Traditional boat operators could lose Skellig Michael permits

OPW says changes prompted by concerns over safety and lack of competition

The Office of Public Works claims there is anti-competitive practice and  safety deficiencies in the current service to the Skelligs. Photograph: David Sleator

The Office of Public Works claims there is anti-competitive practice and safety deficiencies in the current service to the Skelligs. Photograph: David Sleator

 

A new permit scheme is to be introduced shortly for boats operating to Skellig Michael, the Unesco World Heritage Site site off Co Kerry that was recently associated with Star Wars.

The move is seen as an attempt to curb what the Office of Public Works claims is “anti-competitive practice” and safety deficiencies in the service.

The number of permits will remain at 15 but the decision to advertise is a rejection of the hereditary rights granted to traditional operators.

However the Skellig boatmen, who were praised for their role in ferrying the Star Wars teams and equipment to and from the island off the southwest coast of Kerry, have rejected the allegations about safety and say their season has been unnecessarily curbed.

‘Cavalier’ attitude

OireachtasSimon Harris

There was no consistent or universal approach to safety and the attitude was at times “cavalier”, the OPW had found. All boatmen possessed the relevant marine Survey Office Licence.

“But beyond this, there is a marked lack of co-operation with the measures designed to inform passengers about safety issues on the sea trip, provide for the safe transfer from boat to island pier or provide information about the nature of the risks visitors will experience on the island,” it says.

Life jackets

“The OPW views with some alarm the repeated breaches in relation to out-of-season travel to the island, ” it said.

The OPW is to “progressively withdraw” from the existing scheme, beginning before the season opens in mid-May, by withdrawing permits from some boatmen. By the end of the season, all permits will be subject to public competition.

The “legacy boatmen” will no longer have automatic entitlement to a permit but will be allowed to bid for the new scheme.

However, a traditional Skellig boatman, who has been operating since the 1980s, rejected the OPW assertions. The Skellig boats were operating in the Atlantic, in wild challenging seas, he said.

The boatmen were not negligent in safety matters; they did not travel in rough weather and there had been no serious incident or fatality to do with their boats.

“Our safety record stands for itself,” he said.