Irish Ferries in High Court challenge over compensation finding

Nation Transport Authority issued company with two notices over cancellations of sailings to France

 The Irish Ferries ship, the WB Yeats.

The Irish Ferries ship, the WB Yeats.

 

Irish Ferries has brought a High Court challenge over a finding it must pay compensation to thousands of passengers affected by the cancellation of sailings between Ireland and France last summer.

The company says it had to cancel the services because a new ferry, the WB Yeats, which it had ordered to operate the service between Dublin and Cherbourg, was delayed for several months.

Its legal challenge is to the National Transport Authority’s decision last January that, arising out of the cancellations, the company breached EU regulations concerning the rights of passengers travelling by sea.

The NTA issued the company with two notices requiring it pay compensation to impacted passengers within a period of two months.

The notices direct the company to pay compensation to passengers impacted by the cancellations who had to travel from Rosslare instead of Dublin and from Roscoff instead of Cherbourg.

The notices also state passengers who were delayed in reaching their final destination who have already requested compensation from the company must also be paid compensation.

Non-compliance with the notices is an offence, with a maximum fine on conviction of €250,000.

The company disputes the NTA’s finding and contends the notices are invalid, irrational, disproportionate and breach its rights under the Constitution and EU law. It also argues the NTA has misinterpreted the relevant EU regulations.

The cancellations occurred because a new ship it had commissioned from the German shipyard Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft was delivered some “200 days” late, Paul Gallagher SC, for the company, told the High Court on Monday.

The delay came as a shock to Irish Ferries and made headlines in the media, he said.

Rebook

The company took steps including offering an “immediate, no-quibble reimbursement in full” to affected customers, vouchers for €150 and the opportunity to rebook on alternative sailings of their choosing, he said.

He said some 5,700 bookings were affected by the cancellations and most affected passengers, some 82 per cent, chose to travel on alternative sailings to France with Irish Ferries.

The remainder either cancelled and accepted a refund or chose to travel by landbridge through the UK, and were compensated by Irish Ferries for the fuel expended while crossing Britain, he said.

The company is concerned about the long term implications of the NTA’s decision, he said.

The situation Irish Ferries found itself in was “extraordinary” and not of its own making and it was unable to secure another ferry to operate the planned sailings, counsel said.

All affected passengers were informed of the situation a minimum of seven weeks before the proposed sailing, he added.

In its judicial review proceedings, Irish Ferries wants various orders including quashing the NTA’s decision and the notices issued to the company.

Permission to bring the challenge was granted, on an ex parte basis, by Mr Justice Séamus Noonan, who put stay on the notices from coming into effect pending the action. The matter has been returned to May.