Sunday 14 April 2024
Select a region
News

TIMELINE: Troubled waters for Condor

TIMELINE: Troubled waters for Condor

Thursday 22 February 2024

TIMELINE: Troubled waters for Condor

Thursday 22 February 2024


It has been a extremely challenging few years for Condor Ferries, culminating in today's announcement that CEO John Napton has stepped down "with immediate effect".

Express looks back...

2014 - Agreement with Jersey's Harbourmaster

Condor signed a 10-year agreement with Jersey’s Harbourmaster in 2014 which, in essence, gave the company an exclusive ramp licence to run Roll-on, Roll-off services in return for a guaranteed level of service, including types of vessels, pricing and timetables.

That agreement did not prohibit other operators entering the market, but they would have to provide the same level of service as that set out in the 80-page agreement.

August 2020 - Pandemic woes

Condor contacted the Government in August 2020, during the pandemic, to advise that it was no longer meeting the profitability levels set out in its operating agreement and suggested measures to reverse the situation.

Condor_Rapide.jpg

Pictured: Condor's revenue was down 96% in 2020 and it lost £50m in revenue and cash burn.

The then-CEO of the Government of Jersey, Paul Martin, warned those measures would have had “a material impact” on freight costs and ferry services to Jersey.

Both Jersey and Guernsey then agreed to explore a new operating agreement with “transitionary support".

In a statement, a spokesperson for the company explained the effect of the pandemic in further detail.

“Our passenger business was closed for almost all of 2020 and the pandemic is still having a significant financial effect,” they said.

“We are down 96% on revenues and two-fifths of the workforce were made redundant in 2020. The financial impact in terms of revenue and cash burn has been in the order of £50m.”

May 2021 - £830k emergency grant

Condor was given an emergency grant of £832,000 by Jersey's Government to “maintain freight resilience” after losing more than £50m during the pandemic.

paulmartin.jpg

Pictured: The Government's then-CEO Paul Martin requested a letter of instruction from the then-Deputy Chief Minister Lyndon Farnham on the grant.

The urgent funding boost was granted following a request from the company, and comes in addition to the £47,712 Condor Ferries claimed between April and August 2020 under the co-funded payroll scheme.

July 2022 - Agreement 'wind down' period begins

Although the 10-year agreement was signed in 2014, it only became active when Condor Liberation joined the fleet in March 2015, and after a permitted delay of a few months because of election purdah, the official wind-down period began in July 2022.

Although termed a wind-down period, nothing is actually wound down and services continue as they did before.

Freight Ferryspeed Condor.jpeg

Pictured: The island is highly reliant on freight.

However, the period does require the two sides to sit down to hammer out another deal before July 2025 – although continuing with Condor is not a given.

September 2022 - Proposals for 100% electric ferry

Condor Ferries announced in September 2022 that it was part of a project in Belfast to develop an electric-powered passenger ferry.

It was looking likely that any future agreement would include commitments to provide greener ferries for the Channel Islands.

Video: A mock-up of the EF-24 in action. 

Like the rapid move to electrification in the motor industry, sea transport is decarbonising at pace. New ferries are likely to be powered by alternative sources such as Liquid Natural Gas.

Condor Ferries’ minority shareholder, Brittany Ferries, is already operating an LNG-fuelled ship, which entered service in March, and more LNG and LNG hybrid ships are being built or on order.

February 2023 - Push for more day trips

Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel confirmed that providing more day trips between the Channel Islands was part of negotiations with Condor as the two parties discussed a new service level agreement.

March 2023 - Condor announces plan to splash out on new Clipper-like ferry

The ferry provider said that it had purchased a new passenger and freight vessel, which was due to enter service on its UK, French and inter-island routes that autumn.

Condor said at the time that the the acquisition of the 125m long 'MV Straitsman' followed a year-long search for a vessel that would help "provide resilience, add capacity and improve connectivity" on key routes.

It later confirmed that the new conventional ferry would be named the 'Islander'.

April 2023 - Guernsey loans Condor £26m amid boat purchase emergency

It was confirmed that the States of Guernsey jointly purchased a new ferry with Condor – and loaned the company £26m – to “prevent a potential emergency occurring”.

The ferry firm announced that it was buying a second roll-on, roll-off ferry on 8 March to improve capacity and connectivity between the islands, and even got as far as announcing the vessel’s name on 17 March, the Islander.

