The Steam Packet has struck first in the looming battle to win freight trade after a rival announced plans to compete in the market.
The company has chartered freighter MV Arrow from Seatruck on a long-term basis.
A new company, Ellan Vannin Line, has announced its intention to start a rival service, although those plans have been delayed. Click here to read that story
The new company is targeting the Steam Packet’s freight service, although it says it plans to ferry passengers eventually.
Most freight is currently transported by the Steam Packet on the Ben-my-Chree, which also transports passengers.
The Steam Packet’s agreement includes an option to buy the MV Arrow, ‘should this be necessary’.
A statement from the Steam Packet reads: ‘The charter of MV Arrow provides the island with a long-term back-up for its vital freight services, as well as guaranteed additional capacity to help grow the TT and Isle of Man Festival of Motorcycling.’
The Steam Packet’s service has proved to be vulnerable if the Ben-my-Chree is put out of action for any reason.
When the Steam Packet had more vessels it was less vulnerable to such problems.
Now it operates only two, the Ben-my-Chree and the fast craft Manannan. The Manannan can carry less than the Ben and its sailings are more likely to be cancelled in bad weather.
Steam Packet chief executive Mark Woodward said: ‘MV Arrow is one of a class of vessels ideally suited to Steam Packet Company needs and the services we provide.
‘Vessels which are suitable for operation in all weathers and at all states of tide in both Douglas and Heysham harbours are now becoming increasingly scarce. In recent years it has proven difficult to charter vessels for the short period necessary to either cover the Ben-my-Chree overhaul or simply to provide extra capacity at TT.’
He added: ‘In the short-term the charter will allow certainty in planning for the scheduled biennial overhaul of Ben-my-Chree in April 2014.
‘It will also enable us to plan ahead and to devote the Ben-my-Chree fully to visitor traffic for next year’s TT event, while the MV Arrow provides a bespoke and uninterrupted service for our freight customers.’
Chairman Robert Quayle added: ‘We have been concerned for some time now at the falling number of suitable vessels available to us on the charter market. As a result of the recently announced debt reduction, the Steam Packet Company is now well placed to be able to implement key strategic developments for the future.’
Another rival service, provided by Mezeron in 2010-11, lasted less than four months, leading many to question whether the Isle of Man’s market is big enough to sustain two services.