The Infrastructure Minister has told MHKs details of his department’s negotiations with Ellan Vannin Line, the company that once proposed to offer a rival ferry service to the Steam Packet.
David Cretney was speaking today (Tuesday) in response to a question from David Quirk (Onchan).
Mr Quirk asked whether the Ellan Vannin Line had presented the Government with an ultimatum, and if so, what the terms of the ultimatum were.
We reported that the plan had been ditched last week. Click here for a reminder of that story.
The Isle of Man Examiner last week reported that the company had issued an ultimatum. Click here to read that story.
Mr Cretney’s answer is repeated in full here:
My department has made sustained efforts to accommodate the various changing plans of Ellan Vannin Lines with the aim of them starting a service from Douglas.
It might help if I first made it clear that the company has never at any time been denied access to Douglas harbour.
The legal position in the Harbours Act is that this is a publically owned and operated harbour that is available for use by all. Members will know that my department owns one linkspan. That is subject to a long term commercial agreement, often known as the User Agreement.
The linkspan agreement is with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company on a commercial basis and ensures all year round lifeline services.
The agreement is publically available and can be found in the Tynwald library. Indeed, a copy has been placed on the website of a company that has links to EVL, so the company is fully aware of the terms of the agreement.
I referred to the company’s changing plans. I will provide a brief summary of some of these.
In early 2013, the first proposal from EVL was to operate an ‘every other day’ lift on/lift off freight service. By July 2013, when the company first met with the director of ports, the proposal had changed to a daily lift on/lift off service, with a side ramp capability.
EVL announced that it was looking to buy a suitable ship. Following detailed discussions with my officers, it was subsequently decided that the preferred berth for the service would normally be berth 6. The timings of the service were to be arriving overnight, depending on the tides.
In early October 2013, the company informed the department of a delay in starting the freight service and that they were interested in obtaining the MV Cometa for operation from March 2014. My officers were told that the company had quote ‘carefully selected this vessel for its manoeuvring abilities in the limited space of Douglas and Heysham harbour’ unquote but that quote ‘the owners required use of their ship until the end of the year, and that this ship was worth waiting a few months longer’ unquote.
In October, Ellan Vannin Lines changed its proposal again. The company now wished to operate two ferries. This proposal involved the somewhat surprising plan to unload a roll on/roll off cargo vessel through the stern ramp onto a double-ended ferry. Both ships were to be moored behind each other.
In late October 2013, whilst still discussing the freight service, EVL asked to meet and discuss an application for the direct use of the government link span during TT 2014 and the summer season. The company sought to access the reserved use of the linkspan as part of the annual 24 ‘en-route’ visits allowed under the terms of the User Agreement.
The company also advised that it wished to make an application for the use of the government link span on a daily basis from March 2014, for a roll on/roll off ferry carrying both passengers and freight.
Earlier this month the department became concerned about comments on the EVL website that suggested that the company was ready to operate but saw the department as a delay.
The lack of availability of the linkspan was again made clear and a meeting was arranged for the 14th to discuss the operation of the MV Cometa and its side loading facility. The aim at this stage was to study drawings and agreed operational procedures for harbour staff.
However at that meeting the company advised that it would not be proceeding with the side-loading proposal due to the impact of tides on services and a delay on the availability of the Cometa.
This left only the proposals to use the linkspan, at this time for a freight vessel. However, on January 15, two emails were received from EVL. The first email was in their own name to apply for use of the government link span for a daily service with a suitable roll on/roll off passenger vessel with additional reference to a TT service between Holyhead and Dublin calling en-route to Douglas.
The second email was in the name of the UK company CB Marine Ltd, London, a ship management company, for whom EVL were acting as agent. CB Marine Ltd is a company unknown to the Department that appears to manage cargo vessels. This second email was an application to operate a service between Heysham and the IOM using a roll on/roll off vessel with a stern ramp using the link span.
When asked if EVL was not now going to operate the IOM/Heysham freight service, using Berth 6 routinely, a non-linkspan berth, EVL replied quote “We still intend to use the non linkspan berths and we understand that there is no problem ” unquote EVL also confirmed that they would give two months’ notice for this service to begin.
In response to the EVL applications the department advised that there is not the opportunity to operate a daily service using the department’s linkspan unless it is outside the port range (a defined ‘catchment’ area) for passengers and passenger accompanied vehicles but that the Department may permit use of the linkspan for May 2014, 2015 and 2016, but not more than twice a week, if an operator wishes to call in to Douglas as part of a service operated between two ports outside the Isle of Man.
In response to the CB Marine application, the department advised any daily service using the linkspan, would need to come from outside the port range defined in the User Agreement and would be in respect of passengers and passenger accompanied vehicles only. As Heysham does not qualify the application was refused, though a passenger and passenger accompanied vehicle service from a more distant port outside of the port range remains potentially acceptable.
On January 24, EVL posted on their website that quote ‘following rejection to their application for the use of the linkspan bridges in Douglas by the director of harbour and airports’ unquote they quote ‘cannot keep the March start date and cannot give a definitive new start date at the moment for any operation to and from Douglas. This applies to both, the freight and the planned TT passenger /RoRo service.’ unquote.
The department would like to state that it has not prevented access to EVL to Douglas harbour but has advised EVL on the options that are available. With seemingly no intention to operate a freight service of any sort despite the many proposed variations of service and a clear statement about the user agreement, I can only ask Honourable Members to draw their own conclusion.
Whatever the views of Members, recent years have seen both the Mezeron freight service introduced and subsequently closed and a legal challenge to the User Agreement subsequently settled.
I confirm that there is no reason why EVL cannot operate a ferry service from Douglas using a non-linkspan berth – as my department had expected for many months.