Monday, 21 September 2015

That Condor Moment

A man with a pipe followed by a group of Japanese visitors in an aerodrome. An airplane loops the loop. The man sucks the pipe and after a long pause says: “Ahh … Condor”. Yes, it’s that Condor moment!

Adverts for pipe tobacco of that name no longer crop up on television, but Condor moments are still with us. Unlike that of the erstwhile smoker, these are not moments of relaxation, gently puffing at a pipe. If someone had a pipe, the modern Condor moment would see it tightly gripped between the teeth, in a rictus grin of frustration and anger.

That is because the modern Condor moment is all to do with Condor Liberation, and the catalogue of disasters that seem to have happened ever since it went into service.

Some background on the vessel.

Press release from 2014:: Austal Limited (Austal) (ASX:ASB) is pleased to announce it has completed the sale of “Austal Hull 270”, the Company’s 102 metre trimaran stock vessel, for $61.5 million, further enhancing Austal’s capital flexibility.

Austal built the 102 metre trimaran ferry, the Austal Hull 270, on spec in WA during the global financial crisis. The Perth-based shipbuilder built the vessel at its West Australian shipyard, launching it in December 2009. However, it was unable to find a buyer for four years until Condor bought it, at quite a discounted price. Why were there no other buyers, one might ask?

When it was bought, Condor Chief Executive Officer James Fulford said: "It is fantastic to be adding this prestigious ship to our fleet. The 102 will offer increased reliability, capacity and comfort for our guests and we are very much looking forward to her arrival in our islands in the Spring."

Meanwhile, some kind individual has documented the catalogue of problems online besetting the smooth running of the vessel, in which - contrary to Mr Fulford's remarks - there is poor reliability, and little comfort for guests on those occasions when they have been unable to disembark, or even been left behind, or had cars damaged on the journey:

13 February 2015 - ‘Liberation is very manoeuvrable and much more stable so once on-board the ride will be a lot smoother,’ Capt. Collins said. ‘She is a conventional ship, so she is much more capable of travelling in bad weather conditions compared to our other ferries.’

27 March - First sailing from Poole after three months of sea trials. Incurs delays of approximately 2.5hrs during rotation.

28 March - Suffered minor damage to protective belting while mooring in bad weather in St Peter Port. Not so manoeuvrable after all.

30 March - Sailing to Poole for repairs cancelled due to bad weather. Capability for travelling in bad weather is not so good, after all.

3 April - Poor weather conditions mean essential welding work could not be carried out. Condor Express returns to service to operate Good Friday services between the Channel Islands & UK.

5 April - Returned to service after repairs

6 April - Sailings from Guernsey to Jersey cancelled because of a recurring electrical fault in an engine.

11 April - Problems with a ramp for loading vehicles delayed a crossing from Poole by 40 minutes. The ferry was unable to load 24 cars and 60 passengers at Jersey due to a combination of late running and an issue with a section of hoistable deck

24 April – Complaints regarding stowage of vehicles on open deck at the fore of the ship following vehicles being covered by salt spray during crossing.

9 May – Sailings on Liberation Day cancelled due to a technical fault.

18 May – Video of Liberation rolling significantly in seas of 1.5m – 2m is uploaded to YouTube:

27 May – UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency announces it is to investigate sailings of the Condor Liberation. Note: no results reported yet.

28 May – Guernsey Harbourmaster suggests that passengers merely need to retrain their stomachs in order to get accustomed to the motion of the craft!

29 May - An independent report to confirm the suitability and review the performance of Condor Liberation has been commissioned by the States of Jersey and Guernsey and Condor Ferries. No sign of that yet.

9 June – Condor Liberation unable to berth in Jersey due to strong winds. Ship returned to Guernsey and Condor Rapide was used to provide a connection for Jersey passengers.

8 July – Passengers board Liberation only for ferry to be cancelled due to fault with engine starter system and crew reach limit of legal working hours.

24 August - the ferry was unable to dock in St Peter Port. Condor stated that another vessel was impeding safe access, and the ship continued to Poole

12 September – External door ‘comes loose’ during passage between Guernsey and Jersey. Technical problem with engine causes delay of 2 hours during afternoon services.

15 September – Evacuation Slide cover falls off the ship, necessitating the cancellation of the evening sailing to Jersey.

