Changes to Skellig Michael ferry arrangement by OPW

Boatmen’s agreed system, plying route since 1994, to be replaced by new model

Skellig Michael is located in the Atlantic Ocean, 11.6km west of the Iveragh Peninsula in Co Kerry. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

Skellig Michael is located in the Atlantic Ocean, 11.6km west of the Iveragh Peninsula in Co Kerry. Photograph: David Sleator/The Irish Times

 

The Office of Public Works has announced changes to what it claims is “an out of date” and “anti-competitive” ferrying system to the Unesco World Heritage site of Skellig Michael, off the coast of Kerry.

The existing arrangements – with a defined group of local boatmen in place since 1994 – will be replaced by a open competition and a more market driven approach “which will improve passenger safety and customer service”, said the OPW.

However, the boatmen who ferry up to 12 passengers in their 4m by 12m vessels have rejected OPW claims about safety and customer service. They offer a highly skilled service and their safety record, with no fatality, speaks for itself said a spokesman.

Under current arrangements, in place since 1994 with local boatmen, permits are limited to 15 local licence holders.

But the OPW said while the number of ferry boat permits will remain at 15, a new “open competitive model” system is being put in place, beginning initially with a competition for four permits.

The intention is to have these new operators in place in advance of the 2016 season which opens in May.

At the end of the season, in October, a further public competition will be held for 11 permits and the permit period will be three years.

Existing boatmen will be entitled to bid and criteria for all will include safety, insurance and other Marine Survey Office Licence requirements

“The existing arrangements have, in the view of the OPW, impaired the natural development of a market-driven approach to provide an excellent service to visitors. Additionally, it is clear that there are a number of qualified boatmen locally who will be able, should the opportunity present itself, to offer an excellent level of safe and reliable service to tourists,” said the OPW.

Star Wars

Terms and conditions may vary during the three-year period, in response to new safety requirements arising “or for any reason related to the sustainable management of the site”.

The boatmen who were highly praised by the Star Wars film crew for ferrying crew and passengers over the last two years have rejected the OPW assertions.

Joe Roddy who has been ferrying passengers to the island for 50 years out of Portmagees said the Skelligs boatmen met and went beyond safety requirements set down by the marine office. The OPW had not put in proper safety provisions in the landing area on the island, he claimed.

The season had been shortened by 74 days and this was a huge loss to the local community.

“The boatmen are highly skilled and highly trained.”

The OPW had failed to consult properly with the boatmen who were angry and felt the new provisions were “ridiculous” and unnecessary.

Eoin Walsh who also operates out of Portmagee and who took over from his father Dermie in 1994 rejected the OPW assertions about lack of safety.

“It’s the Wild Atlantic, he said.”

He said regulations had already increased 10 fold; the season was curtailed and there was a suspicion among the boatmen the OPW would curtail the season even further to save money on having to place guides on the island.

“It boils down to their budget for guides,” said Mr Walsh.