Thursday, 31 July 2008

New Rathlin Ferry Operator 7

Four Ferries and a Fiasco

The Saint Sorney sets sail story on the front page of today's Chronicle, Moyle Edition (link added August 3) seemed too good to be true - and it was.

I drove over to Ballycastle to see if there was a new twist to the local soap opera and was surprised to see that the St Sorney was not berthed at the pontoon in preparation for the 11am crossing, as indicated by the timetable. A waiting passenger said that the ferry was due in shortly. I hurried over to the slipway to watch it arrive. An unfamiliar craft came into view and it was then that I spotted the St Sorney tied up on the pier below Morton's shop.

The new ferry was the Causeway Explorer. It's owner, Willie Verner, had made it available as the St Sorney was out of service and the Ossian of Staffa had returned to Scotland. Willie seemed a little surprised that he could only get an MCA passenger carrying certificate for twelve passengers whilst the fairly similar sized St Sorney had got a certificate this Monday past for thirty five passengers. The first of the four passenger only ferries, the True Light, never made it into service; it failed its MCA stability test.

In regard to the Chronicle report, it should be pointed out that the chair of Moyle Council was not invited to the safety inspection; he heard about it and decided to find out what problems needed to be dealt with. Ferry operating procedures may have been approved but safety issues pertaining to the pontoons are only now being dealt with on Rathlin and later in Ballycastle, one month into the use of the passenger only ferry. These issues should have been addressed in the tendering process and resolved prior to July 1. Why were they not noted by Ministers and officials in DRD and DFP and by members of the Tender Evaluation Panel?

I'm a little surprised that the new owner has asserted that the 'new 20 minute passenger crossing has so far left and departed (sic) to schedule' when Flickr images linked to this blog show the Ossian of Staffa taking just over thirty minutes for the crossing.

So what's wrong with the St Sorney? It had broken down with engine problems on the way from Rossaveal in Co Galway and various reports indicate that similar problems may cause it to be out of service for several days.

The questions put to the Northern Ireland Audit Office have yet to be answered. Will it be permitted to carry out a comprehensive independent investigation? I suspect not.

Adds August 4 and 5

More questions are being asked.

First Tender

2. Economic and Financial Standing*

Tenderers may be required to furnish information as to economic and financial standing for assessment by Central Procurement Directorate prior to the acceptance of any Tender.

The financial guarantee appears in the scoring sheet for the Cape Clear** tender, in the sheet for the first tender but it seemingly has been 'disappeared' from the second tender [check Schedule A and Schedule B]. Why? Was one of the tenderers unable to provide a financial guarantee?

Why was insurance not scored in Schedule B? It is on the score sheet for the first tender. Were all necessary insurances checked by DRD, DFP and Moyle District Council and were they in place prior to July 1, if not during the tendering process?

Also, did all tenderers provide Indemnity Performance Bonds with their tenders?

*EU Tender Procedures: Restricted procedure: This is a two stage procedure. The purpose of the first stage is to identify tenderers who satisfy the minimum criteria laid down by the contracting entity in terms of their technical capability and their economic and financial standing. The contracting entity then selects a limited number of suppliers which it will invite to submit tenders as the second stage. The minimum number to be invited to tender is five, unless fewer than five suitability qualified suppliers express interest.

It would appear that CPD disregarded its own SME guidelines during the second tender process:

Inviting Tenders

The public-sector organisation invites suppliers to put in an offer, or tender – often in response to an advert in the OJEU or a trade magazine. In some cases suppliers have to pre-qualify before being invited to tender. They do this by answering a questionnaire or supplying information about their financial status, previous experience and references and so on.

Was the second process deliberately modified to 'accommodate' one of the tenderers?

The tender was awarded to Ciaran O'Driscoll on April 21, 2008, not to one of the O'Driscoll limited companies, and a new company, Rathlin Island Ferry Limited, was registered a few days later on May 2, 2008.

