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Isle of Man Steam Packet Unveil Vision for Future Services

26th May 2016
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Steam Packet unveil plans to invest £170m in two new vessels, port facilities and increased year-round passenger capacity. Steam Packet unveil plans to invest £170m in two new vessels, port facilities and increased year-round passenger capacity. Photo: IOMSPCo

#FerryInvestment -The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company has set out its vision for the future of services that includes investment of £170m in new vessels, port facilities and increased year-round passenger capacity.

Also as part of plans to improve ferry services are fare reductions, more special offers and a new frequent traveller scheme.

The Steam Packet will invest in two new vessels and will commit to retaining Ben-my-Chree to provide comprehensive passenger and freight back-up to the fleet.

Late last year Isle of Man Government announced it was considering the future of strategic sea services for the Island. The current User Agreement is due to end in 2026 and the Steam Packet Company has now outlined its vision for continuing to provide services beyond that date.

The details were presented to members of Tynwald on Tuesday and released to the public the same day. They are currently available to view online at http://goo.gl/SwDjOw and the Steam Packet Company is arranging for a printed version to be delivered to homes and businesses Island-wide with the Isle of Man Courier in June. Copies will also be available from the Ferry Travel Shop at the Sea Terminal in Douglas.

It is hoped the offer can be taken to July Tynwald for debate as, the earlier a decision is made, the sooner investment can begin and residents, visitors and businesses start to benefit.

Steam Packet Company Chief Executive Mark Woodward said: ‘We are not just a company which serves the Isle of Man; we are part of the Manx community. Our management team lives and works here, we employ more than 300 Isle of Man residents and we spend significant sums in the local economy. As part of the Isle of Man, our interests are fully vested in what is best for our Island.

‘Since the start of the User Agreement there has been major private investment in vessels, much lower fares (halved in real terms) with improved offers and availability, and significant marketing each year to promote the Isle of Man.

‘We want to consolidate these benefits and provide a platform for further investment and improvements in service delivery for another generation. If a new Strategic Sea Services Agreement, to guarantee services beyond 2026, can be reached this year we will bring forward our planned investment.’

If an agreement is made this year, the Company is committed to delivering a replacement for Ben-my-Chree by 2019/21 and Manannan by 2022/23. MV Arrow would be retained as freight back-up until Ben-my-Chree is replaced, after which time the Ben would become the Company’s permanent third vessel. This gives the fleet comprehensive passenger and freight back-up, as well as additional capacity and self-sufficiency during the TT and Festival of Motorcycling.

The Company would increase passenger and freight capacity year-round to meet the needs of a growing population and would also guarantee that more special offer seats are available each year. A new frequent traveller scheme would be introduced and is expected to benefit 10 times more passengers than the previous scheme which was discontinued some years ago.

There would also be an agreement for the Company to share extra revenue growth, above an agreed threshold, to fund additional low fare and marketing initiatives. This would mean that a proportion of profits would be ring-fenced and used to target specific potential growth areas of the visitor economy or other initiatives aimed at growing passenger numbers.

The offer also includes the retention of the Manx RPI cap on standard fare increases, a commitment to formal service reviews every three years and a promise to publish Irish Sea fare comparisons every year.

Mr Woodward added: ‘Unlike some ferry firms servicing island communities, the Steam Packet Company does not and will not require any government subsidy. We meet the costs of delivering our services ourselves. We will do this while providing guaranteed standards and levels of service and it is we, not the Government or Manx public, that take all the commercial downside risk of doing this.

‘We look forward to further discussions with the Isle of Man Government and the Manx public about the future of Island sea services.’

To read the proposal visit http://goo.gl/SwDjOw

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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