Saturday, 17 July 2010

St Sorney - From Rathlin to Cape Clear

The St Sorney has recently spent some time in Coleraine, apparently in a shed in the Coleraine Harbour Yard. I'm told that some of the people working on the quay are Coleraine Harbour employees. I'm also told that Pat McKeegan, Coleraine Harbour Master and Commissioner, is also the Rathlin Island Ferry Limited (RIFL) Designated Person Ashore (DPA).

The St Sorney is supposedly leased to RIFL by Ciaran O Driscoll, a RIFL director, but it's been a bit of a puzzle as to why this St Sorney Passenger Certificate issued by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) has a different format from another MCA certificate issued to the Canna which also operates the Ballycastle-Rathlin route.

MCA and the DPA play different roles in the safe operation of the ferries but the St Sorney has now disappeared from the local radar. There was also no sign of the RIFL directors when I dropped into the ferry terminal today, just two booking clerks. Is it possible that the directors were doing a little bit of flyposting in Baltimore, Co Cork yesterday? I've been sent scans of two flyers that were lodged under a windscreen wiper in the Co Cork harbour town. The unnamed vessel in the first flyer is the St Sorney, a vessel formerly in the possession of the colourful John Joe Fitpatrick. I think it's unlikely that topless barmaids will be appearing in Cape Clear or Rathlin any time soon!!

I dare say the Department for Regional Development will be able to provide the name of the new fast ferry that is providing relief cover for the much troubled Rathlin Express catamaran. The St Sorney has provided cover for the numerous occasions when the catamaran was off station; it also got a lot closer to the advertised 20 mins crossing time than the catamaran - the latter often appears to take 30-35 minutes. It will be interesting to see how the Cape Clear sailing times compare with those of the Irish state subsidised service. A departure time shortly in advance might well be labelled cherry-picking. The RIFL online booking system has been 'temporarily' unavailable for weeks whereas the Cailin Or service online booking service is available for those who like such convenience.

The RIFL directors threw up the Cape Clear subsidised contract back at the end of February this year - where they used the vessel in the second flyer - so the Irish state authorities might consider revisiting that episode and the related financial accounts.

Is it significant that the St Sorney name isn't boldly displayed on the first flyer like the Naomh Ciarain on the second?

Added July 18 [amended]

Some more news has reached me from Baltimore, Co Cork, as well as details of a curious raffle. It's alleged that these past three days Ciaran O Driscoll left his vessels tied up in the harbour in a manner that made it very difficult for passengers to disembark from other ferries.and for the crews to unload diving gear and other equipment. Tidal conditions also meant that one of the other ferries was unnecessarily delayed by fifteen minutes on one of the Friday sailings. This is most likely a breach of local harbour bye-laws so the harbour master will probably have to intervene.

Added July 19 - Pier Pressure
I'm informed that there will be an open meeting of Baltimore Harbour Board and skippers operating in Baltimore harbour called for this evening to see what action can be taken to maintain proper access to harbour facilities.

Added July 20 - Pier Pressure 2
This story has generated more than the usual interest in Dublin circles. Perhaps an Irish state department is now reflecting on its relationship with Tithe Saoire Chléire Teo now that the latter finds that the boot is on the other foot.

The website has been updated but the St Sorney name, er, isn't mentioned!

Added July 23

Reports from Cape Clear indicate that the St Sorney has limped into harbour on one engine after failing to turn up for the 10.30 sailing from Baltimore. The St Sorney has had a recurring history of engine problems since it first appeared in NALIL blog just over two years ago