18 September – Technical fault with exhaust system results in cancellation of morning Liberation sailing. Afternoon sailing only calls into Guernsey and Jersey passengers must trans-ship to Rapide (with 1 hr delay) causing disruption to Jersey – St. Malo sailings. States of Jersey announce investigation into the SLA following ‘unacceptable disruption’. No sign of result of investigation.

19 September – All Liberation sailings cancelled and Rapide services rescheduled to accommodate affected passengers. Condor request that passengers cancel any non-essential travel plans

20 September - "Systems error" leads to 70 passengers being unable to sail - effectively the Liberation was overbooked. The company said it would conduct a thorough investigation.

Jersey chief minister, Senator Ian Gorst said Condor needed to improve its service. He said: "The government's view is they need to get the problems sorted out and provide the level of service we expect from them.". No timetable given for this to be done.

Senator Farnham said: 'You may be aware of operational problems that have arisen again with the Condor Liberation in recent days. Whilst delays and cancellations earlier in the week were weather-related, today's cancellations are as a result of technical problems with the vessel.'Clearly the situation is unacceptable. Whilst Condor have instigated an element of contingency, the disruption to car and passenger services during what is a busy month for visitors' and residents' travel to and from the UK has been significant. "

He added: "I also wanted to let Members know that I am examining the operating agreement signed with Condor in early 2014 to establish what remedies the States may have. '"

I can tell him that, or he could ask his predecessor, Senator Alan Maclean, who signed all the agreements off in 2014 as Minister in charge. The BBC report said at the time "Jersey officials have negotiated a get-out clause that comes in after seven years if things are not running as expected."

That's a fat lot of good now! Senator Maclean should really be held to account for signing off such a soft contract with Condor without sufficient remedies or even fines if the service did not come up the scratch.

Supposedly there are some. Bailiwick Express reported: “The agreement was announced to the States yesterday by Economic Development Minister Alan Maclean, who said after a year of tough talking the authorities had negotiated a deal that was in the long-term interests of the Island.”

Bailiwick Express also said this: The proposed agreement was announced in the States by the Economic Development Minister, Senator Alan Maclean. He said the new vessel would be more reliable, and Condor would have to deliver what he called "strict performance targets".

So let’s have some tough explanations from the Senator now about what we can do. What happens if Condor delivers miserable performance? Indeed, what were these targets? Can he tell us?

And do Senators move on to new positions, and rather like Pontius Pilate, wash their hands of anything they did in a previous Ministry? Alan Maclean signed the agreement; he waxed lyrical about it, about "tough talking". He should now explain to the House what can be done. Or has he suddenly suffered a bout of political amnesia?

I suspect however that Senator Farnham will end up playing the part of Oliver Hardy to Alan MacLean’s Stan Laurel.

The real joke is this part of the report back in 2014:

"Senator Alan Maclean, the Economic Development Minister, has previously said other ferry operators were welcome, but would have to provide the same level of service as Condor."

So delays, breakdowns, problems with tides, damage to cars, passengers left behind.... any other ferry operator will have to ensure their service manages at least that before we let it in!

Guernsey Deputy Paul Luxon, who signed the agreement with Guernsey, must also be keeping a low profile. Back in 2014, he said:

"Condor's proposed new vessel should provide islanders with a greatly improved travel experience, in terms of ride comfort and reliability. Importantly, the vessel will enhance visitors' experience of travelling to the islands, which is a real plus point for Guernsey's and Jersey's tourism sectors'.

Sadly, I think the tourism sectors are rueing the day that Condor Liberation went into service, and instead of two vessels which broke down, but not usually at the same time, we ended up with one.

It is also worth noting that Collas Crill, led by Rosie Stott in Jersey and Wayne Atkinson in Guernsey, provided corporate, finance, competition and regulatory advice to Condor to secure the new vessel and an agreement with the States of Jersey to provide combined freight, car and passenger ferry services. So they apparently had a hand in the contract. Perhaps they could advise the States about the contract?

Lead lawyer Rosie Stott said that: "We believe that the introduction of the new vessel will deliver long-term certainty to the Channel Islands regarding such essential matters as freight supplies and all-weather passenger services and we are extremely proud to be have been involved in something that is so crucial to our islands as a whole."

I wonder if they feel as proud today.

1 comment:

Póló said...

Perhaps the time has come for somebody to solve Jersey's corporate sole problem and get a responsible answer from the incumbent.