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FRIST: Scilly risks losing new ship opportunity

Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport (FRIST) have expressed "serious disappointment" at the failure of efforts to arrange the building a new ferry for Scilly at the Appledore shipyard.

The community group, which campaigns for improved transport links between the Islands and the mainland, has been working to save the shipyard from imminent closure with an order for a new passenger ferry to serve the islands.

FRIST co-ordinator Marian Berkeley said the demise of the "iconic" Devon shipyard is "heartbreaking", particularly when an "equally iconic ferry service in the same region is in imminent need of a new vessel".

Read the full statement from FRIST below:

FRIST (Friends of Isles of Scilly Transport), the community group campaigning for improved transport links between the Islands and the Mainland, has expressed serious disappointment at the failure of efforts to combine the need for a new ferry to be built at Appledore for Scilly and the rescue of Appledore shipyard.

The shipyard is due to close on 15 March with the loss of 200 jobs. At the same time, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company (IOSSC) is not in a position to finance a new ferry, having recently made expensive mistakes. These include the purchase of the freight ship Mali Rose, pursuing an application for a Judicial Review against Penzance Heliport, as well as setting up of a competing helicopter service (Island Helicopters) from Land’s End airport. The Company has recently announced the permanent cessation of this helicopter service, in all likely to have put a multi-million-pound hole in the Company’s balance sheet.

Marian Berkeley, co-ordinator of FRIST, said that strenuous efforts had been made in consultation with the shipyard owners, with Babcock the present shipyard operators, with trades unions and potential shipyard operators, to link an order for a new ship for the Scilly route with an early order to help set up a new operator at Appledore.

Minsters from Department for Transport have been saying over several years to the island community to come back with a single united voice and a firm proposal so that they can consider what support, if any, they can offer. This is the role of the Transport Board.

To provide some initial evidence to establish whether a new ship could be financed and operated within the private sector, FRIST commissioned Scottish shipping expert Bill Davidson to do an outline business case for a new ship based on current operating data. His conclusion was quite clear; even using one combined passenger and freight ship operating all year round there was no possibility of financing and operating it privately without some support.

This information was sent to the IOS Transport Board in January 2019 urging them to write to the minster for shipping saying the Island community was fully behind the need for a new ship but clearly would need some kind of support for its construction, as the evidence was clear - that neither the Steamship Group nor any other commercial company could finance a suitable ship on its own.

Linking this to helping rescue Appledore seems to be an idea worth pursuing and FRIST has had several discussions with the Appledore MP, Geoffrey Cox QC MP and other ministers and parliamentarians, including Derek Thomas MP.

FRIST Co-ordinator Marian Berkeley said: "This needs joined up thinking in the Islands and the wider South West. It is heartbreaking that the iconic Appledore Shipyard of both national and regional importance is to be allowed to close, particularly when an equally iconic ferry service in the same region is in imminent need of a new vessel."

FRIST therefore urges the IOS Transport Board, as the unified voice from the Isles of Scilly, at its next meeting on 11 March to confirm to ministers that:

- there is no prospect of financing a suitable new vessel in the private sector,

- that a new vessel could be built at Appledore to give the new operators an important initial order,

- It requests to enter into discussions to find ways of providing some financial support for a new ship.

This could then be owned by Department for Transport, a Council or other community body and the operation tendered out with the necessary operating conditions attached to ensure an all year-round service, reasonable fares and charges, good service quality and sufficient capacity for the fluctuating demand.


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