A NEW conventional ferry – similar to the Commodore Clipper – could be added to Condor’s fleet, it has been revealed.
The announcement was made yesterday by Guernsey Chief Minister Peter Ferbrache, who revealed that his government had been working with Condor on the joint-purchase idea and that a new vessel could cost between £15 and £20 million. The firm has since said it had intended to buy another ship in 2020 but had delayed the plans because of the pandemic.
Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham has since confirmed he had been in talks with his Sarnian counterparts and Condor but had been taken by surprise by yesterday’s announcement.
A statement published by Condor made no mention of working with Jersey but did say the ship would form an addition to its fleet and would serve ‘the Channel Islands’.
Putting a new passenger-freight ferry into service has also long been an ambition of Jersey’s – with Senator Farnham first raising the possibility in 2016. At the time he said he thought it had been a ‘definite mistake’ for the firm to sell off its Express and Vitesse fast ferries to a Greek operator and replace them with a single vessel, Liberation.
Speaking yesterday, Senator Farnham said: ‘Improving the resilience and reliability of our sea links is a key priority for Jersey, so a potential addition to Condor’s fleet is welcome and we have been working closely with Guernsey in recent weeks to discuss all options.
‘While Guernsey’s announcement yesterday was unexpected, discussions remain ongoing and we will continue working together to find the best solution for the islands.
‘We have no details other than to say that they are looking at acquiring a new ferry, so our officials are going to be looking to ascertain some details from Guernsey.’
He added: ‘The funding of this particular vessel is a matter for Guernsey. We were not aware of what Deputy Ferbrache said and therefore we do not have a lot of detail. How it is funded is entirely a matter for them.
‘We are solely interested in ensuring we have sustainable sea links, especially in the aftermath of Covid, which has placed a lot of carriers under pressure.’
Asked if he was confident there would be sufficient demand for another combined passenger-freight ferry, Senator Farnham said: ‘I am confident in our future from a visitor economy and economic perspective. The work on our future position shows that the economy will continue to grow as the world moves out of the pandemic and there will be increased demand for freight. Our visitor economy is also growing and we are working with Visit Jersey to develop that.’
In 2015, following the sale of its Vitesse and Express fast ferries, Condor stopped operating out of the Dorset port of Weymouth to the Channel Islands – bringing centuries of sea travel between the two jurisdictions to an end.
Since then, the town’s authorities have been desperate to restart links after losing hundreds of thousands of pounds in harbour fees and visitor spending in the local economy.
And one of the strongest signs the firm could return to the seaside town came in November last year, when Condor chief executive Paul Napton was spotted at a meeting with councillors.
Asked whether he thought a new ferry could lead to a return of the route, Senator Farnham said: ‘It is difficult to speculate on that but generally speaking I would welcome any new routes as long as they are sustainable – both financially and logistically. We have to make sure they are realistic and it is absolutely vital that we have a really good and reliable service first and foremost.’
In a statement, Mr Napton said he was ‘determined to invest in the islands’ future’ by developing freight and passenger services.
‘Since the change of shareholders, we have been interested in acquiring a second, conventional vessel and would have already done so in 2020 had it not been for the challenges caused by Covid,’ he said.
‘Once the States of Guernsey expressed an interest in working with us, it has allowed us to pursue this opportunity and investigate the collaborative purchase of a ship.’