COLUMN | Communicator beware! [Ferry Tales]

It takes a brave communications manager to issue a media release extolling the virtues of a service for doing what it says on the tin: 100 per cent operational reliability.

When the timeframe in question is a very short period, although over the Christmas and New Year holiday, one begins to suspect a sense of overwhelming relief on the part of the operator. However, when it is none other than beleaguered New Zealand company Interislander that is blowing its own trumpet then one braces oneself and waits for the next nightmare to come along.

“Interislander achieves 100 per cent for sailings over the summer break”, the media lease boasted.

Apparently, Cook Strait operator Interislander ferries moved 128,279 passengers, 33,174 passenger vehicles and 4,762 freight vehicles over the Christmas and New Year holiday period. The company claimed the three ferry services met 100 per cent of all scheduled sailings between December 24, 2014 and January 19. There were a total of 367 scheduled sailings for all three ferries between December 24 and January 19, with the Arahura crossing Cook Strait 142 times, Aratere 147 times, and Kaitaki 78 times.

Just as they were advertised to do.

“The summer holiday period is one of the busiest times of the year for Interislander, so to reach 100 percent for all scheduled sailings is a huge achievement and demonstrates that we operate a very reliable and efficient ferry service”, enthused manager Iain Hill.

Mr Hill said that ferry services operate 24 hours, 365 day a year and that it is important that Interislander not only meets expectations but also exceeds them. He said they do everything they can to make sure people and their vehicles travel across Cook Strait when they are booked.

I am unsure as to whether or not Mr Hill is exceeding expectations. Given the seemingly unending technical dramas suffered by the Interislander fleet, I guess New Zealanders might be justifiably surprised that all sailings operate as advertised. Perhaps then, expectations have been exceeded.

“Each ship undergoes regular maintenance checks to ensure their reliability. Engineering crews work around the clock to service and maintain the on-board systems so that the chances of any failures or interruption to scheduled sailings are minimised.

“After every scheduled service sailed during a very successful 2014-15 holiday period, Interislander will focus on continuing these high standards, and providing first-class ferry services to customers throughout the upcoming year,” said Mr Hill.

Cue chaos!

Interislander was back in the headlines on 1 February when a fault on the Kaitaki prevented the inner bow door from closing properly. Sailings were delayed and marshalling lanes at Wellington and Picton became clogged with weary travellers.

Ian Hill was in the media again, but this time expressing his frustration with the latest problems facing the ferries.

“We would like to apologise for the disruptions we have caused. We are very disappointed at this stage because we’ve had such a good summer.

“We’ve made 100 per cent of our scheduled sailings over that time,” he said.

There was that boast again. First rule of holes Interislander: stop digging!

“It’s not like a car where you can just stop, hop out and walk. It’s bit like an aircraft, if it’s not safe, we don’t sail,” Mr Hill explained.

He said Interislander staff were at both the Wellington and Picton terminals this morning to keep passengers in the loop.

I should hope so too.

End of an Irish Sea Era

Stena Line will not be resuming its seasonal ferry on the Irish Sea crossing between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire. It marks the end of services to the Irish port that have been running since 1835. The decision also draws a curtain on operations of Stena Line’s revolutionary HSS 1500 high-speed ferries after almost twenty years of service.

Ian Davies, Stena Line’s route manager for Irish Sea South, said: “With two services operating approximately 10 miles apart we needed to make a decision in relation to what operation best serves the needs of our customers now and in the years ahead, and that operation is Dublin Port.”

When Stena Line unveiled the high-speed sea service project in 1993 fuel costs were relatively low. Even with the possibility of losing duty free sales, the fast ferries were opening up new markets with crossing times almost halved.

As we now know, HSS operational costs rose significantly since the 1990s to the point of being “unsustainable”.  When built, a barrel of oil cost a mere US$18, meaning the cost of running the HSS could be comparable with its conventional fleet mates. However, that soon became untenable with prices reaching in excess of US$140.

The first reduction in the number of sailings of the Holyhead HSS, the Stena Explorer, occurred in 2001 and passenger capacity on the Ro-Pax service from Holyhead to nearby Dublin Port was increased. In 2008, a second ship arrived on the Dublin run, resulting in continued market share growth at the expense of the HSS. In 2009, for the first time, Stena’s Dublin service passed Dun Laoghaire in terms of passenger numbers.

From a peak of up to five round trips a day, by 2013 the pattern of sailings was reduced to one round trip per day between March and September with additional sailings operated over the Christmas and New Year period. The Stena Explorer carried over 1.7m passengers annually during its peak in 1998. Last year just over 141,000 ferry passengers travelled through Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

The die was cast

Stena recently announced the introduction of the superferry Stena Superfast X, ex-Dieppe Seaways, into Dublin Port by late February. Joining the Stena Adventurer and replacing the Stena Nordica (and indirectly the Stena Explorer) the newcomer offers space for up to 1,200 passengers and 2km of vehicle lane space.

Left with a magnificent ferry terminal, Dun Laoghaire Harbour has issued a call for expressions of interest in operating a seasonal service. It is their hope that a replacement passenger service will be in place for 2016.  “In recent months, the Harbour Company has received a number of informal approaches to operate the route, and we hope that these inquiries can now be advanced through a competitive tendering process,” chief executive officer Gerry Dunne said.

Liberation for Condor

Excitement is building in the Channel Islands where Condor Ferries’ new Austal 102 trimaran is slated to make her maiden voyage on March 27.  The Condor Liberation, which was named after a competition in the islands, represents an investment of £50 million, of which £1m has been spent on adding bridge wings to the spec-built craft. The name was chosen by a judging panel and recognises the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Channel Islands, which were occupied by German forces during the Second World War.

LNG for BC Ferries

Canadian west coast operator BC Ferries has signed a 10-year deal that will see FortisBC provide LNG to fuel three ferries being built in Poland. In addition, the ferries corporation has received approval to covert its two largest ferries, the Spirit of Vancouver Island and the Spirit of British Columbia, to run on gas. BC’s new and refitted ferries will operate with dual-fuel systems.