Friday 25 September 2015
Members of Guernsey's External Transport Group (ETG) met with representatives of Condor Ferries yesterday (Wednesday 23 September) to discuss the recent disruption to the company's high speed ferry services between Guernsey and the UK.
Deputy Scott Ogier, Deputy Chairman of ETG, commented:
"At Wednesday's meeting, the External Transport Group expressed its concern that, last weekend, Condor's high speed ferry service to the UK had been interrupted by technical failures for the third time this year. Many parishioners have contacted me and other Deputies regarding the disruption to their family life and businesses; we felt it was important to ensure Condor was fully aware of the disappointment and anger felt by many islanders".
The Group also explored the reasoning for the cancellations, the contingency plan that was in place and the operational performance around this plan.
The company outlined, in detail, the events which had led up to the cancellation of services as a result of an exhaust fault, and was questioned by members of the Group regarding its actions before, during and after the disruption. The ETG questioned Condor's executives thoroughly and in considerable depth, exploring the reasons for the disruption and the measures put in place to support affected customers. Members heard that the company's senior management had mobilised all available resources to manage the disruption, although there were some additional communication improvements that could and would be made.
Extensive discussion took place regarding contingency arrangements and it was noted that Condor Ferries had implemented the contingency plan as previously agreed with the ETG by scheduling extra sailings, paying for alternative ferry and air travel, and arranging accommodation for affected passengers.
The Group considered it unfortunate that the fault had occurred whilst Commodore Clipper was in dry dock but noted that the scheduling of the biennial maintenance on the ferry was driven by the need for compliance with the terms of the ship's certification and was, therefore, outside the company's control. The meeting revisited, in hindsight, whether the Clipper should have been taken out of service at this time and it was recognised that, in terms of timetabling, there was no alternative despite early consideration having been given to the most appropriate time. Whilst this is little comfort to those disrupted, it was recognised that had the Clipper been in service as usual there would still have been disruption albeit to a lesser degree.
Condor Ferries' Executive Director of Operations, Captain Fran Collins, informed the Group that the company had invested in additional resource to undertake a component-by-component audit of the ship, and technical benchmarking with other similar ships. Detailed discussion also took place regarding customer communication and, whilst it was noted that the company had released accurate and timely updates via its website, social media, text and emails, not all customers had received these communications. It was agreed that a rigorous review would take place with a commitment to looking at customer contact and implementing improvements which would benefit travellers, particularly where a cancellation or altered sailing time became a necessity.
Deputy Ogier said:
"The meeting recognised that all of our interests are best served by working together to ensure the necessary improvements to what is an essential service to both islanders and Island businesses. To that end, we welcomed Condor's announcement that they are proactively undertaking additional technical monitoring as well as a number of steps to ensure better access to timely information for customers when there is service disruption in the future. Customers need to be kept informed."
The meeting also considered options for standby and charter ships. The ETG acknowledged the worldwide shortage of ships with the required functionality that were suitable for Guernsey and Jersey ports and agreed that, given the cross subsidy required from the rest of the network to support the year-round viability of the Northern Route, investment in an additional ship for the route could not be justified; the resultant considerable indirect costs of additional standby staff, engineering and vessel accreditations would not be commercially viable. Mobilising a standby ship for a short period, by charter, was also a significant challenge for a number of reasons including the availability of appropriate vessels and the relocation of appropriately trained staff for the vessel type. The Group was pleased to learn that this option had been immediately explored before being discounted.
The ETG, whilst appreciating that some weather-related disruption would be inevitable, urged Condor to do all within its power to minimise the risks of future disruption via a determined company-wide effort. Executive Chairman, Russell Kew, confirmed the company's commitment to this. The ETG will continue to engage with Condor Ferries on an ongoing basis and monitor progress accordingly.
The External Transport Group consists of political representation/staff representation from Commerce and Employment and Public Services Departments.