Cork-Swansea ferry service loses fight for survival

Cork-Swansea ferry service loses fight for survival but owners pledge to battle on for Irish-Welsh tourism

The West Cork Tourism Co-Operative Society Limited, owners of the Swansea-to-Cork service (Fastnet Line), today (2 February 2012) announced the end of the service. The Cork-to-Swansea ferry service has been unable to raise adequate funds and the examinership has failed. It is now placed in receivership and/or liquidation later today with the direct loss of 78 jobs and expected losses of €30 million in direct tourist spending in the Munster region and over €20 million in the South Wales region.

Noel Murphy, Chairman of the West Cork Tourism Co-Operative, in an address to staff, shareholders and supporters, said:

"Despite heroic efforts by staff and supporters of the ferry service in both Ireland and Wales, we are very disappointed to announce that we could not to save this vital piece of tourism and transport infrastructure.

The Swansea-Cork Cruise Ferry provides the only direct passenger and freight link between the South West Region of Ireland and the South Wales Region in the UK and in doing so is a key generator of business, direct tourism and tourism related revenues for both regions. It will now enter receivership.

"We would like to thank our friends throughout Ireland and Wales who relied on the ferry service, and the visitors it transported, and who pledged hundreds of thousands of Euro. Unfortunately, these funds and the funds pledged by local council's in Cork and Kerry were insufficient to meet the required figure to achieve the proposed scheme or arrangement. Our efforts fell at the final hurdle.

The funds were there, private and public, to allow us to continue but, despite the best efforts of all involved, state aid rules and red tape choked off the ferry’s chances of sailing again in March 2012.

All private funds committed in our recent request for support will be returned.

We have lost the battle but the war is not lost: the West Cork Tourism Co-Operative Society is still in existence to promote Tourism in West Cork and Kerry and the South west Region of Wales.

We see this as a major opportunity lost for Southern Ireland and Southern Wales. However there are positives. We saw a remarkable grassroots campaign of passengers, small business, local politicians, business leaders and citizens rallying behind the ferry. The people of South Wales and South Munster did not lie down, they fought for this tooth and nail and this spirit will stand us in good stead in this economic climate and bodes well for a resurrection of the service.

The People of Ireland and Wales deserve a better quality of service to interconnect our two communities. We hope that lessons can be learned from this experience. If we have achieved anything we hope that the Welsh and Irish governments will now look actively and positively at building international transport infrastructure rather than letting the recession cut people and businesses off.

Since the launch of service in March 2010, MV Julia has carried over 153,000 passengers and based on current tourist spends, the Cork, Kerry and the surrounding areas economy has benefited by over €55 million during the services current lifetime. A further €7.5 million of goods and services has been purchased by the operating company, Fastnet Line, in the Munster region and €65 million worth of freight has been shipped through the Port of Cork.

With no ferry sailings taking place in 2012, a minimum of 25,000 British tourists will not travel to Ireland, which would represent a further 1% reduction in visitor’s numbers from the 2011 figure. The remaining 35,000 visitors will perhaps visit Ireland via other means, but will in all probability not reach the Cork and Kerry regions owing to the difficulty in doing so with other crossings.

South Wales and Swansea will see tens of thousands less tourists arriving from Ireland and from people in the rest of the UK who passed through Wales as a result of the ferry.

It is sad and ironic that this announcement is made in the same week that a cross-party group of Welsh Assembly Members launched an inquiry into how Welsh ports and airports could be better developed to boost the economy. Welsh Ministers and the National Assembly for Wales have specific powers over transport links, planning policy, grants and other financial assistance and they need to use them to raise the profile of Wales as a country and a tourist destination by increasing international trade and tourism links.

In Ireland the announcement has come as Failte Ireland revealed it has missed its targets for attracting tourists to South Munster.

Most importantly the Co-op leadership team would like to sincerely and publically thank all the loyal supporters and customers of the Cork-Swansea ferry. In particular,

  • The many great supply partners to the business on both sides of the Irish Sea – the Co-Op very much appreciates their ongoing support and patience and for those suppliers for whom yesterday’s decision means a bad debt we express our sincere apologies.
  • The 453 individual shareholders who believed in the project by investing privately.
  • Our staff – particularly the remaining shore based staff who have been planning the 2012 service from an operational, financial, sales and marketing who regretfully were informed that their jobs were lost this morning – the ship based crew, not only the small team that has been looking after the ship during examinership but the many staff waiting in the wings looking forward to returning to the Julia – we thank you and wish you well.
  • The Port of Cork and the Association of British Ports in Swansea who continued to back and support the service.
  • The Local Authorities in Cork County Council, Cork City Council and Kerry County Council for their continuous support and for seeing the true value of the service right up to the present day. In particular I want to thank the Mayor of Cork Tim Lombard for championing the cause.
  • On the Welsh side we have received strong support from local politicians in all parties and we appreciate their efforts over the past weeks. In particular Welsh Assembly members Mike Hedges, Peter Black, Julie James, David Rees and Byron Davies. MPs Peter Hain, Geraint Davies, Sian James, David Davies, Dr Hywel Francis, Stuart Andrew and Derek Vaughan MEP were also helpful and we ask them not to give up the fight.
  • The examiner – Michael Mc Ateer and his team in Grant Thornton that have worked with such dedication and professionalism. Collectively we came so close to bringing the examinership process to a successful conclusion."
  • Management Consultant Padraic O’Kane who brought clarity and focus to the teams efforts to restructure Fastnet Line and in our efforts to secure the additional funds.

We hope the vision of the ferry supporters and the Co-op will be realised in the near future and we know the dedication of these people I've mentioned to tourism in Southern Ireland and Wales will not fade. We only ask that red tape and burdensome rules won’t be allowed to damage viable tourism the trade next time round."

About the Ferry
The Fastnet Line companies are owned by the West Cork Tourism Co-Operative Society Limited, which was formed in April 2009 to fund and operate the ferry as a community-based cooperative of over 450 investors and enterprises, in both Wales and Ireland.

The West Cork Tourism Cooperative presented an investment proposal to the Court-appointed examiner in early 2012 in order to ensure the survival of the unique cruise ferry service between the two countries.

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