Irish Ferries customers face wait for compensation
Head of the company’s owner says case is likely to end up in Europe’s highest court
ICG’s operating profit fell by 33 per cent last year, partly as a result of cancelled sailings between Ireland and France last summer due to the late receipt of the WB Yeats, and as another vessel, the Ulysses, suffered technical issues.
Thousands of Irish Ferries customers expecting compensation as a result of cancellations last summer may have to wait up to two years to see if they will receive any money, as the case is likely to end up in Europe’s highest court, according to the head of the company’s owner.
The company initiated a High Court challenge on Monday to a finding by the National Transport Authority (NTA) in January that it must pay compensation to people whose travel plans were thrown into disarray as the delivery of the WB Yeats cruise ferry was delayed for several months last year.
Some 5,700 bookings were affected by the cancellations. More than 80 per cent chose to travel on alternative sailings to France with Irish Ferries.
Speaking to The Irish Times on Thursday, the chief executive of Irish Ferries’s parent, Irish Continental Group (ICG), said he has been advised by lawyers that the High Court’s Commercial Court division is likely to pass the case on to the Court of Justice of the EU, as it relates to EU rules. The process could last up to two years, he said.
ICG said on Thursday that its operating profit fell by almost 33 per cent last year to €60 million, partly as a result of cancelled sailings between Ireland and France last summer due to the late receipt of the WB Yeats, and as another vessel, the Ulysses, suffered technical issues.
ICG complained in its results statement about how EU regulation covering sea passengers differ from other modes of transport. Airline customers have no right to compensation if given a minimum of two weeks’ notice of a cancellation. However, sea passengers have such a right even if two years’ notice is given, under the NTA’s interpretation of EU rules, it said.
The group said “uncertainty caused” by the NTA’s view of EU regulations lay behind its widely criticised decision last December to close a route between Rosslare and France. Sources said ICG was aware at that stage that the authority was preparing to order compensation for passengers affected by the WB Yeats debacle.
The German shipbuilders of the WB Yeats were originally set to hand over the cruise ferry last summer. It was finally delivered in December.
“Irish Ferries, having notified its customers months in advance, believes that it took every reasonable action against the backdrop of these extraordinary circumstances to provide its customers with alternative travel options,” ICG said.
These included “a no-quibble immediate refund to allow them to make alternative travel plans, or facilitating alternative sailings and landbridge – with reimbursement of fuel costs – via the UK”.
“In addition to offering alternative arrangements or full refunds, a goodwill gesture of €150 discount for a sailing to France this year has already been provided to all those impacted, and there has been significant take-up of that discount voucher this year,” it said.