Ship Talk 2: Andrew Duncan

As director of vessels for Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited, Andrew Duncan is responsible for mediating the handover of the new Stornoway ferry from builder to operator 

Even at this late stage, the date has not been fixed — the date when Loch Seaforth is handed over from shipyard to owner and then, almost instantly, from owner to charterer.

Mid August? Late August? Early September? Let’s not jump the gun. The ship has taken wonderful shape, judging by photographs emanating from her builders in Germany, but much remains to be sorted — outstanding contractual issues, dock trials, sea trials. Eventually “someone will decide that the ship has been completed as per contract,” says Andrew Duncan, director of vessels at Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL), the Port Glasgow-based provider of all ships and most of the harbours used by CalMac.

It sounds simple. Andrew Duncan knows it is anything but. Loch Seaforth is the largest, fastest and most sophisticated ferry ever built for service in the west of Scotland. It’s in his interest to see that she fits the bill. Over the past two years he has been a monthly visitor to Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG), the shipyard in the Baltic port of Flensburg which won the contract to build the new 116-metre Stornoway ferry. Since her launch in March, those visits have become almost weekly.

 Loch Seaforth at Flensburg    Port side view at fitting-out berth   Stern ramp 

CMAL may not own Loch Seaforth — that privilege belongs to Lloyds Banking Group, which provided most of the £43m finance — but it acts as owner’s representative, responsible for ensuring the shipyard does a good job and that the charterer, Gourock-based CalMac Ferries Ltd, maintains the ship to mutually agreed standards.

Given the stakes involved, you would expect Andrew Duncan to be more than a little uptight about Loch Seaforth’s completion and delivery. Not a bit of it — or at least, he doesn’t show it. He comes across as a man who has learnt, in the course of a long and varied career, to take life’s ups and downs in his stride. At the age of 60, he may not claim to have ‘seen it all’, but he has experienced enough of the world to know the new ship will survive her teething troubles and set new standards for ferry transportation in the Hebrides.

Bow visor    Top deck (the ‘monkey island’) looking forward     Mezzanine deck area, pictured on July 17

Andrew Duncan has been director of vessels at CMAL since June 2007: he was the first member of the executive team to join the government-funded organisation after it was set up the previous year. His job specification is remarkably broad. He is responsible for developing new concepts and designs for vessels; handling shipyard tenders; managing build processes; accepting delivery from shipyards and onward delivery to the operating company.

That seems more than enough to occupy him and two colleagues, Jim Anderson and John Salton (both holding the title of senior technical manager), but there is also a duty to make summer and winter inspections of the 30-odd ferries that CMAL leases to CalMac. “CalMac are obliged at the end of their contract to return the ships to their owner in the same condition, subject to fair wear and tear,” he says. “We keep an eye on each vessel to see that their condition is maintained.”

As a way of equipping himself for the task, he could hardly have designed his career better. The son of Jack Duncan, who supervised the building of ships on behalf of a variety of big shipping companies from the 1950s to the 1970s, Andrew was born in Gourock on August 31 1953, moving at the age of two to London and later Liverpool, where he spent his school years and picked up the gentle northern accent that has never left him.

Andrew Duncan’s first ship — City of Canberra
The 1955 Pharos
The 1993 Pharos at Oban’s North Pier
in August 2003

He joined the merchant navy at 17: his first voyage was on Ellerman Lines’ City of Canberra, a refrigerated cargo ship bound for South America. He later served on a number of Blue Star container ships, before joining the Edinburgh-based Northern Lighthouse Board in 1981 — initially as a crew member of the 1955 Pharos and then, from 1991 to 2007, as a member of shore staff, looking after the construction and maintenance of lighthouse tenders (latterly as assistant superintendent). He was involved in supervising the building of the 1993 Pharos and the 2000 Pole Star, both at Fergusons, Port Glasgow, and the latest Pharos at Remontowa, Gdansk, in 2007.

His subsequent move to CMAL extended his skills to ships carrying passengers, but “in some ways ferries are much simpler than lighthouse ships, which have hydrographic survey capabilities and dynamic positioning systems” — not to mention specialist cranes and winches. 

The design of each new ferry is developed in consultation with the operating company, he says, a process that covers such questions as speed, sea-keeping characteristics and carrying capacity. After Loch Seaforth, for example, the challenge facing CMAL will be to develop a design for the new Arran and Mull ferries, due to enter service in 2017. The likelihood is that they will be sister ships, about 100 metres long and 18 wide, with capacity for 120-130 cars and a service speed of 16 ½ knots (faster than Caledonian Isles). They will probably be built by the same yard.

Pole Star (right) alongside the 2007 Pharos    Bigger footprint’ — Hallaig at Sconser     Finlaggan’s ‘gin palace’ — the lower saloon

Cleaner emissions remain a priority for CMAL — even when, as in the case of Hallaig and Lochinvar, it involves higher building costs and demands additional skills from the crew. Andrew Duncan says CalMac’s crews have taken “an almost competitive pride in what they’re doing [on the new hybrid ferries]. It’s just a matter of becoming familiar with the new systems. The whole hybrid project has stretched us positively and productively.”


