The First Minister said the controversial use of steel from China in the new lifeboats was a matter for the Turkish shipyard that builds them.

Ministers have come under fire after it emerged that two ferries being built for Islay by Turkish shipyard Cemre Marin Endustri are using Chinese steel because sourcing the material from war-torn Ukraine was ruled out.

The Turkish shipyard has been building the ferries for more than three months as part of a £105m contract awarded to the Turkish shipyard eight months ago.

They have already been named as the preferred bidder for a £115m contract to build two more ferries for long-suffering islanders as efforts are made to strengthen the country’s aging ferry fleet.

Questions have been raised as to why the steel was not sourced from the Dalzell works in Motherwell, the last major steelworks in Scotland, which was officially reopened by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in 2016.

In 2021, China was the largest emitter of carbon dioxide (CO₂), accounting for nearly 31 percent of global emissions.

The United Nations has accused communist China of “serious human rights violations” in a long-awaited report on allegations of abuses in Xinjiang province.

Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and transport told a session of the Scottish Parliament asked if the First Minister was satisfied with the ferries being built in China.

He said: ” climate change The committee’s report last month was not just critical, it was devastating in exposing this government’s failings on the environment and emissions. So the First Minister is confident that the steel for these two ferries is not coming from a Scottish steelworks some 40 miles away, for example, but from China, the world’s biggest polluter, whose steel sector is the second biggest cause of its threw out”.

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Ms Sturgeon replied: “From a steel perspective, of course it’s a matter for the company that has the contract. The contract that is in place is standard international shipbuilding contract, and thus the decision regarding materials and equipment is made by the shipyard. I understand that the yard may have originally intended to source steel from Ukraine, but obviously had to look elsewhere. So those are the decisions that the shipyard will make, and I’m sure they will apply all the necessary objectives to the decisions that they make.”

She was also asked why the ferries would now be built in Turkey.

The First Minister replied: “In accordance with the relevant procurement legislation. The ferries currently being built to service the Isla routes were awarded following a full and open tender process under the [Scottish Government ferry procurement agency Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited]which is of course the procuring authority, the bid received from the shipyard represented the best value for money in terms of quality and price.’

She added: “For the past few weeks, the leader of the members’ party has questioned me in this room, and rightly so, and seemed to suggest that somehow we have not followed the proper procurement policies in other ferry contracts. It is very important to emphasize that we comply with the relevant procurement legislation in all these matters.”

Scottish steel tycoon Sir David Murray said he was surprised steel was not sourced from the Dalzell plant in Motherwell, which was saved after it was mothballed by Tata Steel in 2015, and the Clydebridge plant in Cambuslang.

The Scottish Government has set up a steel taskforce after Tata announced it was axing plants in Motherwell and Cambuslang, with a total of 270 job losses.

The government later bought the mills for £1 and promptly sold them to Liberty, part of the GFG group.

The Scottish Government provided Mr Gupta with a £7m loan, which remains outstanding, to facilitate the purchase.

HeraldScotland: Sanjiv Gupta, chief executive of Liberty Group, after a ceremony where Tata Steel handed over the keys to two steelworks in Lanarkshire to steel firm Liberty House at its Dalzell steelworks in Scotland.  PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo.  Date taken: Friday

As part of the deal, ministers agreed to protect Tata Steel from potential future costs of building Dalzell, while Liberty House and its parent company GFG Alliance made similar commitments to the government.

In awarding the contract for the Islay ferries, CMAL, which owns the country’s aging ferry fleet, invited four overseas companies to bid to build two Islay-bound vessels – and ruled out Ferguson Marine.

Now state-controlled Ferguson Marine has failed to clear the first pre-qualification hurdle for the Islay ferry contract and is still trying to build the two delayed vessels.

Earlier, Scottish Conservative shadow transport secretary Graham Simpson described Turkey’s award as an “embarrassment for the SNP”.

Transportation Scotland has expressed hope that the last ferries to be built in Turkey will be open by 2026 and will serve the communities of Harris and North Uist, which have suffered major disruptions since the start of this year.

A Scottish government agency has previously confirmed that the new ferries will be built to the same specification as the ferries being designed and built in Turkey for Islay.

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