Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Rathlin Ferry - MCA Admission - A Calmac Response

NALIL blog invited Calmac to respond to the recent document issued by Peter Cardy, Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

A Calmac spokesman replied:

"I am appalled to have it confirmed at this late stage that such a fundamental and serious failure occurred, the more so since the investigation carried out by the DRD previously dismissed this allegation as being without foundation.

Operating without a valid Passenger Certificate is illegal, and regarded in such a serious light that the penalties can even extend to imprisonment, and any breach would be expected to be dealt with firmly at the time by the MCA. It is likely that in such circumstances insurances would be invalid also, and I would have expected the ship to be withdrawn from service immediately, until the situation was rectified.

I am puzzled by the reference to the preceding two years. The Passenger Certificate clearly required that MV Canna was surveyed between the end of May and the end of August each year, and CalMac always ensured that the ship was taken out of service in good time to carry out her planned annual refit, and to carry out repairs in order to ensure the ongoing safety of her crew and passengers. At no time would CalMac have ever contemplated operating without valid certification, and did not do so."


The Department for Regional Development are also likely to be discommoded by the following report. The operators of the Rathlin ferry are confronted by strike action on their Cape Clear service in Co Cork:

SIPTU members threaten industrial action on Cape Clear ferry
Date Released: 26 May 2009

SIPTU has served notice of a one day strike on June 4th on the Cape Clear Ferry, Naomh Ciaran II, in protest at pay cuts ranging from 22 per cent for deckhands to 27 per cent for the ship’s master. The stoppage will last from 8.30am until 7.00pm.

“The company also expects the employees to work four extra weeks between May and September, for nothing”, SIPTU Branch Organiser Eddie Mullins said today. “The reasons it gives are that the ferry is running at an alleged loss and the falling levels in the cost of living.

“To date the company has refused to acknowledge our correspondence, including requests for discussions. The employees are very united in this case and are determined to fight these unilateral cutbacks. We have also invoked the Payment of Wages Act, of which the company is in clear violation.”

Adds May 31

An Phoblacht, the SF vanity rag, has referred to the strike in its latest edition. Can employees of the sister company in Ballycastle and Rathlin expect the same savage wage cuts in the near future? How would SF minister Conor Murphy and SF's North Antrim MLA, Daithi McKay, react? As far as I know, they didn't lift a finger to help when the northern company dispensed with the services of its most experienced manager. And they've yet to issue a comment about one of the ferries carrying passengers illegally and the other operating for months without the company name on the insurance certificate.

Adds Jun 1

Our friends in the South report that Fachtna, the experienced skipper of the Naomh Ciaran II, was given notice of his redundancy yesterday, just a few days before Thursday's strike.

I'm told that other crew members staged a wild-cat strike this morning in response to the sacking/lay-off and that Ciaran, Mary and son Aidan crewed the 11 am sailing. Presumably the authorities will check whether or not all crew members credentials are appropriate and current.

The ferry website seems to have been hacked as an image of the Grim Reaper is on display. [Grim Reaper has now gone]

Adds Jun 2

emara News: Cape Clear SUBSIDISED Ferry Operator Pleads Poverty

The actions of the MCA in permitting a ferry to operate without a valid passenger certificate et al have now been raised in the House of Lords and a reply is expected shortly.

Reminder from investigators' report 4.4.3

The Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs confirmed that in its experience Mr. O'Driscoll was a potential candidate who had done well on other routes. The Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs has since said that "on three occasions financial penalties have been imposed on the operator in accordance with the terms of the contract.

They went on to state that “Notwithstanding this however, it is the Department’s considered view that the service provided by Tithe Saoire Cleire Teo to Cleire rates on a par with the majority of other island Ferry Services subsidized by it".

And here's the DCRGA reply to paragraph 4.4.3:

On Tue, Jun 2, 2009 at 2:46 PM, Mac Cormaic, Aodhán <AMacCormaic@pobail.ie> wrote:

.... Regarding your suggestion that this Department recommended Ciarán Ó Drisceoil to DRDNI, I can find no record of such a recommendation on the Department's files.

Those who are following events on Cape Clear and the possible implications for the Rathlin ferry service will wish to read this petition. All comments welcome.

Adds Jun 4

Photos on Flickr's Rathlin Rip 2

Discussion on Peoples Republic of Cork blog
mushypea: "thanks for the insight lads......paints a better picture"

Adds June 10

Lord Laird to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the Maritime and Coastguard Agency was aware that in September 2008 the ferry MV Canna operated by the Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd was operating without a valid passenger carrying certificate; and, if so, what action they took. HL3986

Will the Ministerial reply place the blame where it belongs or will the MCA highlight an administrative 'malfunction'? If the latter, will the MCA retain any credibility in the maritime industry?

