The Economic Development Committee has published a consultation document which suggests the States should adopt an ‘open seas’ policy to let market forces determine how the Island is served by ferry operators.
It follows a similar policy already adopted for air routes.
But the plan has been greeted with caution by ferry operators, who fear that it might threaten the quality and frequency of their services.
At the moment Condor has an agreement with Jersey which gives it de facto monopoly status between the Island and the UK.
Emeraude used to have the same protection between the Island and France but it ended two years ago when Condor were given permission to compete on the route.
Condor’s general manager in the Channel Islands, Yan Milner, said that the current system was working and did not need changing.
‘Contrary to popular belief we are not protected from competition on the northern route as any operator could compete if it met the conditions of the service level agreement, which is to provide two high-speed ferries and a conventional ro-ro ferry.
‘But in an unlicensed environment an operator could come in with a single fast ferry and run a service between March and September.
Equally an incumbent operator could get rid of a ferry or two and not operate over the winter, although Condor would never do this.
‘The fact is we have invested heavily to provide ships that have been designed specifically for the Channel Islands and a service that has redundancy built in that meets the islands’ year-round demands.
A company should be allowed to recoup that sort of investment and it is only fair to offer a franchise on lifeline routes.
‘But Condor supports competition as long as it is on a level playing field.
We also recognise the need for strategic planning and we look forward to working with the States during the consultation process.’ Emeraude general manager Gordon Forrest said he would be studying the document with his French directors before commenting but it seems unlikely the company will welcome an endorsement of the current de facto policy.
Emeraude has long argued that there is insufficient capacity to warrant more than one operator between the Island and France and competition should be limited.
Economic Development believes the current policy of regulating car carrying services to and from the Island by controlling access to the ramp at the Harbour and signing agreements guaranteeing monopoly status should be scrapped and any market abuse should be regulated by the Jersey Competition Regulatory Authority.
The committee’s view runs counter to that of consultants OXERA, who concluded in a recent report that both northern and southern routes should each have a monopoly provider protected from competition.