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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 06:22 GMT
Axed ferry 'badly promoted'

Business leaders in Kintyre have criticised the decision to withdraw the ferry service between Argyll and Antrim in Northern Ireland.

The Kintyre Marketing Group, made up of businesses mainly in the tourism industry in and around Campbeltown, says the operators failed to market or manage the service properly over the last three years.

The service between Campbeltown and Ballycastle was launched by a subsidiary of the giant Sea Containers group in June 1997.

Sea Containers are not in a position to say whether a properly promoted service would be economically viable or not. We have not seen one yet
Bob Chicken
However, the Argyll and Antrim Steam Packet Company has now said it is unable to continue the seasonal service using the MV Claymore because of the losses incurred.

But Bob Chicken, chairman of the Kintyre Marketing Group responded: "Sea Containers claim they gave this service their 'best shot'.

"But I can assure them that the tourist industry here is only too painfully aware that the marketing of the service was appallingly handled for the whole three-year period.

'Missed opportunities'

"It was in fact a series of badly missed opportunities.

"Frankly therefore Sea Containers are not in a position to say whether a properly promoted service would be economically viable or not. We have not seen one yet."

The marketing group said there was a list of failings by the operators including:
  • Late announcement of timetables

  • Misjudgement of tariff structure for two years

  • Inadequate call-handling arrangements

  • Brochures not available

The marketing group said it believed that the service could be made to pay, and Mr Chicken has been in touch with the Scottish Executive, the Scotland Office and the Northern Ireland Office to try to salvage the service.

He has suggested that, in the short term, Caledonian Macbrayne be brought in to run the service this summer.

AA Line has maintained that it did all it could. Managing director Hamish Ross said: "We have delayed making this decision and announcement until we were certain we had explored every conceivable possible opportunity.

CalMac ferry The group says CalMac could be brought in
"However it should be remembered that, apart from assistance last year with marketing support costs, AA Line received no funding or subsidy for the service or for the purchase of the vessel MV Claymore," said Mr Ross.

"We have operated the route on a strictly commercial basis and the losses incurred cannot justify continuing."

"We believe the company could not have done more to promote the service. However, there have been factors which influenced its commercial performance including the uncertainty of the Northern Ireland peace process and its effect on inward tourism over the last three years."

The company continues to insist that it is willing to discuss any serious proposals regarding the charter or sale of the ferry MV Claymore.

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See also:
21 Feb 00 |  Scotland
Ferry service axed
04 Nov 99 |  Scotland
MP's plea for struggling ferry route
13 Jan 00 |  Northern Ireland
Fears over ferry future

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