Applications to operate the ferry service between Gourock and Dunoon were sought in March after a Scottish Government request for further delay to allow exploration of alternatives, including creation of a community-based operation, was turned down by the European Commission.

A six-year public service contract is expected to be awarded in June to one of the four companies previously short-listed: Caledonian MacBrayne subsidiary and present route operator Cowal Ferries Ltd; Western Ferries (Clyde) Ltd, who run the rival McInroy’s Point-Hunters Quay service; passenger vessel operator Clyde Marine Services of Greenock; and Highland & Universal Securities, owner of Fullers Group, a ferry company based in Auckland, New Zealand, but owned by the Souter family, co-founders of Stagecoach.

The new contract will include a subsidy for passenger traffic only, but current timetable restrictions are to be removed, and the successful operator will be allowed to provide an unrestricted commercial vehicle transport service. Meanwhile, CalMac have confirmed that the ferry Juno (1974/854gt) is to be sold for scrap.

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