Thousands of Irish Ferries passengers whose travel plans were thown into disarray last year because of the late delivery of the WB Yeats ferry could be in line for compensation after a significant ruling from the regulator.
However Irish Ferries has firmly rejected the National Transport Authority's (NTA) findings and said they had been a "critical factor" in its decision to cancel a route from Rosslare to France this year.
The delay in the delivery of the WB Yeats from the German shipyard where it was being built led to the cancellation of thousands of Irish Ferries bookings last summer with about 30,000 passengers affected.
In a ruling published on Monday, the NTA said the delay in delivery was not an “extraordinary circumstance” and could have been avoided.
It means passengers impacted by cancellations may be entitled to payment of travel expenses and compensation with the level due depending on the cost of the ticket.
A family of four who paid €1,000 for their ferry crossing before facing significant delays could expect to get around €500 back in compensation.
The NTA said affected passengers should address claims to Irish Ferries and confirmed that it would carry out compliance checks in the months ahead.
The sailings cancelled last summer have already cost Irish Continental Group (ICG), Irish Ferries parent, €13 million with most of the cost linked to re-accommodating customers.
Irish Ferries expressed “disappointment” with the NTA decision and said it would lodge an appeal with the courts.
The company insisted the cancellations “were due to extraordinary circumstances which were completely outside of [ITS]control” and added that because the cancellations were “notified to passengers months ahead of planned sailings” it did not believe it had infringed relevant EU regulations.
In a statement Irish Ferries said its discussions with the NTA on the interpretation of EU regulations "has been a critical factor in regretfully concluding that we are unlikely to operate the Oscar Wilde to France out of Rosslare in 2019 – a service which has been in operation continuously for 45 years."
It suggested the NTA’s approach had contributed to “making the route commercially unviable into the future”.
It also said the NTA interpretation of the EU regulations "specifically regarding travel between Ireland to France through Britain significantly penalises regional ports due to their lower frequency of back-up ferry services from Ireland to the UK in the event of a cancellation of a direct Continental service."
Irish Ferries added that it had “on numerous occasions, attempted to engage with the NTA by offering to enter into a mediation process without any preconditions. The NTA have not taken up this offer. Irish Ferries will appeal the NTA’s decision in the courts (including, if needed, the European Court of Justice).”
In response to the claim that it had rejected multiple offers of mediation, an NTA spokesman said it had in fact written to Irish Ferries in December agreeing to such a process in principle, but had not received any response from the company “so it was not possible for a mediation to be arranged”.
The Irish Ferries statement concluded by saying “consumer protection should be reasonable, proportionate and in full compliance with the law. We also believe it is essential to protect the viability of direct links to the Continent which is now all the more critical against the backdrop of Brexit.”
On April 21st last, Irish Ferries said the German shipyard FSG had told it delivery of its €147 million WB Yeats had been delayed due to receiving parts late from suppliers.
It cancelled thousands of booking on sailings from Dublin to Cherbourg and Cherbourg to Dublin which had been scheduled in July .
On June 12th, the company announced that delivery of the WB Yeats had been further delayed and said it had no option but to cancel all planned sailings to France on the ship for the summer.
After an investigation the NTA concluded that the unavailability of the WB Yeats was not an extraordinary circumstance hindering the performance of the cancelled passenger services which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken.
It said Irish Ferries had failed to comply with notices served on it which require it to pay impacted passengers who have requested compensation and said passengers who had to travel to and from Rosslare rather than Dublin and/or to and from Roscoff rather than Cherbourg would also have to be reimbursed for additional costs incurred.
The authority has given Irish Ferries a period of two months to comply with its ruling.
It is the first time EU regulations governing sea transport have been tested in a significant way as widespread cancellations are rare on passenger ferries.
Under EU Regulations 1177/ 2010, anyone affected by a ferry cancellation can choose between an alternative sailing or a full refund.
The rules also state that passengers may be entitled to compensation depending on the length of the delay to or from a destination, as long as delays are not caused by severe weather or extraordinary circumstances. The amount to be paid is calculated as a percentage of the ticket cost.