Why are you doing this now?
Although both the Scillonian III passenger ship and our Gry Maritha freight ship are certified to operate for several more years, we need to be thinking now about their replacement so that we can settle on designs and work out the costs of new ships.
Can the Steamship Company afford to buy new ships?
It will depend on what options are chosen and how they are financed. We are working as part of the Isles of Scilly Transport Board on a proposal to seek Government funding for a range of transport network improvements that will increase resilience and create a long-term sustainable transport system for the islands that looks beyond the immediate impact of coronavirus. This could be a combination of capital investment for the harbours, St Mary’s Airport and new ships, plus some revenue support for St Mary’s Airport for a limited time to reduce operator costs and allow time to build up capital reserves for re-investment. But until we settle on designs we will not know the costs, and we need to see how quickly the market recovers from the coronavirus pandemic.
What sort of ships are you thinking about?
We’ve already done quite a lot of work looking at the pros and cons of different vessel types, but we’re starting with a blank canvas. That’s why we’re asking people for what sort of marine service they want because their views will inform the designs for new vessels.
How many ships are you talking about?
We don’t know yet. At the moment we have separate passenger and freight ships. We could be looking at a combined vessel, or two smaller passenger vessels plus a freight ship, or a hybrid freight ship with some passenger capacity to operate year-round. Nothing is off the table and we want the community to help us shape the future.
Can’t you buy second-hand vessels?
The Isles of Scilly sea route is unique and has various constraints which means it’s difficult to find suitable vessels on the open market. We would prefer to work with the community on a bespoke and enduring solution.
How soon do you think the existing vessels will be replaced?
We don’t know yet. It depends on a number of factors including how quickly Scilly recovers from the impact of coronavirus on the visitor economy, what new vessel options are chosen and how they are funded. But we would hope within the next 5 years.
Does the company have the expertise to manage a ship replacement project?
Yes. We have a dedicated team looking at this and have set up a Marine Asset Replacement Committee which meets regularly and will oversee the project. It is chaired by Kevin George, who joined the Steamship Company Board in September 2019 and is Chairman of the Red Funnel Group, which he joined as CEO in 2014. Red Funnel operates vehicle and passenger services in Southampton and the Isles of Wight, transporting in excess 850,000 vehicles and 3.4m passengers a year. Kevin also chairs the industry ferry group Discover Ferries, and is a Council member of national marine sector group, Maritime UK.