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Steam Packet Company admits clearing freight from harbour was 'wrong one'

Thu, 23 Nov 2023

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company is apologising to customers for recent disruptions, and is providing some context for why November has seen so much upheaval in sailing times.

Primarily, the cause for the changes to schedules has been around time and tide.

The Department of Infrastructure’s project to upgrade mooring facilities on the King Edward VIII pier unfortunately coincides with low tides at the same time as IOMSPC scheduled arrivals and departures.

Ordinarily this would not cause a problem. However, operating from the shallower berth on the Queen Victoria linkspan creates a risk due to the presence of concrete reinforcement on the seabed designed to protect the infrastructure from Manannan’s powerful water-jet propulsion system.

Both of the Company’s conventional vessels, Ben-my-Chree and Manxman, are exposed to the risk of damaging their vulnerable propellers and rudders in such circumstances.

The coincidence of the low tides and arrival times was the primary cause of rescheduled sailings last week.

Again, unfortunately the recent storms have led to added siltation in Heysham Port. This has now coincided with low tides around scheduled arrival and departure times.

So, while the Queen Victoria berth is no longer a cause of schedule changes in Douglas, the Company has had to make changes to the schedule due to effectively the same issue in Heysham – too little water to carry out berthing operations safely. Again, this situation is not specific to one vessel – Ben-my-Chree and Manxman would be affected in the same way.

While tidal conditions and scheduled arrival or departure times have been the primary cause of the disruptions to schedules other factors have also been at play.

Thursday’s 08:45 was cancelled due to predicted weather conditions at Heysham Port exceeding the safe entry limits. This limit is still under review but while it is in place the Company is fully supportive of masters employing maximum precaution in their decisions about making safe approaches to Heysham.

The disruption to Wednesday’s 19:45 departure from Douglas to Heysham was due to a combination of silting at Heysham Port and knock-on effects from the cancellation of Thursday’s 08:45 sailing to Heysham.

The Company, therefore, felt it had to load the maximum number of freight trailers on Wednesday’s evening departure in order to clear the harbour freight area, which has been temporarily reduced as a result of the ongoing harbour improvement work.

This led to a delay leaving Douglas and, as a result of the ongoing siltation at Heysham and the timing of low tide, the Master became aware there wouldn’t be enough water to enter Heysham until 03:30. Therefore, the vessel slow steamed in order to arrive when conditions were favourable.

The late arrival was compounded by conflicting with another company’s scheduled departure time. The Port’s dockers quite rightly give preference to the vessel on schedule. This led to a delay to discharge and subsequent loading times while the dockers served the other vessel.

The Company fully understand the frustration of passengers and customers at the delays and cancellations.

Indeed, the Company shares the frustration, especially the inadequate dredging of Heysham Port, leaving it not fit for purpose at times, impacting the ability of the Company to deliver lifeline services. It is a known issue and the Company felt progress had been made.

Unfortunately, there are likely to be more changes to schedules next week as the King Edward VIII soundings are now showing a shallow patch. Unfortunately the schedule next week coincides with some low tides and this will have a knock-on effect on arrival and departure times. The Company will update schedules on Friday to give affected travellers the best opportunity to remake plans if necessary.

Isle of Steam Packet Company Managing Director Brian Thomson apologised to customers, saying ‘We’re all very aware of the role the Company plays in Manx life and being punctual and reliable is at the core of what we do. We know that people have busy lives and need to be able to make plans around our sailings. We are sorry that the service has fallen below what we aim for.’

Mr Thomson added: ‘Of course, we can’t control every factor that affects our services, and sometimes we are forced to make choices about rescheduling services that we’d really rather not make, but that is the reality of working on and around the sea. In situations where there’s a choice between being reliable or punctual, we’d always choose reliability and maintaining the island’s lifeline.’

‘I would also add that in hindsight the decision to try to clear as much freight as possible from the Port last night was the wrong one. I would like to apologise on behalf of the Company to everyone affected. We try to make the best decisions to ensure the best service, not just for passengers but the whole of the communities we serve. We did this with the best of intentions but it didn’t work out for the best yesterday.’

The Company has brought in relief vessel Arrow in order to deal with some of the freight backlog caused by the loss of a sailing and the limited number of freight trailers carried on Thursday’s AM sailing from Heysham.


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