SOUTHAMPTON Marine Services is keeping the city’s shipbuilding tradition alive with a £500,000 contract to build a car ferry.

It is a far cry from the luxury superyacht Mirabella V, which was the final ship constructed at VT’s Woolston shipyard, but the unnamed vessel for Scotland’s Cromarty Ferry Company is the first to be built in the city from scratch since 2003.

Across the river from VT’s old yard at Ocean Quay, SMS work is already under way on the project, which will keep half the firm’s 21 workers busy for five months.

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The new 17.25m by 6.5m vessel, which will carry four cars and up to 50 passengers, will operate across the entrance to the Cromarty Firth between Cromarty and Nigg.

It is the first fruit of SMS’ move from Hythe Marine Park into the heart of S o u t h a m p - ton, where it has also bought the workshop and fabrication facilities of H a n s o n Agg re gates Marine at B u r n l e y Wharf. The firm started in January 2006 carrying out ship repairs but the Cromarty ferry is its first complete new build, something bosses hope will become a regular event.

Managing director Bob Gray said: “It is the biggest job we have ever taken and we are delighted to win it.

“It took a fair bit of negotiation to get it but this is what we want to do.

“This is where we want to take the company.

We can go up to 25m by 10m here or even a bit longer.

“We hope to build ourselves a reputation,”

he added.