A FAILING ferry being kept operational on 'value for money' grounds despite repeated breakdowns has cost more than 100 per cent of its original purchase price to repair and maintain.

The second-hand MV Argyll Flyer and her sister vessel MV Ali Cat have racked up in excess of 2,000 cancelled sailings on the Gourock-Dunoon route due to technical issues.

Taxpayers have so far funded an overall repair and upkeep bill of nearly £2.8 million since the boats — run by Scotland's national ferry operator, Caledonian MacBrayne — came into service.

The figure, obtained by the Greenock Telegraph as part of a Freedom of Information investigation, is equivalent to around £350,000 a year — or £29,000 every month.

The Argyll Flyer purchase price was £1.25m and the total spent on her catalogue of breakdowns and general upkeep outstrips that - currently standing at £1.8 million.

Ali Cat was bought for £975,000 and her repair and maintenance costs up to the end of the last full financial year of 2018/19 came in at £912,000.

Campaigners fighting to rid the route of the lightweight and weather prone passenger-only craft and return car ferries to the crossing have slammed the figures as 'shocking'.

Dunoon-Gourock Ferry Action Group spokesman Ken Barr said: "This gives the lie to any notion that these bathtub boats are delivering value for money."

The Scottish Government abandoned a previously stated 'wish' to reintroduce car ferries to the route following publication of an Audit Scotland report.

An independent investigation has been launched following an allegation of misconduct in public office after the document quoted figures of up to £60m to build new ships.

The cost data has been questioned by Transport Scotland, who had two senior officials, Graham Laidlaw and Richard Hadfield, acting in an advisory capacity to Audit Scotland.

Officials at the body responsible for the country's ferry fleet, Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd, say that current 'ballpark' figure for car ferries is £10 million each.

Our investigation has revealed that the Argyll Flyer has suffered 1,214 cancelled sailings due to technical problems, whilst the Ali Cat has had 831 services scrapped for the same reason.

The figures are from when the vessels entered service on June 30 in 2011.

Both boats have had more than 4,500 cancellations in the last three-and-a-half years due to a mixture of mechanical breakdowns and because they can't cope with windy weather.

In the first six months of this year alone there were 678 failures to sail — equivalent to 113 cancellations every month.

Mr Barr, of the ferry action group said: "These figures demonstrate not only the lack of value for money achieved by Transport Scotland, which is more than the net subsidy of the previous vessels when the profit from them carrying vehicles is taken into account, but also their foolhardy and ignorant belief that these vessels would be suitable for the route."

A spokesman for CalMac said: "The maintenance costs for CalMac's fleet last year was around £17 million or on average over £500,000 per vessel so the maintenance and repair costs for the MV Ali Cat and MV Argyll Flyer compare favourably.

"Since coming into service both vessels have successfully completed more than 140,000 sailings.

"The number cancelled on the route due to technical reasons stands at 1.42 per cent, broadly similar to the fleet's average performance."

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "Scottish Ministers are committed to delivering a passenger ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon with improved reliability and resilience, as the minister [Paul Wheelhouse MSP] and his officials discussed with local stakeholders recently.

"We have started a project, building on information gathered as part of the previous study by consultants, MVA, to consider the long-term requirements of the service, including vessel and infrastructure upgrades, but we will also consider opportunities for shorter-term improvements in passenger facilities.

"We are engaging with CalMac, CMAL and Argyll & Bute Council in the first instance, with wider stakeholder engagement to follow as the project progresses."