Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Rathlin-Ballycastle Subsidised Lifeline Ferry - Continuity of Service?

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

The terms for a relief vessel are clearly spelt out in the tender document Part 2 Section 3.5:

Relief Vessels

3.5.1 The contractor will be required to provide for relief capacity to cover scheduled maintenance, dry dockings, unforeseen breakdowns and to ensure continuity of service to meet the minimum standard. In the case of unforeseen breakdowns the relief vessel must provide the minimum passenger standards for up to three days after which the relief vessel must meet the minimum standard as above. It is the contractor’s responsibility to provide all service and relief vessels for the duration of the contract.

3.5.2 The tenderer must specify the arrangements made and response times for fleet relief. These arrangements should cover both periods of planned overhauls and periods during which the vessel is unable to provide the service in unforeseen circumstances such as breakdowns or damage.

The previous operator provided a relief vessel when the MV Canna was away for its annual dry-docking and survey - a period of about three weeks; the present operator has provided a relief vessel in the past (eg MV Coll) during the MV Canna's annual absence. The period of three days grace is for unforeseen breakdowns, not for scheduled maintenance; it also begs the question about what important or essential maintenance work carried out during the previous operator's three-week break has not been done.

The MV Canna provides a lifeline service and the operator is scheduled to receive a £4 million subsidy during the course of the 6 year contract; the Rathlin Express catamaran provides a passenger-only service.

L to R: Robin Swann MLA, CiarĂ¡n O'Driscoll RIFL and Danny Kennedy, 
DRD Minister with special responsibility for Rathlin Island

What action do the Minister and his officials intend to take? Will they insist on the provision of a relief vessel during the whole of the MV Canna's absence? Will they ensure that the MV Canna has an adequate annual overhaul, bearing in mind the need to retain or regain the goodwill of CMAL, the vessel's owners? 

Will they ask why the information made available to RDCA has not been published on the RIFL website for the benefit of all users, especially those with extra needs? 

3.6.4 The Department considers that the ferry service should have a separate website giving appropriate information.

Will they have the support of the Consumer Council of Northern Ireland? [CCNI received a copy of RDCA news item on August 13]

CCNI, February 29, 2012 "We will continue to monitor this situation to ensure there is no interruption to service."

Added August 16

Might the possible failure to provide a relief vessel be linked to this snippet from the DRD Departmental Board?

FEBRUARY 2012        (DB 17/12) 
David asked each Risk Owner to discuss their respective risks contained in the Register. After discussion the Board agreed the content of the current Register. 

Before leaving this issue Barney updated the Board on the latest position regarding a possible Risk concerning the Ballycastle to Rathlin Ferry Service which is being managed at Group level.

DRD response - Newsletter, August 16 2012: "Concern at Rathlin ferry suspension" - CCNI reaction requested - but not yet received.