Port of Cork refused to lend E3m to Swansea-Cork Ferries for new ferry

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Date: 24 October 2007

The reopening of Swansea-Cork Ferries service hung in the balance last night after it emerged that the Port of Cork had refused to lend the company 3 million Euros towards the cost of a new ferry.

Last October, the ferry company announced it had been unable to purchase a suitable vessel to replace the MV Superferry which it had sold to another operator. This resulted in no summer service.

The south-west region suffered an estimated loss of E35m in tourism revenue since the route's closure and the industry is praying that a solution can still be found.

Tourism experts say that if a ferry is not procured before the end of the month then successfully marketing the route for next summer will prove difficult.

A letter seen by The Irish Examiner showed that the Port of Cork refused to offer Swansea-Cork Ferries managing director, Thomas Hunter-McGowan, a E3m loan toward the purchase of a ferry. However, the port authorities had proposed to defer collection of port fees for a period of time, along with generous discounts on port charges in an effort to get the service up and running again.

The Irish Examiner understands that Swansea-Cork Ferries is still continuing negotiations to secure a loan from a financial institution.

The port's decision not to finance Swansea-Cork Ferries was due to the fact that another company is also actively seeking to operate a ferry on the route. The port could not be seen to be treating one potential operator more favourably than the other.

It is understood that both companies are bidding for a ferry owned by Color Line, a Scandinavian company. The ferry is believed to be worth about E15m.

West Cork has been particularly hard hit by the loss of the ferry service. While the majority of British visitors to Cork city fly in, those choosing to tour west Cork and Kerry have tended to bring their cars on the ferry.

Since Swansea-Cork Ferries started operating the route in 1987 it has carried more than 3.5 million passengers, ploughing millions into the economies of South Wales, Cork and Kerry.

A total of 30 staff were laid off when the ferry company made the decision in October 2006 to cancel the following year's sailings.

In the three years before it discontinued the service, the company brought 285,000 passengers and 108,459 cars into Cork.

Tourism sources in west Cork claimed that the ferry's loss resulted in a 30% drop in tourists coming into the region from Britain, particularly hitting hotels, B&Bs, restaurants and camping centres. Golfing trips have also taken a dive. Bantry Golf Club reported a 51% drop this season in the number of British golfers playing on its course.

The ferry company originally said it would make a decision on whether it would reintroduce the service by October 12.

However, it is now saying that critical talks are still ongoing, which will be resolved, one way or another, within the next two or three days.

May 1969: The British and Irish Steam Packet company, better known as B&I Line, introduced the MV Innisfallen on the Swansea-Cork route for the first time. She berthed at a terminal at Tivoli docks.

May 1979: The 6,800-ton MV Connacht, which could carry 1,500 passengers and 250 cars, began a new service from Cork to Pembroke. The Innisfallen was sold to a Corsican ferry company.

January 1983: B&I Lines wanted to close the Cork service due to losses. Following pressure from the Irish Government the company decided to keep going. It chartered the Silja Line Ferry Fennia to cover the summer season, but by its close had amassed £2 million in losses. The company decided to axe the Cork service for good.

1987: Cork Corporation, Cork County Council and Kerry County Council, together with West Glamorgan County Council and Swansea City Council co-operated to form a new company, Swansea-Cork Car Ferries Limited. Its first ferry, Celtic Pride, arrived at Ringaskiddy on April 13 for the 10-hour crossing.

Its facilities included a swimming pool, sauna, casino, orchestra, hairdressing salon, nursery, restaurants, duty free, bars and the services of a resident doctor and nurse. The crew was predominantly Polish, with Irish supervisors. The service proved very popular. But the ferry was small and only had space for 170 cars, restricting freight use. The arrival of Swansea-Cork Ferries on the market provoked a price war with Sealink and B&I Line. Accusations also flew that the Irish Government was unfairly subsidising the company.

May 1990: The Greek-owned ferry Ionian Sun arrived at Ringaskiddy. The vessel was never officially renamed, but traded as the Celtic Pride II. She was the former B&I ferry Leinster, built in Cork in 1968. She'd been renamed Innisfallen V in 1980 and then sold to Strintzis Line in 1986. That company had extensively remodelled the vessel's interior and she had larger car and freight decks. She was mainly crewed by Greeks. The Celtic Pride II offered night-time crossings from Swansea, returning from Cork during the day.

Sealink again attacked the Government's involvement with Swansea-Cork Ferries.

March 1991: The restored Celtic Pride I was reintroduced on the Swansea-Cork route. The same ship started to operate a weekend service on the Cork-Roscoff route as well, as a temporary replacement for a Brittany Ferries ship which was having a major refit.

March 1992: Competition was intense on Welsh-bound routes, with B&I Line introducing the Isle of Innisfree on the Rosslare-Pembroke service. Meanwhile Stena Sealink was operating much larger capacity vessels out of Rosslare. However, bookings for the Swansea-Cork service remained buoyant.

August 1992: Tragedy struck when a young brother and sister died in their cabin en route to Cork. Catherine, 15, and James Tomlins, 12, were overcome by fumes, traced to an alteration that had been made to the venting system in a septic tank. As a result of the accident some Celtic Pride sailings were cancelled.

October 1992: Swansea-Cork Car Ferries was sold by its local authority owners to Strintzis Line of Greece. This was the company from whom Ionian Sun, trading as Celtic Pride II, had been chartered in 1990. Swansea-Cork Ferries announced they would be chartering a Strintzis ferry for 1993.

March 1993: The Japanese-built MV Superferry started servicing the Swansea-Cork route. She had a gross tonnage of 7,454, a passenger capacity of 1,355 and space for 550 cars.

Spring 1999: Strintzis sold Swansea-Cork ferries at a profit to an Irish business consortium Briar Star Ltd, headed by Dennis Murphy and Thomas Hunter McGowan.

Spring 2001: Swansea-Cork Ferries chartered Hellenic Mediterranean Lines Egnatia II and was renamed The City of Cork. In a previous life she had been the St Patrick II, which had run services for Irish Ferries. The City of Cork got off to a bad start with crew training and safety regulation compliance problems.

March 2002: The company acquired the MV Superferry again, which had been operating in Greece under a different name. She was reported to have cost E6.5m.

July 2006: The company announces the sale of the MV Superferry.

October 2006: The ferry set sail for Egypt and a replacement ship was not sourced for the 2007 season.

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