A new company says it will be able to exploit a loophole in the Douglas Harbour linkspan agreement to introduce a rival service to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.
As the Manx Independent reported this week, if Ellan Vannin Line’s plan is successful, visitors could sail with the company to visit the 2014 TT races.
Ellan Vannin Line is planning to launch a freight service to the Isle of Man starting this autumn followed by a passenger and vehicle service for next year’s races.
The company’s Kurt Buchholz told the Manx Independent that the company felt a TT service would be viable for next year.
‘We have been talking to bikers and visitors. We are not taking any 2014 bookings yet but we have had a large number of booking requests,’ he said. ‘We are getting a 100 per cent positive response.’
The aim is to run daily sailings from Liverpool during the 2014 TT using a vessel which can discharge passengers and bikes from the side onto the pier, eliminating any need to use the linkspan.
He added despite the user agreement, which gives exclusive use of the link span at the Douglas Harbour to the Steam Packet, the new passenger service could use it to bring in passengers from the south of England.
Director of Harbours Captain Michael Brew confirmed the agreement restricted competition by ferries from ports between (and including) Holyhead and the north Cumbrian coast.
‘Boats from anywhere in that port range cannot use the link span. But for ports outside that range – perhaps Stranraer in the north or Fishguard in the south for example – they are okay because it is outside that area.
‘They can use the link span but it is still dependent on time slots.’
He added the user agreement still gives the Steam Packet precedence over other boats using the link span in terms of arrival and departure times.
‘They would have to fit in with the Steam Packet’s schedule but it is theoretically possible,’ he said.
Mr Buchholz said a couple of trips from the south were viable because of the volume of continental TT visitors now reaching on the south coast and the large number of visitors from the south.
He added some small businesses were being stifled by existing freight charges. He said he was not targeting large companies with existing freight contracts but instead planned to use smaller vessels to operate a service in and out of Douglas using King Edward Pier for loading and unloading. There was also a potential to unload freight in Peel, he added.
‘We do not want to destroy the Steam Packet, it’s more of a niche market we are aiming at,’ he said.
This venture will differ from previous failed attempts to introduce competition because they plan to start off running smaller vessels which can more easily be filled.
An attempt to operate a daily freight service competing with the Steam Packet by the shipping company Mezeron failed in February 2011 after four months. Mezeron’s parent company Dohle said insufficient business meant it could not operate profitably.
When it was pointed out the Ellan Vannin was the name of a Steam Packet vessel which famously sank in 1909 and this might not be a good omen Mr Buchholz was dismissive.
‘Some people will always make negative comments,’ he said. ‘We have already secured a number of parties who are interested in our cargo service. We love the Isle of Man and we want to support the island and the TT races too.’
‘Ellan Vannin’ – the Manx for ‘Isle of Man’ – was also chosen by a company that said it was going to launch a new air service in 2011. But Ellan Vannin Airways never took off.
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The last time the island had two rival passenger firms was in the late 70s and early 80s when Manx Line competed with the Steam Packet. However, the market was not big enough and eventually the operations merged.