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Tuesday, 29 August, 2000, 08:20 GMT 09:20 UK
Efforts to restore ferry service
Claymore at berth
The Claymore at her berth in Campbeltown
A fresh effort is under way to save a seasonal ferry service between Scotland and Northern Ireland which was axed earlier this year.

The Argyll and Antrim Steam Packet Company, owned by Sea Containers, decided in February to withdraw the service between Campbeltown in Scotland and Ballycastle, County Antrim.

It said the service was not economically viable.

The UK Government wants to subsidise the service to Ballycastle, which has played a vital role in the struggling economy of Kintyre, in western Scotland.

But first it will need to secure permission from the European Commission

Scotland Office Minister Brian Wilson is in Ballycastle on Tuesday to chair a meeting of the action group established to restore the ferry link.

He said: "Europe does not like state aid for shipping services.

Brian Wilson: Chairing meeting
Brian Wilson: Chairing meeting
"So you have to really prove a strong case that this is a peripheral service - two fragile areas - and it is not going to impinge on the other routes in terms of their commercial viability.

"And also that there is widespread community support."

The Northern Ireland Executive, the Scotland Office and Executive, local tourist boards and other parties appealed to reverse the abolition of the service in February.

At that time, the AA Line managing director Hamish Ross said a proposed package of support had been insufficient to cover "estimated losses".

Earlier this month, a consortium of businesses and tourism organisations in Scotland launched a bid to re-establish the route.

The campaigners hoped to persuade the EC to give the route "lifeline" status, which would see it qualify for government subsidy.

Vital service

So far their efforts have failed - but the government has said it will do everything it can to help.

It hopes to convince Brussels that it is keeping a vital passenger service alive and not just propping up a venture that is losing money.

Politicians and business people are banking on Tuesday's meeting in Ballycastle achieving that goal.

The service between Campbeltown and Ballycastle was launched in June 1997 with Sea Containers setting up the Argyll & Antrim Steam Packet company, known as the AA Line, to run it.

It received 8m from public agencies and the MV Claymore was refitted for the service.

It was hoped the twice-daily sailings would create more than 200 jobs and raise 7m for tourism across Scotland.

In February, the AA Line - reported to be losing 500,000 a year on the route - confirmed it was unable to continue.

A group of Kintyre business people, trading under the name of Kintyre Ferries, then launched the campaign to have the ferry route re-established.

The group has been negotiating to buy the MV Claymore and hopes that twice-daily sailings could resume next year.

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See also:

04 Nov 99 | Scotland
MP's plea for struggling ferry route
13 Jan 00 | Northern Ireland
Fears over ferry future
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