All of which begs the question: what next? He says CMAL is now at ‘stage two’ of developing a zero-emission hydrogen-powered ferry, but “it will be another six-to-nine months before we’re ready to go out and identify a shipyard [to build it]. Because of the nature of the grants we’re getting, we don’t actually have to go out to tender [on the hydrogen-powered project] — we can select the shipyard that we want to develop the concept with.”

Test-model of Loch Seaforth’s hull    Keel block at start of construction in Flensburg    Coin laying under Loch Seaforth’s keel 

Environmental concerns are not Andrew Duncan’s only priority. Internal design is another pressing issue. Loch Seaforth, for example, will be less of a “gin palace” than Finlaggan, with quieter colours and furnishings. And like Hallaig and Lochinvar, her car deck will have a bigger “footprint” for cars. “It’s well known that cars were too cramped on the older vessels, especially the Loch class. A ferry that was designated 20 years ago to carry 100 cars can carry only about 70 now. The footprint for cars on the three latest vessels is bigger.”


Another question governing 21st century ferry design is that “everyone is living longer. More people with different forms of disability want to travel, and they require better access.” Loch Seaforth’s two fully disabled toilets and two passenger lifts are a step in the right direction, but there may come a time when Hebridean ferries need double that number — bringing new problems to solve.

“For a ship of this size, a lift isn’t easy to fit in. If it’s going from the bottom of the car deck to the top of the ship, you can’t just put it anywhere — no ship is flat-sided, especially a ship like Loch Seaforth, which has a big flare [in the hull shape]. In a 300-metre cruise liner, it’s not such a problem, but for a ship carrying just 700 passengers, it involves a disproportionate amount of planning and forethought.”

This is precisely the sort of problem that, over the past two years, has preoccupied Andrew Duncan and his CMAL colleagues. “The shipyard interprets [in detailed drawings] what is written in the spec. You send it back with adjustments, and then they do the same. You end up reaching a compromise that hopefully brings out the best result. That goes for everything, including layout of engine room, cabin accommodation, pumps and pipes.

“The plans are sent to us for comment, and quite often we say ‘That’s fine’. You expect them to know what they’re doing, though sometimes a particular aspect relating to our routes needs be arranged in a particular way. For example, early in Loch Seaforth’s building process, the height of the car decks was increased from a maximum 5.1 metres to 5.6, to allow more flexibility on the vehicle deck.”

 Loch Seaforth’s propeller blades prior to fitting   Andrew Duncan with wife Susan on launch day     Launch on March 21 at Flensburg


Andrew Duncan describes the resolution of such issues as “highly collaborative”, involving not just regular emails and phone calls but face-to-face discussions at progress meetings, held every month over two days at Flensburg with Carsten Ortloff, FSG’s chief ferry designer, and Raimon Strunck, sales director.

For Loch Seaforth, the collaborative process included extensive testing of a 10-metre model in Hamburg, the purpose being to determine the best shape of hull. “You can calculate the shape of a hull using computer modelling maths, but you can’t get as accurate a powering requirement as can be ascertained with a model. It was a progressive process, involving a series of different hull designs until we settled on the final choice.”

 Arrival of accommodation block   Fitting out of forward observation lounge     Engine control room


The ship was built in blocks of 200 or 300 tons each, with each block pre-outfitted as much as possible with pipes, machinery and cables. Most of the painting was done before the blocks were put together — the most visible being the accommodation block, built in a single unit in Poland and fitted after the launch. The final period before dock trials is devoted to connecting pipes and cables, fitting small-scale machinery (such as filters, purifier and fans for the engines), and testing and commissioning equipment — everything from air-conditioning, heating and galley equipment, to ramps, alarm monitoring and automation systems. All this is done with senior CalMac officers on hand to familiarise themselves with the ship.

Auxiliary generator room     Cooling pumps room    Lower engine room


Sea trials will be run over two or three days and then, almost instantly, Loch Seaforth will be handed over to CalMac Ferries Ltd. “They may hang around Flensburg for a number of days to work the ship up, and [after the delivery voyage] there will be various tests on the route to prepare her to take on passengers and cars. It’s up to CalMac to decide when they put her in service” — most likely in early autumn.

Job done? Not quite. Throughout the ship’s year-long guarantee period there will doubtless be a variety of niggly problems to solve. For CMAL’s director of vessels, the job is never complete. Given the number of groundbreaking projects in the pipeline, that’s probably the way Andrew Duncan likes it.


Andrew Duncan

Andrew Duncan was talking to CRSC magazine editor Andrew Clark in July 2014. This is the second in an occasional series of encounters with west of Scotland shipping personalities. For Ship Talk 1 with Andy O’Brian, senior master of Waverley,click here.

Photographs by courtesy of Jonathan Allen, Andrew Clark, Lewis Mackenzie, Ian Spashett, Leslie Tulloch, Tim Webb and CMAL.

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