When Martin Dorchester joined Scottish operator CalMac Ferries just over two years ago, he was a stranger to the shipping industry. His former career, which spanned 30 years, saw him working nationally and internationally with organisations covering logistics, technology and finance. Just two months after he joined the £128 million ferry business, two of his superiors left in quick succession. This left him with big boots to fill: those of the CEO.
Two years later, and Dorchester believes that CalMac is in the strongest position it has ever been. “I have been very keen to build on the excellent reputation the company has for looking after its customers and to underline the very important role we have providing lifeline services and as an economic enabler,” he says.
CalMac Ferries currently charters a fleet of 29 vessels which serve 25 routes covering the islands off the west coast of Scotland and in the Clyde estuary. Each year, nearly 4.8 million passengers, 1.1 million cars, 93,000 commercial vehicles and 11,360 coaches are carried. Always with an eye on the future, the company has made a number of significant investments in its fleets, including the launch of Loch Seaforth, which will operate between Stornoway and Ullapool, and has significantly greater capacity than its predecessor. The 116m ro-ro passenger ferry will be capable of operating 24 hours a day and will have capacity for up to 700 passengers and 143 cars, or 20 commercial vehicles. It is expected to come into service in late summer this year following fitting out, testing and certification. “Loch Seaforth will make a huge difference to customer comfort, and the new design and modern engines also provide scope for operational efficiencies,” Dorchester says.
In addition to this ship, CalMac has recently taken delivery of Lochinvar. “This is the second of two seagoing diesel-electric hybrid ro-ro ferries, which are the first of their kind in the world,” Dorchester explains. “The first, Hallaig, operates in Skye between Sconser and Raasay. Built by Ferguson’s Shipyard in Port Glasgow, they use shorepower stored in batteries to reduce the need for the diesel engines, thereby cutting emissions.”
CalMac is also gearing up for its next big next tender. “Our main priority at the moment is to win the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services Contract, which is expected to go out to tender late this year,” Dorchester says. “Everything we are doing is geared to making our bid the very best it can be.”
In addition to this, the company has a raft of service improvements up its sleeves. “Customers can expect to see some exciting new developments in ticketing and booking, among others,” Dorchester says.
This year, Dorchester was named Public Sector Director of the Year by the Institute of Directors Scotland, which continues a run of recognition for CalMac. Late last year, the company beat 13 major ferry companies to be named for the fourth year in a row ‘Best Ferry Company’ in the prestigious Guardian and Observer Travel Awards. In June 2013 it was named Public Transport Operator of the Year in the Scottish Transport Awards for the third time in four years and scooped the award for Customer Focus in the Scottish Business Awards. In March, it also received an award from Scottish Union Learning in the Highlands and Islands, which supports trade unions in accessing skills and lifelong learning opportunities for workers across Scotland.
“There are a number of things which make CalMac unique,” says Dorchester. “First, we have been operating on the west coast for more than 160 years. Many of our crews and staff live in these areas, so know first-hand the importance of ferry services to these remote, rural and fragile communities. We will pull out the stops to help – even if it comes at a cost – because we know that these communities rely on us enormously and their needs often have to come first.”
This article appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2014 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read other articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.