Ferry operator awarded €92,000 damages


THE HIGH Court has awarded an Aran Islands ferry operator €92,000 damages following its finding that certain harbour fees should not have been imposed on the company, one of whose boats was seized and impounded for almost 50 days when it refused to pay the fees.

The award was made to Island Ferries Teoranta arising from its successful High Court challenge to new and increased charges introduced in 2005 for use by the company’s vessels of Rossaveal harbour, Co Galway.

Two of the company’s vessels operated services between the harbour and the Aran Islands.

The action was against the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the State.

The dispute arose in June 2005 when a demand for payment of outstanding harbour dues of about €200,000 was issued. If the money was not paid, the company was informed, operating permits allowing its vessels use the Rossaveal harbour would be withdrawn.

The company, with a registered address at Forster Street, Galway, disputed the validity of the new charges.

In mid-August 2005, after the demands were not satisfied, the operating permits of the two vessels were withdrawn and the MV Ceol na Farraige was detained at Rossaveal. The vessel remained detained until October 2005, while the other vessel had to operate out of Galway harbour.

In October 2005, the company recommenced operating out of Rossaveal after it put up a bond or bank guarantee of €200,000.

The action later came before Mr Justice John Cooke at the High Court.

The company claimed the payment demand was a breach of competition law and the levies were unreasonable, unfair and not based on actual costs. In his judgment last October, the judge found the charges were not validly imposed.

He said it was clear the operating permits were withdrawn and one of the vessels detained with the explicit purpose of recovering €200,000 in charges. The legal basis for detaining the vessel was non-existent and that action amounted to a trespass.

The judgment has been appealed to the Supreme Court.

Yesterday in the High Court Mr Justice Cooke ruled Island Ferries was entitled to compensatory damages “for the disruption of its business and general loss of amenity” and awarded a total of €92,243 damages.