Steam Packet bosses say they were surprised a rival shipping line had planned to launch services in October - without having secured either a ship or berths.
Ellan Vannin Line founder Captain Kurt Buchholz confirmed last week that the launch of a daily roll-on, roll off container freight service between Douglas and Heysham would not now take place until the later this year and possibly not until the spring.
He said negotiations were still underway over the purchase of a ro-ro container vessel from its current owner, which the Examiner has learned is Norwegian shipping line Nor Lines.
MV Cometa, built in 1981, currently operates scheduled services between the Danish port of Hirtshals and along the Norwegian coast from Oslofjord to Hammerfest.
Nor Lines chief executive officer Toralf Ekrheim confirmed: ‘We have been approached about possible sale of the vessel for Isle of Man service.’
Peel Ports confirmed no agreement or contract has been entered into for the use of a berth at Heysham and director of ports Ann Reynolds said no berth has been secured at Douglas - although berths are available.
Steam Packet chief executive Mark Woodward said the company would fight to protect its business.
He said: ‘We are all too aware of the difficulty in sourcing suitable vessels, which we have to do each year when bringing in charters to assist with the busy TT period and occasionally when the Ben has to undergo planned maintenance.
‘We were surprised, therefore, to learn that Ellan Vannin Line had announced a launch date of October for its freight services without having secured a vessel or, indeed, without having secured berths at Heysham and Douglas.
‘The recent re-financing of the Steam Packet Company has put it on a firm financial footing; we do not fear competition and will fight as hard as is necessary in order to retain all our freight customers.
‘We will endeavour to protect our business and to continue to provide the stable, extensive and reliable freight and passenger services which the user agreement has helped to secure for the island.
‘We do not think it is in the island’s interests to return to the uncertainty and disruption that prevailed before the user agreement. Recent experience with the airlines provides a timely reminder of what could happen if opportunists are allowed to undermine the core purpose of the user agreement.
‘Competition has to be fair. Ellan Vannin Line is not required to provide loss-making passenger services and is aiming to provide freight services for which there is already plenty of capacity on the Ben-my-Chree.
‘I note Ellan Vannin Line has professed a wish to be a truly Manx company providing a quality service. However, they seem to be intent on operating an old ship and say they will not pay UK rates for all their seafarers, as the Steam Packet Company does. Like us, they should also flag their ship in the Isle of Man.’
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