The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company wishes to make clear its concerns about further planned wind farm construction in the Irish Sea which could threaten the future of the Liverpool route, reduce TT services and lead to higher levels of cancellations.
It follows the formal announcement of plans by Centrica to develop wind farms which will impede the existing direct tracks on both the Island’s Heysham and Liverpool routes.
Steam Packet Company Chief Executive Mark Woodward explained: ‘Centrica met various shipping companies in January, outlining their latest thinking and they suggested a “worst case” – their words – scenario, based on fast craft crossing times, of three minutes extra on our passage to Heysham and seven minutes extra on our Liverpool route. With a conventional ferry this would increase to15 extra minutes sailing time.
‘We strongly objected on behalf of the Isle of Man, pointing out that an extra 15 minutes would make it physically impossible to operate winter Ben-my-Chree Birkenhead services, while twice daily Liverpool services could also be impossible in certain situations.
‘We stated our objections in the strongest possible terms at the meeting in January this year. Centrica then wrote to us on February 20th, saying nothing had been confirmed. It is disappointing that, despite numerous meetings, Centrica have to date chosen to ignore the Island’s route requirements’
The Heysham and Liverpool routes are used by more than half a million passengers a year and provide essential freight services to and from the Island.
Mr Woodward added: ‘We have expressed our concerns to the Chief Minister, the UK Crown Estate and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The routes in question provide essential supplies for the population and economy of the Isle of Man and these direct routes are of fundamental national strategic importance for the Island.
‘We understand the goals of the renewable energy project and have demonstrated our willingness to work with Centrica to assist. However, developing wind farms across our direct shipping routes is unworkable. Material deviations are unacceptable and we see no reason why Centrica cannot develop around these long established direct shipping lanes - something that was originally promised by Centrica some 18 months ago.
‘We have stressed safety concerns and weather routing issues on several occasions. However we have made it clear that the most important requirement is that the existing direct routes are not compromised. Based on a presentation Centrica gave to us in January, it is clear they have ignored this.’
Mr Woodward said: ‘The additional crossing times to the Isle of Man might not sound like significant deviations to Centrica. But in practice they would lead to very serious economic and practical consequences for the Island in general and in some circumstances would even threaten the long-term viability of Liverpool services in particular. Our own estimate is that slower journey times could cause the loss of as much as 15% of TT fast craft capacity due to the inability to maximise the number of sailings.
‘In addition, an extra 15 minutes on the Ben-my-Chree passage time would not allow us to offer winter weekend returns to Liverpool without compromising the vital overnight freight service. Most importantly, we know the Island’s longer term service requirements may best be served through investment in a new River Berth in Liverpool. Fifteen minutes extra sailing time would make it impossible to operate two returns daily to Liverpool with a vessel like Ben-my-Chree, rendering such berth investment unworkable.
‘We hope that Centrica agrees that what is now required is an open, transparent and constructive two-way dialogue. We cannot allow a single agenda issue to overrule the Islands wider transport needs.’