Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Union Welcomes Proposed Deal to Buy Freight and Passenger RoRo Lifeline Ferry Company

Government Bid Up for Approval Next Week
Shipping News Feature
UK – Subject to approval from the Tynwald next week, the Manx government has agreed to purchase the Isle of Man Steam Packet, the company which runs the lifeline freight, passenger and private vehicle RoRo ferry service between Douglas, on the island, and the five mainland ports of Heysham, Liverpool and Birkenhead plus Belfast (possibly soon to change to Larne) and Dublin.

Currently in Portuguese hands, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company (IoMSPC) is the oldest continuously operating passenger shipping company in the world. In 2011 the company was bought by the Banco Espírito Santo which has now reportedly accepted an offer of £124 million which will see the services transferred to public ownership. Under the current agreement the IoMSPC must provide an inbound freight capacity of 7,800 lane metres per week, with 936 UK return sailings and 63 Irish east coast sailings per annum.

Last year the company proposed a revised contract offer which included an investment of £170 million for new vessels and other improvements but this was rejected by the government. Whilst Chief Minister Howard Quayle said the new deal was a ‘once in a generation opportunity’, Treasury Minister Alfred Cannan commented that if the agreement is ratified:

"We believe it is in the best interests of our people and our economy to take a controlling stake in the national ferry operation rather than commit the Island to another long-term agreement with an external provider. The Government has not been in a position to explain its intentions to the public before now because of the commercial confidentiality of the negotiations.

”The deal would immediately bring ferry operations into public ownership but government would not take over the day-to-day running of services. We believe we are paying a fair price to secure a profitable, cash generative national asset and gain strategic control of our sea services. [We could] put in place a new agreement within 12 months.”

The news of the deal was warmly welcomed by one of the unions most concerned with services to and from the island, the RMT, whose National Secretary, Steve Todd said:

“This is good news for our Steam Packet members and for the public ownership model in the passenger ferry industry. We have been in regular contact with the Manx Government over the future of the Steam Packet and this was one of the best options on the table, although we will need to nail down the terms of the transfer to ensure that terms and conditions, including pensions of our members, are not adversely affected.

“We also need to secure commitment around the training of the next generation of Manx and UK seafarers who will deliver the Isle of Man Steam Packet services for islanders and visitors for the decades to come, on new vessels. The RMT’s biennial Shipping and Docks members’ conference is being held in Douglas this week and we will contact the Minister for Infrastructure, Ray Harmer, with whom we have developed a good working relationship to discuss this very promising development.”