Disappointment at deferral of ferry service until next March
By Leo McMahon - Southern Star - Saturday May 9th, 2009
TEMPERED BY GENERAL ACCEPTANCE OF REASONS
THE decision by West Cork Tourism (WCT) Co-operative to defer the launch of the new Cork-Swansea ferry service to March 1, 2010 has been met with deep disappointment, but also general acceptance among tourism and business interests in the region.
Conor Buckley, WCT chairman said that all shareholders were informed this week that, after careful consideration, it was decided the service should not run this year as originally planned: “We reluctantly took this decision in light of the large part of the 2009 booking season already lost to the service, due to the unexpectedly long negotiations, and the fact that many potential passengers have already made their bookings for the crucial July, August and September sailings.
“We would have liked to have had the service resumed for 2009 but despite the enormous amount of work we have already put into the formation of the co-op, we feel there is an overpowering economic case not to proceed this summer.
“No one would thank us for rushing into service now and sustaining huge losses. It would undermine everything we have worked for and would be a potentially huge loss of shareholders’ money. It is far better that we continue with the very solid foundations we are building now and ensure a totally sustainable business for the next twenty-plus years,” said Conor.
While many would be very disappointed with the announcement, the co-operative, he stated, was convinced that the decision, following discussions with its financial advisors, tourism and shipping interests, was the most sensible one for the future of the service and stressed the key importance of having a long term and sustainable view for the benefit of the company and the region as a whole.
TO BE DONE
Conor Buckley told The Southern Star that there was a huge amount of work to be done between now and March 1, 2010. This would include putting in place a management team, getting the ship launched, named, brought to Cork for certification and crewing, developing the Fasnet Line brand, website and launching the booking engine.
This week, in fact, WCT co-op shareholder and one of the leading members of the www.bringbacktheswanseacorkferrycom campaign, John Hosford, Cappa, Enniskeane was in Cardiff to address the Petitions Committee of the Welsh Assembly and got a very positive hearing. The co-op will make a follow-up submission and it’s hoped that the national body, along with pledges of support from the Port of Cork Company, Associated British Ports, Failte Ireland, Cork County Council and others, will row in with financial backing for the Welsh-Irish link.
The co-operative has collected €3million and – with a loan from a Finnish bank – purchased, after protracted negotiations, the 1,800-passenger ferry Julia earlier this year. The vessel, which is currently in dry dock in Finland, can carry 400 cars and has extensive scope for freight traffic, the latter of which is seen as a key factor in the financial viability of the Cork-Swansea service which previously operated under Swansea-Cork Ferries up to late 2006. From 1987 to 2006, it brought 2.85 million passengers and 700,000 cars to the region and was estimated be worth on average €35m per annum to local tourism and trade.
Mayor of County Cork, Noel Harrington of Castletownbere, said that while he was bitterly disappointed to learn that no Cork-Swansea ferry would operate this summer, he was happy in the knowledge that, instead of putting at risk its viability in the short term, the co-operative would be in a much stronger position to launch the service next spring and have it fully promoted and marketed in the meantime.
Mayor of Kinsale Dermot Collins concurred and complimented the board of WCT, the shareholders and everyone else who put in so much time, effort and funding and elicited a great response in a difficult economic climate to secure a vessel which he had no doubt would set sail next March and be of immense economic and tourism benefit to the south west region.
Commercial manager with the Port of Cork Company, Captain Michael McCarthy has for the past two years, been actively engaged in identifying a suitable vessel in order to get the service re-introduced. “While disappointed it could not happen this year, I am happy that the decision will ensure the long term viability of a service which is the most important thing and far better than risking a quick start-up and failure”.
The people of West Cork, Kerry, Wales and other areas had the confidence to put up hard earned money at a time of severe economic difficulty and under no circumstances could their investment be put in jeopardy. However, Capt. Michael McCarthy continued, if corporate social responsibility was to mean anything, there was now a huge onus on all businesses in the regions concerned, to support the ferry through passenger and, especially, freight bookings.
In the coming months, further contacts would be made with members of the Irish Road Hauliers Association and other business people in Cork, Kerry, Limerick and beyond who stand to benefit from the Cork-Swansea ferry and he had no doubt that when the vessel was there for all to see in dry dock in either Cork or Swansea, it would further boost support as part of a gradual but very solid build up of a business which would have the proper structures in place for a full launch next spring.
Christopher Byrnes, general manager of the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery, said that he would have looked forward to seeing the service commence this year, but he accepted it was far more prudent to have the launch for a full season instead. Starting off well into this summer, the service could have incurred a three-quarters cost factor and only a quarter season of revenue, so it was sensible to get everything in place for 2010.
It was a view echoed by general manager at the Maritime Hotel, Bantry, Simon Tiptaft: “If there was any summer we needed the service, it was this one but as one of the investors, we fully understand the decision taken and there was a big concern that there hadn’t been sufficient marketing for this season.”
On a positive note, Simon said the fact that the people of West Cork rallied and played a major part in raising the money to secure the vessel and establish the ferry company in a time of severe economic difficulty, was a source of great hope and encouragement and he voiced full support for the continued efforts of the co-operative and all others concerned.
Eileen O’Shea, general manager of the Westlodge Hotel, Bantry and a former chairperson of Cork Kerry Tourism said she too was extremely disappointed that there was no Cork-Swansea ferry for the third year running, but fully understood the decision taken and appreciated the huge amount of work put into the campaign and project. Urging that everything be done to get it right for next March, Eileen said accessibility to West Cork area was a big problem.
General manager of the Trident Hotel, Kinsale, and an officer of the local Chamber of Tourism, Hal McElroy said that while the announcement was disappointing, it was not surprising and he supported the view that it would be far more prudent to have the proper structures in place before fully commencing the service.
Green Party member of Passage West Town Council and an investor in the co-op, Dominick Donnelly, said: “It is a great pity that the operators were not able to get this service up and running this year. However, they were always going to be up against the wire time-wise and the delays in sorting out the purchase of the ‘Julia’ in Finland have made it impossible to get up and running in time for the main season this year.
“I wish to congratulate all those who have put in enormous work to try to get it going this year. We must all now be patient and wait until next year to see this vital ferry and freight shipping service up and running.”
A couple of small corrections
- as of today 7/5/09 we are still waiting on the Finnish Courts to ratify the sale of the Julia, and she is currently berthed in Kotke, Finland, and not in dry dock.
Adrian - Campaign co-organiser