Why is MCA obfuscating?

Lord Adonis replies to Lord Laird

On 3 October 2008, whilst completing the annual survey of the MV CANNA, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) became aware that the vessel had operated without a valid passenger certificate between 1 and 11 September 2008.

The Minister would appear to have been misinformed. Peter Cardy, MCA CEO, has already admitted that the MCA knew about the 'problem' on September 5, 2008, yet it continued to let the vessel carry passengers with an invalid certificate and, presumably, no insurance. The MCA also knew from its own records that the MV Canna was out of survey on August 31, 2008 and an MCA surveyor was on RIFL premises in Ballycastle on August 29. Just how long would this state of illegality have pertained had pertinent questions not been asked on September 5, 2008?

Earlier MCA document here and here (with notes) for comparison with Cardy document.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Admission of a Maritime and Coastguard Agency Chief Executive

MV Canna’s certificate was not extended retrospectively by MCA. The short term certificate issued to the vessel on 12/09/08 was valid from the date of its issue. Although the postponement was agreed by MCA Belfast MO on 5 September 2008**, technically the full term certificate onboard remained invalid from 1 September until 11 September 2008 – ie during the period beyond the expiry of the annual survey range dates. Also, due to same reason, the certificate remained invalid during the period 1 September to 17 September in each of the preceding two years (2006 and 2007).

** Is it a coincidence that there was communication with the MCA on the day that the Canna image and related queries appeared on Flickr's Rathlin Rip? Why was the matter not dealt with by the MCA on 29 August 2008 - or earlier - when an MCA official was in Ballycastle?

It's taken months but finally there's been an official admission that the MV Canna was carrying passengers without a valid passenger carrying certificate from 1 September until 11 September 2008. I understand that an extension must be sought before a certificate becomes invalid. In 2006 and 2007 the MV Canna was in dry dock and therefore no extension was required since it wasn't carrying passengers

As a proactive measure, we have advised our Belfast Marine office to issue a letter to the MV Canna operators instructing them to review their company safety management system to incorporate procedures and safeguards to ensure that all future statutory surveys are arranged by them within the stipulated range dates.

This seems more like a reactive measure as the Safety of Operations and Compliance with Operational Regs boxes were ticked in Schedule A during the tendering process; all boxes had to be ticked for the tenderer to proceed to the next stage. Was this just another procedural lapse?

MCA document is on Flickr.

The £55,000 'independent' investigation concluded that:

We have concluded that the allegation that the MV Canna operated for a period from 31August 2008 until 12 September 2008 without a valid passenger certificate has not been substantiated.

Some folks on the public payroll must now be feeling like a right bunch of charlies!!

Perhaps someone can clarify whether or not the following regulations apply:

The Merchant Shipping (Survey and Certification) Regulations 1995

Prohibition on proceeding on a voyage or excursion without the appropriate certificate

22.—(1) A passenger ship of Class II(A), III, IV, V, VI or VI(A) shall not proceed on a voyage or excursion unless it has been surveyed and there is in force a Passenger Certificate appropriate to the ship's Class and applicable to that voyage or excursion.


24.—(2) Any contravention of regulation 8(1), 21 paragraphs (1) to (5) or 22 shall be an offence by both the owner and master and shall be punishable on summary conviction by a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or, on conviction on indictment, by imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or a fine, or both.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Is Department for Regional Development Beyond Ridicule?

Has Minister Murphy
No Pea In His Whistle?



Lian Patterson reminded the Board that this paper had been refined,
following an earlier draft paper submitted to the January meeting of the
Board. The Board noted the paper had been circulated under the
correspondence arrangements and no adverse comments have been

The Board therefore agreed to the issue to all Departmental staff of the
covering information note and associated guidance.

This draft paper followed the release of the Rathlin ferry investigations report. NALIL provided a reformatted searchable document as the official one isn't user friendly.

I understand that the whistle was blown when risk assessments had not been carried out to identify safety risks. Now Rathlin Sound is a treacherous stretch of water with its rip tides and even boarding arrangements can be precarious so you might imagine that DRD officials would have acted in a professional and competent manner and that the investigators would have applauded the whistleblower.

we were advised that the term ‘whistleblower’ was being used in the generic sense

Perhaps the investigators lacked expertise in matters marine and also failed to note that whistleblower needs no quotation marks, at most, a hyphen. You'd have thought that the red bowser incident would have re-focussed their investigation.

In conjunction with DRD, the investigators failed to label all complainants; they merely identified complainant 1 and complainant 2. On the day the report was released, an unnamed reporter in the Belfast Telegraph was able to state:

The man no longer works for the company.

The DRD website lags far behind best practice so it's hardly surprising that their whistleblowing and data protection practises are also in the doldrums.

