Irish Ferries responds robustly to NTA criticism

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  • Irish Ferries and National Transport Authority at odds over ‘extraordinary circumstances’ argument regarding delays to WB Yeats ferry debut
  • Authority says ferry company has two months to follow its passenger compensation orders
  • Irish Ferries further hits back, saying the Authority made Rosslare-French routes ‘unviable’

 

Irish Ferries has hit back at notices issued by the National Transport Authority surrounding the cancellations caused by the delayed debut of the WB Yeats ferry.

The ferry company “expressed its disappointment” with the orders for compensation to passengers, saying the cancellations experienced by passengers were due to “extraordinary circumstances”.

The €147m ferry, which had been due for delivery on July 30, to enter service with an inaugural crossing from Dublin Cherbourg, suffered delays at its Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft shipyard in Germany.

The ship’s entire summer season had to be cancelled, and it finally arrived into Dublin on December 20 last.

WB Yeats at shipyard in Germany

Earlier, the NTA, the nation’s public transport licensing agency, issued a lengthy statement saying: “The Authority was not satisfied that the unavailability of ‘WB Yeats’ is an extraordinary circumstance hindering the performance of the cancelled passenger services which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.”

Irish Ferries later responded, arguing: “These cancellations were due to extraordinary circumstances which were completely outside of the company’s control. Since the delay was due to unforeseen delays by the shipbuilder FSG, and was notified to passengers months ahead of planned sailings, Irish Ferries does not agree that the company infringed the relevant EU Regulation. 

“In dealing with its customers Irish Ferries believes it took every reasonable action to provide passengers with alternative travel options, from a no-quibble immediate refund to allow them to make alternative travel plans, as well as alternative sailings on the Oscar Wilde out of Rosslare Europort and Landbridge alternatives” via Britain.

The NTA said its board came to the view by October 19, 2018 that the ferry company “failed or is failing to comply with and has infringed or is infringing Article 18 and Article 19 of the Maritime Regulation”. It also  authorised the serving of two notices on Irish Ferries.

  • Article 18 relates to what cancelled or delayed passengers are offered, either rerouting to the final destination, under comparable conditions, at the earliest opportunity and at no extra cost, or money back instead.
  • Article 19 covers the payment of compensation if requested by passengers in the event of delay in arrival at the final destination as set out in the transport contract. Compensation is 25pc or 50pc of the ticket price depending on the scheduled duration of the journey and extent of delay experienced.
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The two notices served on Irish Ferries required it to pay compensation to passengers who have already requested it, and reimburse additional costs for those passengers who had to travel on sailings to and from Rosslare, rather than Dublin, and to and from Roscoff, instead of Cherbourg.

Irish Ferries made representations to the Authority, and they were reviewed and discussed by the board of the Authority – but on January 25 last the board decided to uphold the notices, and are giving Irish Ferries two months to comply.

The ferry company added in its latest statement: “Irish Ferries would like to state again that it sincerely regrets the disruption to its passengers and once again conveys its apologies to all of those who were affected last year. A goodwill gesture of €150 discount for a sailing to France this year has already been provided to all customers impacted by the cancellations.”

But the ferry company also pointed the finger at the Authority over its own controversial decision to move away from Rosslare Port, saying: “Ongoing discussions with the NTA on the interpretation of EU regulation has been a critical factor in regretfully concluding that we are unlikely to operate the Oscar Wilde to France out of Rosslare in 2019 – a service which has been in operation continuously for 45 years, providing the South East of the country with an important tourism and freight link directly to the European market. “

It said that “the NTA’s approach to the regulation has contributed to making the route commercially unviable into the future”.

Irish Ferries believes that the NTA’s interpretation of the EU regulation applying to landbridge travel via Britain to the continent, “significantly penalises regional ports due to their lower frequency of back-up ferry services from Ireland to the UK in the event of a cancellation of a direct continental service.”

It claimed that it has “on numerous occasions, attempted to engage with the NTA by offering to enter into a mediation process without any preconditions. The NTA have not taken up this offer. Irish Ferries will appeal the NTA’s decision in the courts (including, if needed, the European Court of Justice). 

“Irish Ferries firmly believe that consumer protection should be reasonable, proportionate and in full compliance with the law.  We also believe it is essential to protect the viability of direct links to the Continent which is now all the more critical against the backdrop of Brexit.”

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