Thursday, 26 November 2009

Concern Over Stability of Rathlin Ferry Service?

My attention has been drawn to the following item of news on the Rathlin Development and Community Association website:

The RDCA will be holding meetings with the Department of Regional Development (DRD) this Friday 27th November about the ferry service, and with Moyle District Council and the DRD on Monday 30th November about the proposed harbour bye-laws.

Couldn't all RDCA and DRD business have been done on the same day? What exactly are the problems with the much heralded new Arklow built and Scottish designed catamaran, the Rathlin Express? It seems to have spent more time out of service than in since it's scheduled start of service at the beginning of July.

The history link on the Ship AIS website shows that it arrived late, frequently operated below its expected cruising speed, traveled to Moville (or nearby) (twice) and Coleraine, and appears to have been tied up in Rathlin Harbour since October 1. Photos show that it was on the quayside in Coleraine and Ballycastle and a Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman said that there was damage to the catamaran's skegs. Was the damage accidental? Are there design flaws? Is such a vessel suited to the rigours of Rathlin Sound? What were the divers looking for when they they examined the catamaran in Rathlin harbour a few days ago?

Even though the catamaran has been out of service for nearly two months it would appear that DRD has not been closely monitoring information supplied to potential customers on the ferry operator's website about the vessel's availability. Presumably DRD has given the operator advice about necessary website information.

Have the RDCA and the Committee for Regional Development (CRD) been briefed about the EU Commission investigation into certain aspects of the awarding of the Rathlin ferry contract in 2008?

Doreen Brown updated WBR [on 16 October 2009] on an EU query regarding the awarding of the Rathlin Ferry contract. [pdf file]

There's still no sign of CRD scrutiny of the Rathlin ferry investigations report that was published in December 2008. When I spoke to the CRD chairman some weeks ago about a scheduled date for scrutiny I was told that they were waiting for the Minister - whatever that means.

In answer to your question about the Rathlin Express catamaran I can confirm that it has a valid passenger certificate.

Peter Cardy, MCA CEO, 26 Oct 2009

It's still not clear whether the new catamaran was issued with a full year certificate or if it's a provisional short term certificate with limitations as to use and what those limitations might be. Perhaps all will become clearer when the Ministry for Transport provides copies of current certificates for vessels plying the Ballycastle-Rathlin route.