FERRY commuters who have endured an average of 99 cancelled sailings a month since the introduction of second-hand and lightweight passenger-only boats on the Gourock-Dunoon route are set for brand new 'reliable' vessels.

Nearly a decade after Argyll Flyer and Ali Cat — operated by Caledonian MacBrayne — came into operation, and racked up more than 11,000 failures to run, consultants have been appointed to draw up a 'concept design' for the ferries which must replace them.

Scottish Government quango Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) — still mired in the ferries fiasco at Ferguson's shipyard — have awarded the £155,000 contract to international design and engineering firm BMT.

A recent Telegraph investigation revealed that the current boats — which were branded 'not fit for purpose' when they came into service on June 29, 2011 — had suffered 11,128 cancellations between then and October 30 last year.

The figure equates to or around 25 a week over the timeframe.

BMT will provide a consultancy service for the concept design of a new vessel for the Gourock-Kilcreggan crossing as well as the Gourock-Dunoon ferries, CMAL has announced.

The contract is part of the Gourock Harbour Infrastructure and Vessels Project, which is a partnership between Transport Scotland, CMAL, CalMac and Argyll and Bute Council.

The project covers the redevelopment of Gourock Ferry Terminal, and works to the harbour infrastructures at Dunoon and Kilcreggan, as well as the delivery of new passenger-only vessels.

CMAL bosses say that, when complete, it 'will provide a modern, reliable and resilient lifeline passenger ferry service between the terminals at Gourock, Dunoon and Kilcreggan'.

A Freedom of Information enquiry by the Telegraph revealed that abandoned sailings by Argyll Flyer and Ali Cat due to weather accounted for 73.3 per cent of all cancelled sailings during — or 8,157 crossings.

A total of 20 per cent of cancellations were been down to technical breakdowns and 6.6 per cent were listed by CalMac as for 'other' reasons.

CalMac said that the figures amounted to 6.3 per cent of services on the route being cancelled and that 165,488 crossing had been 'delivered successfully'.

In a statement on the proposed new ferries, CMAL said: "With a strong focus on reducing the environmental footprint, BMT and CMAL will investigate and evaluate the application of energy efficiency solutions to make the new vessel design more sustainable while still offering the high level of safety and reliability expected from a lifeline ferry service."

CMAL's senior technical manager Andy Crossan added: "BMT has a strong track record of advanced vessel design, knowledge and experience, and has a thorough understanding of the challenges and the opportunities offered by the port infrastructure redevelopment.

"The contract award is an important milestone in the new vessel project, which will provide much-needed investment in the ferry service for the local community and the overall vessel fleet."

Sylvain Julien, director at BMT, said: "We are committed to leading the way in designing vessels that lower the environmental impact, and we welcome the opportunity to work with CMAL to work towards increased sustainability by leveraging our deep understanding of advanced ferry design and operation."