In late 2015, the Isle of Man Government announced it was giving serious attention to the future of the island’s strategic sea services and in response earlier this year, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company set out its own preferred long term policies for its future operations to serve its home island.
Though it has nearly another ten years to run on its User Agreement with the Manx Government, it is apparent IOMSP would welcome an understanding it would retain its monopoly of the ferry link beyond 2026, not least because decisions have to be made much earlier about replacing its ageing vessels. In its own strategic document, it has proposed that Ben My Chree will need to be replaced (or greatly refurbished) by 2019/21 and Manannan retired by 2022/3.
In return for the appropriate commitments for their future, IOMSP promise investment of £170 million for two new vessels and improved port facilities, along with various fare reduction and marketing innovations. On arrival of the two new-builds, Ben My Chree would live on as relief ship so she will need a radical overhaul too before the Arrow’s charter is ended. IOMSP back up their proposals by pointing out they are part of the Manx community, their management team lives there and they employ over 300 Manx residents and in their way greatly bolster the IOM economy. They go on to say that if a new “Strategic Sea Services Agreement” guaranteeing their operation beyond 2026 can be reached in the near future, they would bring forward their planned investment and provide guaranteed standards and levels of service, all without subsidy and taking all the commercial risk involved.
There is certainly logic in saying the company’s need for major investment in new ships is out of sync with the length of their current User Agreement. And these discussions come after the company seems to be performing better than for years with their two ship fl eet working well and the chartered Arrow fi lling in for freight as required so that the recent TT/ Festival of Motorcycling festival increased business to record levels. For the first time, more than 4,000 motorcycles have been transported to the Island during the TT fortnight.
I would like to believe that two newbuild vessels could be designed for Manx Irish Sea operation, though it would require considerable strategic thought and vision. Two sister ships, or a flagship and second string? Incorporating the most advanced environmental and fuel technologies to give them the required long life?
It would be good to conceive of a new standard of style, quality and ambience for passengers to and from the island. Though the current ships are effi cient and reliable in their way, I know several regular users who fi nd the current vessels to be mundane and lacking in this regard, the voyage being more a chore than a pleasure.
_ Perhaps a partnership with a revitalised Fergusons at Port Glasgow, fresh from delivering their order for two big CalMac vessels, would provide scope for keeping investment and jobs in home waters while creating a new opportunity for future sales of ultra modern stylish and ‘future-proofed’ ferries. And the Cammell Laird yard is building ships again. Or discussions could be opened up with the Bae Systems yard at Barrow, Cumbria, visible from the Isle of Man, helping them relearn the civil passenger ship design and build skills that they once so excelled in. Well, I can dream…
No doubt, IOMSP and other Heysham port users are celebrating the opening of the new M6 Motorway-Heysham Harbour link speeding Manx and Irish traffic, especially the legions of HGVs past the bottlenecks caused by the crossing of the River Lune at the city of Lancaster. It could save at least an hour on a return journey to and from the port, an hour valuable in terms of money and especially a driver’s permitted working time. The freight operator Seatruck are synonymous with Heysham and celebrating the new road they are installing Clipper Point 14,706,’08, returning to Heysham having been on charter. She is on their Heysham Dublin daily service replacing the smaller Clipper Ranger.