The La Manche department in France is looking for a new operator to resume sailings to the Channel Islands after a two-year suspension.
The department owns both the Victor Hugo, built in Norway in 1997, and the Granville, built in 2007 in Singapore, which Manche Iles Express had been operating under a public service agreement.
Sailings have been suspended since the beginning of the pandemic, with a decision having been made earlier this year to not resume services due to the quarantine requirements in Guernsey and Jersey.
It was said at the time that Manche Iles Express would be up and running again by 2022, but the President of the departmental council of La Manche, Jean Morin, confirmed during Friday's Normandy Summit press conference that a new operator was yet to be found and the search remains ongoing.
Pictured: Jean Morin, the President of the departmental council of la Manche.
Stressing that La Manche is as keen as the Channel Islands to keep the sailings going, he said: “We have every reason to maintain those links, except for the covid crisis which has significantly hampered them, as they’ve been interrupted for two years.
“We have made some arrangements to change our process. We have terminated the public service agreement under which those links operated to reach out to service providers. We have launched a tender process, which has yielded some results... but we still haven’t made a choice. If all goes well, we could resume those links from next April.”
The contract currently held by Manche Iles Express – which was chosen in 2018 to run an inter-island service – will end on 31 December 2021.
As part of the contract, the company had operated the vessels owned by the department, to provide links between Jersey, Guernsey, Sark and Aurigny with the ports of Granville, Barneville-Carteret and Diélette.
Pictured: The Manche department owns both the Granville, built in 2007 in Singapore and the Victor Hugo, built in Norway in 1997.
Launched by the Manche department over summer, the tender process is aiming to identify an operator that will be able to provide the service in a more profitable way.
Following an initial phase inviting expressions of interest, the department invited candidates to submit a formal proposal for assessment.
Negotiations took place over the course of this month and it is expected a decision on the operator - based on the quality of their offer (60%) and their price (40%) - will be made in November.
In the meantime, the department's council will be meeting next week to discuss the end of the public contract and the future of the links among other items.
Pictured: Mr Morin said the majority of passengers do not have a passport.
Mr Morin however said the islands could support the service by reducing passenger fees and port taxes but also by easing the requirements regarding passports.
From 1 October, travellers from the EU will no longer be able to enter the UK or the Channel Islands without a valid passport.
While he praised Jersey and Guernsey for allowing children on school trips to enter the islands with a national identity card, he said the requirement remained a “major drawback” for the majority of passengers.
“I insisted on this firmly,” he said. “It’s clear that most of the trips are spontaneous and 50 to 60% of passengers do not have a passport, which means we are limiting the number of passengers to 50%.
"So, obviously, that’s an important point, a sticking point to be able to access the islands with a national identity card.”
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