#AranIslands – As talks today to resolve the ongoing Aran Islands ferries dispute over passenger levies with Galway County Council, Afloat.ie takes a snapshot of a separate but freight-only operator providing vital supplies to islanders, writes Jehan Ashmore.
The affected Island Ferries Teoranta passenger ferry service: Rossaveel-Kilronan on Inis Mór, the largest of the Oileán Árann / Aran Islands was due to end last week, however, as Afloat previously covered the service is still operating as “a gesture of goodwill to the Islanders”.The ferry service will remain in place until 17 January 2017 however this date remains under review subject to how the discussions progress on the council-imposed passenger levy for the non-PSO ferry route to Inis Mór. In recent years this route has been subject to a sharp rise in fares.
As for the freight-only operator, Lasta Mara Teoranta, the company since 2005 has the Government contract to carry cargo not just serving Inishmor but also Inis Meain and Inis Oirr. These services are an essential lifeline for islanders. Lasta Mara is the main cargo company serving the Aran Islands by operating from the mainland based in Galway Port using MV Bláth na Mara (1983/330grt).
All the daily needs of the islanders are carried in containers on board Bláth na Mara from food stuffs (chill and frozen), to household goods, furniture and fuel. As for larger items such as vehicles and old fashioned form of transport that includes horses (given the tourist jaunting carts) and other lifestock are also conveyed on the coastal freighter.
A ‘roll-on roll-off’ i.e. ro-ro service from Rossaveel, Connemara is also provided by Lasta Mara using the MV Chateau-Thierry (see report photo) a former US Army tank landing craft. As previously reported the vessel brought emergency electrical generators due to power-cuts earlier this year.
Otherwise Chateau-Thierry's routine heavy goods cargoes are in the form of trucks, diggers and heavy plant and machinery. Such construction related vehicles were transported by Chateau Thierry from the mainland to Kilronan Harbour during the building of the new harbour. These vehicles rolled off the bow loading ramp onto the sandy beach at Kilronan, the capital of the Aran Islands.
The costs to pay for Kilronan's new outer harbour (see engineering award) are derived through the passenger levies which are at centre stage of the ferry dispute.
As for the cargo service in order to maintain all perishable cargoes remain frozen before departing Galway Port, the outer pier is where a warehouse is equipped adjacent to where Bláth na Mara berths. The Galway-Aran Islands routes should also be noted as Ireland’s longest distance domestic (island serving) commercial cargo service.
It is on such trading routes that the old traditional joint passenger /cargo service had run up to 1988. This was carried out by the State owned Coras Iompair Eireann (CIE) group’s vessel Naomh Éanna.
The veteran vessel built by Dublin Liffey Drydock Company in 1958 ran on the route for four decades. Since the service closed Naomh Eanna has remained languishing in the capital’s Grand Canal Dock Basin. In recent years she was transferred to a disused graving dock having been saved from scrapping. Against this backdrop there have been plans to restore the historic Irish built ship.