Pressure is mounting on the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company to improve its ‘lifeline’ shipping services after high level ministerial meetings in Westminster.
Representatives of the company, including Chairman Andrew May, were called to meet Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani after concerns about freight and passenger services to the Islands were expressed by Scillonians, visitors and West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas.
Following the meeting, the Minister said that in future she expected regular updates from the Steamship Company and a clear plan towards replacing the passenger ship.
Mr Thomas said the Steamship Company, which also operates the only fixed-wing services to the islands, must not lose sight of its core role as the sole operator of both passenger and freight services between Penzance to St Mary’s.
“In recent weeks I’ve received a number of emails and letters from Scilly residents and businesses detailing concerns and issues involving the freight service and it is clear that the operation is not running as it should,” he said.
“Businesses are not getting the service they deserve and when there are problems, they are not being kept informed about what is going on by the Steamship Company.”
Complaints that Mr Thomas received include a number of cancellations of the Gry Maritha freight service since last autumn and occasions when the ship was unable to carry heavy items.
The Gry Maritha’s replacement, the Mali Rose which was purchased in May 2016, is still not ready to carry freight – last month, following sea trials in Mount’s Bay, she set off from Penzance carrying a small amount of freight but soon turned back because crew had “identified a couple of technical issues”.
Early in the year, supplies of chilled, frozen and perishable food were limited because of a lack of storage space in Penzance and more recently customers were told that a weight restriction (25kg for off-islands and 50kg for St Mary’s) was being imposed by the Steamship Company on the amount of frozen/chilled produce they could order.
Following the introduction of these restrictions, many of the fresh and frozen shelves in the St Mary’s Co-op (the islands’ only supermarket) lay empty while at least one off-islands pub had to borrow beer from licensed premises on St Mary’s.
“At the moment we have a situation where the ferry is not able to run at capacity because of its age and a replacement freight vessel (the Mali Rose) which is not yet – and possibly never will be - fit for purpose,” added Mr Thomas.
“I would expect a commercial company to focus their entire attention on resolving those challenges.
“With the Scillonian now more than 40 years old and nearing the end of its working life and with two freight vessels which are in something of an identity crisis, you would hope that a commercial company would concentrate on these core issues.
“The Steamship Company, as the only operator, is privileged and with this comes responsibilities. Whatever plans the company has, it must ensure its existing operation is as good as it can be. I know that ministers in the Department of Transport, the council on Scilly, and all those who rely on transport to and from Scilly agree that the provision of robust and reliable lifeline services must remain the Company’s over-riding priority.”