“RMV White Elephant” or, why two ships are better than one

2009-11-23

Cornwall Council has been telling us for a while that there isn’t time to review their choice of a single ship, but the Council of the Isles of Scilly is now saying that a faster ship operating out of Falmouth might suit them better. Falmouth is not an option, but if there’s time to reopen the choice of ship, then we should do so, because two ships would be better than one for Penzance.

The Friends of Penzance Harbour have always disagreed with the decision to change from the current separate passenger and freight ships to a larger single combined vessel. The reasons for this are described in detail in the “RMV White Elephant” document below, but the main points are as follows:

• It risks putting the local Dry Dock permanently out of business, with consequent loss of at least 40 local jobs. At the moment the Scilly Link vessels are an important customer for the Dry Dock. The new vessel will not fit and will have to be dry-docked elsewhere.
• A single combined vessel will be slow and do nothing to encourage day trips to the Scillies, which is an important attraction for visitors staying in Penzance.
• With passengers and freight travelling on the same vessel the sailing times and port operations cannot be optimised for either passengers or freight, resulting in health & safety issues, a poor quality service, and missed opportunities for integration with bus and train services.
• With just one ship operating all year round the service is vulnerable to unexpected breakdown, as happened in the summer of 2008 when the Gry Maritha was out of service for several weeks.
• Cornwall Council claims that the larger vessel will require an expensive pier extension and ugly rock armouring to the historic Lighthouse Pier. And it will still have to use Albert Pier in bad weather, which will result in the loss of valuable small craft moorings.
• With a traditional combined passenger and freight vessel there is a risk that a competing operator with a fast ferry could enter the market, cream off the summer day-tripper trade, and leave the Council-subsidised operation running at a loss with council tax-payers picking up the tab.

The capital cost of a two ship approach need be no greater than the planned single combined passenger and freight ship and could be substantially less. The operating cost of a two ship system will also be less. This is because fuel, crew and insurance costs are all significantly higher for a passenger ship than a cargo ship, but with two ships the passenger ship will be laid up in winter, which cuts the cost of the operation dramatically.

In short, the choice of a single larger combined passenger and freight vessel is bad for the fabric of the historic pier, bad for customers of the service, a serious threat to local jobs and a potential source of council tax rises.

If there is time to review the ship choice then we certainly should!

RMV White Elephant : download pdf | view pdf

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