** Cape Clear contract - also awarded to Ciaran O'Driscoll.

Adds May 6

News Letter: Ferry Tender Process Facing Investigations

emara News

Photos and documents

Friday, 25 July 2008

1911 Census for County Antrim Online Soon

The Census of Ireland, Dublin 1911 went online in 2007 and Co Antrim is currently scheduled for October. I can hardly wait to search the contents :)

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Moyle Councillors Kept Out In The Cold?

This photo* is taken from the current edition of the Moyle Chronicle. I understand it was supplied to the newspaper by a representative of Invest Northern Ireland.

Bushmills** is in Moyle District Council area and the chair of the council was photographed with Arlene Foster, Invest NI representatives and someone from the Bushmills Inn so you would expect that this photograph would have been the one issued for publication. Sadly, no.

It seems that Moyle councillors were not present when Rathlin Island Ferry Limited delivered its first passengers into Ballycastle from Rathlin Island on July 1. They had not been invited. Presumably this was an administrative oversight.

I hear that there's to be a meeting tomorrow at the ferry terminal to discuss safety issues eg absence of guard rails on the pontoons. HSENI, MCA, DRD, RIFL and Moyle council staff are expected to be represented but it seems the matter had not been brought to the attention of councillors, the representatives of the public interest. [Update - matter rectified and the Council chair participated in the inspection of facilities in Ballycastle and Rathlin Island. It seems curious that these safety issues were apparently not fully addressed during the tendering process and dealt with prior to the commencement of the new service on July 1, alongside the related public liability insurance.]

The St Sorney, the third passenger only ferry to be named for the route, has finally arrived at Rathlin Island. The True Light failed its MCA tests, the Ossian of Staffa took its place and, presumably, will remain until the St Sorney has received MCA clearance.

* The photo is bound to be one of the subjects of debate at the next meeting of Moyle District Council on Monday, July 28. It also appears that Moyle councillors and officials were treated less favourably by InvestNI than their Coleraine counterparts. I suspect some InvestNI and Chronicle ears are already glowing :)

** Bushmills is described as the gateway to the Giant's Causeway World Heritage Site yet its conservation status seems to have been abandoned by officials in the local planning service.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

New Rathlin Ferry Operator 6

The Rathlin Development and Community Association (RDCA) seems to have every confidence in the tendering process and the new operator. Time will tell whether or not such confidence is justified.

The RDCA was involved throughout the long and often complex tendering process. We have no criticisms whatsoever to raise with regard to the manner with which the tender was handled or with the outcome of the tendering process.

We are confident that the new ferry service, as operated by Rathlin Island Ferry Limited, will meet all of its contractual obligations.

Troubled waters: Rathlin and Cape Clear Ferries

Photos, documents and what the papers say.

Some pages from Rathlin Ferry Tender 2, January 2008

Adds July 13

Information about this mysterious affair continues to flow in from different parts of these two islands. I'm hearing that the MV Ossian of Staffa was only to be here for about two weeks and that it's replacement is experiencing engine problems in Donegal. Perhaps one of our regular readers can provide clarification.

Photographs show that the promised 20 minute passenger only ferry crossing took 30 minutes, or longer. Also, the 10 minute turn around time doesn't look realistic. How long would it take to, say, disembark passengers and then to embark new passengers and put them through a safety management routine?

Adds July 18

Is the St Sorney to be the replacement vessel? I understand it was owned recently by John Joe Fitzpatrick and that it has now been withdrawn from the Simon Thomas Yacht Sales (STYS) website. Is this the same vessel that is certificated on the Dublin Marine Survey Office to carry up to 12 passengers? It was described on the STYS website as a 35 passenger craft. Presumably the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) will resolve the matter before it can go into service.

LOCHIN 40 PASS. CARRIER 35px Passenger Vessel (1999)
The well known Lochin Marine hull was built by Lochin Marine International and supplied to Ryan & Roberts, Ireland, for fit-out to the necessary specification.

My sources tell me that the St Sorney left Rossaveal in Co Galway about a week ago and was subsequently undergoing engine repairs in Burtonport, Co Donegal.

