FERGUSON’S shipyard of Port Glasgow entered a new era yesterday when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon launched the UK’s most environmentally friendly ferry.

Glen Sannox is the first dual-fuel ship in the UK to be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and marine gas oil, and will sail on the Ardrossan to Arran route for CalMac.

And Ms Sturgeon said this was showing the way forward to the rest of Britain’s shipbuilding industry.

She said: “Ship launches are always emotional, but this one is particularly so because for more than a century this yard has been so much part of the local community.

“It’s great to see commercial shipbuilding return to the Clyde at Ferguson’s.”

The First Minister said Ferguson Marine Engineering Ltd makes a significant contribution to the Scottish industrial sector and to the Inverclyde economy, and that the ship was significant for many reasons.

She added: “These state-of-the-art ferries are more sustainable, therefore contributing to Scotland’s world-leading climate change goals.

“It’s a special day for Ferguson’s and a big achievement.

“This shipyard has such a special place part at the heart of this community and it wants to compete much farther afield.

“A lot of investment has gone into this shipyard.

“It’s not that long ago that the very future of this yard was in doubt. While no one is underestimating the challenges facing commercial shipyards, I think there is much more reason to be optimistic about Ferguson’s than there’s been in an awful long time.

“When its future has been in doubt in the past, you’ve seen how the community has rallied behind it, and that tells its own story about the importance of the yard.

“This launch is also important for the engineering, shipbuilding and manufacturing reputation of the country as a whole, and that makes it a very special part of the Scottish economy overall.”

The First Minister added: “Ferguson’s is pioneering and innovating with Glen Sannox and her sister ship, and that is something to be really proud of. I know that the management and workers of this yard are determined to compete and win orders well into the future.”

Transport Minister Humza Yousaf, who also attended the launch, said he applauded the entire workforce for their work on the ship.

He said: “They have done a phenomenal job. This was my first launch as transport minister, so it was really emotional when the ship hit the water.”

Greenock and Inverclyde MSP Stuart McMillan played the pipes for the launching ceremony.

Mr McMillan, who is the Scottish Parliament’s official piper, said: “It’s a fabulous day for Port Glasgow and Ferguson Marine, and is testimony to the hard work and high skills of this dedicated workforce.”

Glen Sannox, and a sister ship being built alongside, were ordered in a £97 million contract by the Scottish Government through Port Glasgow-based CMAL (Caledonian Marine Assets Ltd), who own the vessels and harbours used by CalMac.

Both 102-metre ships are designed to carry 127 cars or 16 heavy goods vehicles, or a combination of both, and up to a thousand passengers.

Yard owner Jim McColl, who rescued it three years ago from closure, says the experience and knowledge gained during this project will be of enormous benefit to the competitiveness of Scottish shipbuilding in the future as technology continues to develop to meet tightening clean energy legislation.

He said: “This marks an important milestone in Ferguson Marine’s journey to becoming a world-class shipyard.  Not only has this been an extremely exciting and ambitious project for both Ferguson Marine and CMAL, but it has been an extremely complex one as well.

“We have worked closely together on the highly challenging engineering issues arising from the unique nature of the dual fuel ferry project.  The experience and knowledge gained during this project will be of enormous benefit to the competitiveness of Scottish shipbuilding in the future as technology continues to develop to meet tightening clean energy legislation.”

Mr McColl added: “This is a momentous occasion, and a big, big day for this community.”

He said it was great see so many people at the launch, which was conducted in pouring rain.

Kevin Hobbs, chief executive of CMAL said: “We welcome the launch of Glen Sannox, marking a major milestone in the construction of this highly innovative vessel.  The use of LNG in maritime transport is a sign of our ongoing commitment to exploring new fuel technologies for ferries, as well as a wider commitment to innovation in Scotland and consideration for the environmental impact of transport.”

Robbie Drummond, CalMac’s Service Delivery Director added: “The launch of any vessel is an exciting time in its construction, and we are pleased to see the first of the new ships being built at Port Glasgow reach this important milestone.  As the end-customer for the MV Glen Sannox, we are looking forward to welcoming her to our fleet in due course.”

Challenges presented by the complex specification of the vessels caused a two-month delay in the launch of Glen Sannox, and will mean she will not be delivered to CalMac until winter 2018/19 rather than next summer.

There will also be a delay in handing over the second ferry, which will be used on the Skye ‘triangle’ route.

The launch was also attended by Greenock Sea Cadets, and pupils from St Michael’s, St John’s, St Ninian’s, Gourock and Langbank primaries, as well as Craigmarloch School and Lomond View Academy.

Flowers were presented to the First Minister by six-year-old Cassie Murphy, whose mum, Louise Larkin, is the yard’s first apprentice draughtswoman.