22nd June 2017.
Mr Steve Rotheram
Dear Mr Rotheram,
Friends of the Ferries was set up in 1977 to help ensure that the Mersey ferry services were maintained and improved. We would like to offer you our congratulations on your election to this new post, which we understand includes responsibility for transport, and wish to draw attention to an on-going concern we have about Royal Daffodil.
During our existence, Mersey Ferries has ably upgraded the vessels, shore infrastructures, and staff training. In recent times we have had cordial meetings with Councillor Liam Robinson and Gary Evans, the senior officer in charge of Mersey Ferries. Currently we know that initial design-work has started for a brand-new vessel, but it will be some years before this is built, subject to funding. However, Royal Daffodil remains in long-term lay-up in Birkenhead Docks.
Loss of Ferry Services: In the last year the ferry service has suffered many cancelled sailings. The background is that several years ago Merseytravel decided to withdraw Royal Daffodil and to place her in “warm lay-up” in Birkenhead Docks. It was stated at the time that, should she be needed again, she could be brought back into service within about one month. This means that there are now only two ferry vessels available to maintain services.
Serious problems arising from this started in July 2016, when Royal Iris struck a submerged obstruction causing severe damage to her hull, one engine, and propeller. Repairs have taken a long time, and it is only in February this year that she returned to full service. In her absence, there was only one vessel available – Snowdrop, so all trips up the Manchester Ship Canal were cancelled. Worse, when Snowdrop suffered a number of random breakdowns, especially at the year-end, all services were suspended, disruptive to customers, notwithstanding replacement buses. Revenue from tourists was entirely lost. In February this year, she had to be withdrawn for a mandatory annual inspection, and again all services were suspended for days until the repairs were, at last, completed on Royal Iris.
Railway Closures: The Merseyrail track improvements in January/February meant that there were no trains under the Mersey. Merseytravel assured people that the ferry service would play a role in helping to move people over the river during the disruptions. This role was significantly limited by having only one vessel available, and on a number of days no vessel operated (see paragraph above).
Value of the Royal Daffodil: Our view is that Royal Daffodil should have been re-activated as soon as it became clear early last Autumn that the damage to Royal Iris was significant, and that she would be out of service for an extended period.
Royal Daffodil was substantially upgraded in 1998, giving her large saloons, suitable for functions. With the growth of Liverpool as a conference centre, we believe that there is a market for conference-related functions on board her. She could also be used for other events, such as wedding receptions. Current hire charges for a ferry are circa £1000 per hour. In addition, of course, she would be available as a third ferry to provide priority services in the event of future break-downs. She could also operate longer river cruises. We seek a change in Merseytravel’s stance, and some initiatives to bring an income rather than continue the costs of lay-up.
What makes Royal Daffodil’s absence from the river particularly disappointing is that she is the only one of the three ferries to have been built on the Mersey (by Cammell Laird). What a shame that a part of our region’s maritime heritage is no longer available to the public!
In conclusion, we would ask you to review Merseytravel’s decision to lay-up Royal Daffodil, and to have her restored to service as the third Mersey Ferry. This would provide a new facility for the Liverpool City Region’s conference and tourist market, bringing some new revenues to Mersey Ferries and offsetting the present lay-up costs..
Chair, Friends of the Ferries across the Mersey, 39 South Parade West Kirby Wirral CH48 0QG.