harland & Wolff shipyard, which wasn’t shortlisted for the newbuilds, presented two designs for the Penzance-St. Mary’s service on 30th August and has encouraged the authorities in Scilly to look at their own vessel options, to make use of the levelling up funding and to break the monopoly on the sea link.
The Council of the Isles of Scilly confirmed on 1st September that it was aware of the announcement by Harland & Wolff, which set out the company’s interest in building ferries and operating them on the route between the Isles of Scilly and the mainland. The Council was not aware of H & W’s proposal prior to this and, as with all previous unsolicited expressions of interest in the route, the Council forwarded H & W’s letter to the Department for Transport and the National Shipbuilding Office whilst taking no further action in relation to the letter at that time. The Council, as requested by the shipping minister, continued to work with the Department for Transport to be in a position to submit a full business case to government to seek to unlock the levelling up funds. The business case was presented to members at the Full Council meeting on 12th September and was then subject to detailed analysis by government before a decision could be made by the Secretary of State for Transport.
The Council, supported by Derek Thomas MP, urged government to undertake this work and come to a decision urgently. The Belfast shipbuilder did not react well to the announcement on 13th September from the Steamship Group that they will be proceeding with private funding to build replacement vessels in Vietnam. H & W predicted that this would end in failure due to the level of debt and the business plan to maximise summer trade and commented, “keeping a monopoly that will likely more than triple existing tariffs doesn’t need to happen, now is the time for the Isles of Scilly Council to look after their residents and compete on the route.” It is such a shame that the fleet renewal programme has become as smooth a process as a crossing of the Lyonesse in a severe gale.