And there's more - a small list from Google searches that linked to a DRD Equality Impact assessment. Hmmm. Rathlin International Airport. Perhaps it will get a mention when the Rathlin Island Plan is (eventually) put out to put out to public consultation.

drd land ownership moyle
rathlin island runway
silverbirch hotel omagh autistic meeting november 2008
drd 60= bus pass
drd a5 and a8
the need for a runway in rathlin island
disadvantages of an airport runway on rathlin island
social impacts from a4 dual carriageway dungannon to ballygawley

Sunday, 10 May 2009

A New Scottish Twist to the Rathlin Ferry Saga

Conall McDevitt has drawn attention to a possible breach of Election Purdah by the Department for Regional Development.

However, this good news may also be an antidote to some bad news for not just the DRD (and DFP) but also for the Scottish government and some companies it owns.

Following a series of FOI requests, I've received some illuminating emails from the Scottish government's Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL). Calmac operates the ferries whereas CMAL owns and leases out the ferries.

A Scottish Ministry for Transport official assisted CMAL ".. to get colleagues in Northern Ireland (civil servants) .. to do all that they were supposed to do." Not a ringing endorsement of local civil service competence.

The SMT official was also involved in a process that should only have needed the attention of the ferry lessor and lessee. Have DRD officials and consultants intervened in a similar fashion?

A member of CMAL has also made disparaging remarks about other lessees - they probably know who they are - and has confirmed that the lease of the Canna was not signed until the eleventh hour and the financial bond was not expected to be in place until about three weeks after the lessee was operating the ferry service.

And then there's the unexplained Plan B as well as the little publicised EU Commission investigation into the state subsidy of public transport in the absence of a Public Service Obligation for the Ballycastle-Rathlin ferry route.

Why aren't the DRD, MLAs and the mainstream media informing the public about the Commission's activities?

Professor Neil Kay has published a detailed analysis of Scottish ferry policy in the Fraser of Allender Economic Commentary. I'd recommend it as essential reading for MLAs on the Committee for Regional Development in light of the EU Commission's scrutiny of aspects of the Rathlin ferry contract. I've placed a copy for their benefit on Scribd.

In short, it appears that the Executive Branch’s evidence on what they understood by EC law in this context was not only wrong on a number of counts, it was so badly wrong as to represent a complete misunderstanding and misrepresentation of what had been known for a number of years to be accepted EC law here, posing real problems and dangers for the public interest.

It should be emphasised that this is without prejudice to whatever the Commission might decide in their current investigation into alleged illegal subsidies to Scottish ferry services. The Commission may indeed take a sympathetic line to the Executive Branch’s interpretation of EC law here, the point is the Executive Branch’s approach to these problems has exposed the public interest here to completely unnecessary risks on these grounds, as well as failing to provide a coherent foundation for the formulation of past, present, and future policy in this context.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Danny McGill's Ballycastle

Danny McGill talks about the industrial origins of Ballycastle from the stone age to the development of the salt pans thousands of years later, making Ballycastle a real international trading town at one stage

"Mrs Delaney's Trip to Ballycastle" - YouTube

Friday, 1 May 2009

What a DRDful website

Surely some mistake. Didn't the judges see the Department for Regional Development website with its 'ongoing' technical difficulties? There have been difficulties since I started covering the Rathlin ferry saga and that's almost a year ago now.

The Department for Regional Development's website is experiencing technical difficulties. We are currently providing a reduced service whilst addressing the problem.

Surely the £1.2 million they supposedly saved on the purchase of a catamaran for the Ballycastle-Rathlin ferry route could have sorted out such difficulties ages ago. I say supposedly since it appears that only £0.7 million was returned to the coffers.

Here's a recent quote pertaining to Rathlin:

Members noted receipt of a letter, dated 1 April 2009, from the Minister for Regional Development regarding the Rathlin Island Draft Policy. Members decided to request briefing from the Department on this matter at the end of the public consultation period.

Here's what the Minister had to say to the Assembly back on 10 November 2008:

Given that Rathlin is our only offshore inhabited island, we wish to develop a specific policy. Therefore, in the next few weeks, I intend to prepare a draft policy for circulation among my Executive colleagues for their comments, and to bring that before an Executive meeting as soon as possible afterwards.

Now the obvious place to look for such a document would be in the DRD's consultation zone There's nothing there and there's no link to the annex of past consultations.

Perhaps all will become clearer on 11 May 2009:

18. Mr D McKay (North Antrim)

To ask the Minister for Regional Development for an update on the Executive's policy for Rathlin Island.

Perhaps Daithi or other MLAs could also inquire about reports of ferry collisions with other vessels and pontoons in the fairly recent past. These reports are coming from the island and also from Co Cork so it would appear that there would appear be some substance in them.