Sunday, December 5, 2010

Another Island Freight Ferry Row Simmers

Arterial Service Vital to Maintain Food Supplies
Shipping News Feature

UK – ISLE OF MAN – As regular British readers will know there is little than engenders such fervent opinions in the freight industry as the depths of emotion produced when difficulties face a local island ferry service. Be it close to home as in this years case of the Cornish and Scilly Isle links, or across the other side of the world, container and ferry routes with the mainland are the very lifeblood of such island communities and the natives are understandably sensitive to any changes to their shipping schedules.

The latest dispute to create controversy is with the uncertainty surrounding freight and passenger ferries to and from the Isle of Man caused by the circumstances outlined in our stories in October and November. As with all similar disputes the tendency is for the cases for and against to become polarised and now, with the involvement of local politicians, like so many others, this one could run and run.

Normally the introduction of extra cargo volume, as was promised by the new container route proposed by Mezeron from Liverpool, would be seen as beneficial but now representations have been made to the Tynwald, the longest continuing serving Parliament in the world, by one of its representatives to nationalise the Steam Packet company, who have operated services under licence from the authorities for the past fifteen years.

It should be noted that this is not a request from a sitting MP, as many in Britain would think, but from David Cannan, a Member of the House of Keys, Lower House of the Tynwald. The Isle of Man it should be remembered, is not a part of the United Kingdom but a Crown Dependency, with Her Majesty The Queen acknowledged as Lord of Mann. As is natural with an island whose Governance can be traced back 1200 years to Viking origins, its people are fiercely independent and suspicious of anything which could threaten their lifestyle.

Mr Cannan has lodged a motion to discuss the matter in the Tynwald, saying:

“There appears to be three scenarios in the present situation. Firstly, for government to do nothing and allow the present commercial competition to run its course with possibly a serious outcome for the Isle of Man. Secondly, for government to provide financial support in the form of a subsidy to the Steam Packet company. This is unacceptable as the Steam Packet is basically an investment product of the Macquarie bank for the benefit of Australian pension funds and other financial institutions. The third scenario is for government, through supporting a Tynwald select committee, to examine the benefits of public ownership.

“Public ownership is not a dirty word when used for the provision of public services. Presently, there is public ownership of electricity supply, water supply and bus services. If there is to be public ownership of this essential freight and passenger ferry service, then it must not be under the day to day control by politicians or civil servants, but outsourced to one of the ship management companies that are presently in business in the Isle of Man.”

Other parliamentary representatives are adamant that free competition should be allowed to proceed unhindered and relations between the two competing companies seem to be deteriorating as the matter continues with Steam Packet representatives hinting that when bad weather affects the Mezeron service they may not be able to assist in all cases due to pre booked passenger traffic. The fear expressed by many residents is that inefficiency in the ferry service may lead to food and other shortages in difficult conditions.