THE competition is over – but who are the winners, and the losers, of the battle for island ferry freight?
Mezeron has announced it is terminating its daily cargo containers service to Liverpool, after less than four months.
Parent company Dohle said the service had not achieved the growth needed to continue to operate profitably.
Infrastructure Minister Phil Gawne MHK said there were lessons to be learned from the short-lived experiment on ferry cargo competition.
The Steam Packet lost 15 per cent of its freight business when Mezeron launched its direct service to Liverpool in October, using two chartered Estonian-registered vessels, the Kalana and the Kurkse.
Both vessels are being offered for charter.
With haulier Graylaw jumping ship to Mezeron, the Steam Packet lost two of its biggest customers, Tesco and Shoprite.
Steam Packet chief executive Mark Woodward said he was delighted to be working once again with Graylaw. He said: ‘Graylaw has been a major freight customer of the Steam Packet Company for 25 years and has continued to use our services in recent months.
‘We are delighted to be able to work with them more closely once again and look forward to assisting Graylaw and its customers to serve the Isle of Man.’
Mr Woodward said a key element of the newly ‘enhanced’ relationship with Graylaw would be assistance in the design of ‘double deck’ trailers.
These would provide ‘operational efficiencies and reductions in CO2 emissions’, he said.
Following the launch of Mezeron’s Liverpool service, the Steam Packet launched a review of its services.
It was announced that the Snaefell would no longer be part of the fleet and will be chartered out or sold off. There will be 11 fewer sailings to Ireland with the larger fast craft Manannan to now cover the Belfast and Dublin routes. Up to 29 fewer staff will be employed as a result. Fares were also going up – on average by less than inflation.
No further comment from the Steam Packet has yet been forthcoming over how Mezeron’s decision to terminate the Liverpool service will impact on these proposed changes.
Dohle’s Jorg Vanselow said in a statement: ‘We would like to thank all customers, partners, stevedores, our staff ashore and the crew aboard the chartered vessels alike who have helped make this project happen.
‘At Mezeron we strongly believe all our decisions must be customer driven so they can choose what suits their requirements best. We set out to prove that we can offer a first-class container service to the island – and we did.
‘This project was always ambitious and I make no apology for that. Unfortunately, on this occasion we did not see the volume growth expected and necessary to continue this particular service profitably.’
He said Mezeron would continue to operate its regular services from the island to Glasson Dock and Belfast carrying general cargo and containers.
Mezeron’s last sailing from Liverpool will arrive in Douglas on February 19.
Andrew Thomas, chief executive of Shoprite, said: ‘Shoprite has been advised by the independent freight hauliers that we work with that Mezeron will no longer be providing freight services to the Isle of Man after February 19.
‘Our hauliers have reassured us that Mezeron’s decision will not in any way affect the delivery of our freight to the Isle of Man.
‘We will continue to ensure that we have the best possible solution to deliver our goods to our customers in the most timely and cost effective manner.’
Mr Gawne, who said he would be meeting Mr Vanselow and Mr Woodward to get feedback, said: ‘There are very definite lessons to be learned.
‘One very positive thing we know has come out of this is that there does appear to be long-term commitment from the Steam Packet for cheaper freight charges.’
He said the episode had shown that the user agreement does work; without it the Steam Packet would not have been restricted in cutting services and increasing fares.
Mr Gawne said he believed the Steam Packet had gained public support in the last four months. ‘It needed to improve, it has improved and it needs to continue to improve,’ he said.
He said a Council of Ministers’ working group set up last year was reviewing its policy if ‘the worse came to the worse and we ended up with no supplier’.
But he said the last four months had shown that it was unlikely that the Isle of Man would be ‘cut off’ if for some reason the Steam Packet could not sail, as there were alternative operators certainly for freight.