The Government has approved an emergency incentive to three ferry companies to keep five strategic maritime corridors between Ireland, Britain and Europe open during the COVID-19 pandemic writes Lorna Siggins
Minister for Transport Shane Ross says the government has approved an “emergency provision” of a maximum of 15 million euro towards the costs of maintaining passenger ferry services on the corridors.
The five routes - Dublin/Cherbourg and Rosslare/Fishguard, Pembroke, Cherbourg and Bilbao - have been designated as public service obligation (PSO), he said.
He said the financial measures are in compliance with the European Commission’s requirements under the emergency PSO arrangements, and the emergency procurement arrangements published in response to COVID-19.
The emergency measure will last up for a period of up to three months and apply to three companies, Irish Ferries, Stena Line and Brittany Ferries, serving these routes.
Stena Line confirmed earlier today that it is to “furlough” 600 staff and to make 150 redundant, as an “unavoidable response” to the COVID-19 crisis.
Mr Ross said the support package will be restricted to the five designated routes and will be targeted at compensating the gap between specified costs and revenues generated on the services - the details of which will be established in contracts with the ferry companies.
He said transport companies will continue to pay shipping companies for the services on these routes as usual.
“Measures to control the coronavirus pandemic have now practically stopped passenger traffic on combined passenger/roll-on roll-off ferries on the southern and Continental routes to and from Ireland,” Mr Ross said, explaining that the revenue was “necessary for the operations’ economic viability”.
Some 84% of Ireland’ s total trade volume is transported by sea, representing 62% of the value of all Irish trade. Some 50 per cent of the trade is on combined passenger/RORO services.
“The five routes in question are of strategic importance to Ireland because they ensure the robustness and resilience of Ireland’s lifeline supply chain which is critically important at this time for the movement of goods, including food and medical supplies, into and out of Ireland,” Mr Ross said.
He said that the routes also provide alternatives and “maintain contingency options” to the main route in and out of Dublin port during COVID-19.
He noted it was “critically important” the routes were working when economic activity “resumes in the coming months, and we prepare for Brexit”.