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

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