But it then emerged that Guernsey had to convene its emergency committee – known as the Civil Contingencies Authority – on 23 and 27 March to keep the plan afloat.

A statement said that the States of Guernsey and Condor were jointly investing £3m each in securing the 125m-long MV Straitsman from New Zealand – despite having previously stated that £5m would be coming from the taxpayer-backed Guernsey Investment Fund.

September 2023 - Loan refinancing

Public financial documents available on the Companies House website showed that Condor had to refinance a loan last year, amid what was described as a "challenging economic backdrop".

Interest rates had risen significantly since the firm’s repayment was initially due in 2022.

Condor was successful in refinancing. An agreement was reached with NatWest that the bank could seize assets should Condor be unable to meet the schedule for repayment.

October 2023 - New ferry pulled from service due to tech issue

An issue with the Condor Islander's forward bow thrusters means it had to be temporarily pulled from service.

Condor_Islander.JPG

Pictured: The Condor Islander was bought by the ferry firm and the States of Guernsey.

The announcement was been made just days after the vessel's first commercial voyage to Guernsey.

Sailings were affected, causing inconvenience that was compounded by a poor weather forecast at the time. 

The vessel went into dry-dock in Liverpool.

4 December 2023 - 19% price hike proposed

Condor faced backlash at the end of last year when the ferry operator outlined plans to increase freight prices by inflation plus 10%, resulting in a total increase of 18.76% from 1 January 2024.

The proposed 18.76% price hike emerged in an email sent to Ferryspeed and Profreight customers at the beginning of December.

This was quickly followed by backlash from the business community, who voiced concerns about the impact on customers.

Economic Development Minister Kirsten Morel then publicly called on Condor to justify the increase in price, saying that he "find[s] it hard to see the justification for price rises which are so significantly above" inflation levels, which sat at just under 9% in September.

The ferry operator responded days later, saying it had "no choice", and was dealing with "significantly above-inflation rises in some port costs and other fees, which in some cases are between 18% to 35%".

15 December 2023 - Jersey and Guernsey commission cargo ship trial

Amid continuing concern over the proposed freight hikes, Jersey and Guernsey's governments confirmed on 15 December that they had jointly commissioned berthing trials of a large cargo ship as part of what they described as a freight "resilience" test.

The 163-metre long cargo ship, the DFDS Finlandia Seaways, was tested in Jersey's waters before moving on to Guernsey. 

Those berthing trials led to the rescheduling of some of Condor's services.

15 December 2023 - A "temporary but challenging” time

A few hours later, Condor shot down speculation about its finances, and annouced that it was undergoing a “temporary but challenging” time – but kept tight-lipped on the exact nature of those difficulties.

Amid rising speculation that the ferry company was on the brink, CEO John Napton issued a statement assuring the public that the issue will not impact Condor's services.

“Condor has been working with its stakeholders to overcome a temporary but challenging time," he said.

“We are confident that this is very near to being resolved and will have no impact on our services now or in the long term.”

The company confirmed it was not in administration, but declined to comment when asked by Express whether it had asked for additional funding from the governments of Guernsey and Jersey.

4 January 2024 - MV Arrow contingency claims dubbed "fake news"

A claim that the MV Arrow had been made available to the Governments of Jersey and Guernsey were dubbed "fake news" by the company that owns the ship.

Amid speculation over Condor's future, it had reported that the ship had been made available to the Channel Islands governments to get supplies on and off both island amid ongoing ferry cancellations.

However, the Managing Director of Steam Packet Company – the Isle of Man firm that owns the MV Arrow – said in an interview that the claim was "fake news". 

Speaking to ManxRadio, Brian Thompson said there was "absolutely no truth" in the rumour.  

16 January 2024 - Islands go shopping for "best" ferry deal

The governments of Jersey and Guernsey confirmed that they were 'shopping around' for a key freight and passenger ferry provider.

They stressed that the freight and passenger market is “contestable”, with Jersey’s Minister for Sustainable Economic Development, Deputy Kirsten Morel, going as far to say: “This procurement is an open and competitive process and we strongly encourage interest and engagement from all ferry operator parties within this initial market testing phase.”

July 2025 - Operating agreement ends... and a new deal done?

Sign up to newsletter

 

Comments

Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.

You have landed on the Bailiwick Express website, however it appears you are based in . Would you like to stay on the site, or visit the site?