A report from Cape Clear claims that O'Driscoll's ferry there was also experiencing problems a few days ago:

Naomh Ciarán 11 broke down again today at lunch time, gearbox problems

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

New Rathlin Ferry Operator 5

I've been given a 'missing in action' Department of Regional Development (DRD) document(s)* which shed(s) new light on the Rathlin ferry fiasco. Here are a few relevant snippets:

Programme: Rathlin Island passenger and roll on roll off ferry

Total Capital £m: 7.5 [£1.2m for (temporary) passenger ferry/catamaran and £6.3m for ro-ro ferry/ferries?]

Total Revenue £m: 1.5

Impact on Objective A: Maintain the 'life-line' economic connection of Rathlin Island to the rest of the north for the 70 (approx) island residents [as] well as develop the tourism potential of the island.

[Calmac - owned by the Scottish] Executive and may not be permitted by its parent department to operate outside of the Scottish undertaking for much longer.**

The current proposal targets .. and envisages the acquisition of a passenger vessel as an interim measure until a new purpose built vessel can be procured.

The first phase is to acquire a passenger only vessel to supplement the existing roll on roll off Rathlin ferry [MV Canna - owned by CMAL which in turn is owned by the Scottish Executive]. This will result in increased passenger carrying capacity to meet the burgeoning seasonal demand from tourists to travel to the island. [page 30]

The second phase involves procurement of a replacement (RoRo) ferry [perhaps two as one would be needed as a relief vessel] to facilitate a consistent level of freight to be carried to the island throughout the year. Freight carriage is currently restricted in summer months to accommodate higher passenger demand. The current passenger capacity is limited to 27 plus two cars (or one lorry) in winter and 125 passengers with no vehicles in summer. The current vessel is nearing the end of its working life and is providing a very basic service. To ensure the continuation of the service, investment in a new vessel is required in the near future. A lead-n time of 2-3 years is anticipated in acquiring a prpose built vessel and commitment of the necessary finances must be made ahead of undertaking procurement action?

Once the RoRo vessel is fully operational, scope may exist to dispose*** of the passenger vessel [catamaran?], generating a cash return to the service.

This document and related information poses a number of questions. Was the tendering process a smokescreen for decisions already taken by Stormont and Holyrood? Did all tenderers see this document and the Schedule A, Schedule B and Schedule C documents? Did Stormont have a preferred tenderer in place in 2007 and did Stormont officials provide technical assistance? Did Stormont check the credentials of all tenderers with their relevant opposite numbers in Holyrood and the Dáil?

Adds 03.07.08

Fast Ferry Sets Sail

Aine McGrady

The Chronicle - Moyle Edition

Adds 04.07.08

Some new images taken this morning.

Adds 05.07.08

More queries on ferry launch - News Letter

THE new operator of the Rathlin Island ferry has said that his first few days running the service have been "plain sailing".

Perhaps a little too plain. The 20-minute timetabled fast ferry crossing appears to be taking at least 30 minutes and that's in fairly calm conditions.

Boarding arrangements appear to be quite primitive. The steps appear not to have a hand rail and I presume physically impaired folks would have to be lifted aboard. There are hand rails leading down onto the pontoons but there appear to be no safety barriers around them.

Writing last Tuesday in response to Mr Dallat’s questions, Mr Murphy said that at that time Mr O’Driscoll was still “finalising” his ticketing system, safety management documentation and an environmental plan.

A copy of the tender scoring documents obtained by the News Letter shows that boxes for “ticketing and information”, “safety of operations” and “environmental considerations” were all ticked prior to the contract being awarded in April.

Here is a copy of Schedule A. Note that these boxes MUST be ticked in order to proceed to the, er, scoring process.

document.asp?docid=12213 ?

** Are there any documents in Belfast, Edinburgh or Glasgow to back-up this claim? It would seem to be at odds with CalMac's decision to put in a bid for the six year contract.

*** Why all the publicity about a catamaran if it's only intended to be an interim measure and before its suitability has been demonstrated?