UPDATED: Cross-Solent operator Wightlink have today (Monday) announced that they are set to replace their ageing St Helen vessel from the Fishbourne to Portsmouth route next year with a W-Class ferry from the Yarmouth to Lymington route.
Following a reported 15% fall in customers using the West Wight service, Wightlink have announced they will relocate one of the modern ships (already five years old) from the Yarmouth route over to the East Wight to replace the St Helen vessel, which has run between Fishbourne and Portsmouth for 31 years this week.
The move is set to take place early in 2015.
The 31-year-old MV St Helen was at the center of a major incident back in July, when the mezzanine deck of the car ferry collapsed injuring four. The incident sparked concern among Islanders with calls for newer car ferries to be introduced.
The company has seen delivery of 5 new ships in the last five years, which have been hit by multiple mechanical failures including the two Wight Ryder catamaran craft.
The Fishbourne route has not seen a new vessel since St Clare in 2001.
It is said the reconfiguration decision will not affect the first or last sailings each day and services for commuters will not be altered.
For customers using the Yarmouth service, there is no change to the winter timetable. However, Wightlink operate up to 20 round trips (40 sailings) during the Summer months with this number set to decrease to 17 round trips – or 34 sailings – during Summer 2015.
The W-Class ferries carry just 360 passengers and 65 cars compared to the 722 passengers and 142 cars of the St-Class ferries, meaning around a 50% reduction in capacity on the Fishbourne route for one of the vessels. It is unknown if due to the size of the vessel it will only be used on the quieter sailings or not.
Chief Operating Officer John Burrows says:
“Using our fleet as efficiently as possible next year is vital if we are to continue our programme of modernisation and investment, which has seen us introduce five brand new ships within the last five years. To secure the future of our service, we have a responsibility to match the capacity we provide with customer demand and, despite considerable price discounting, adapting our timetable to provide better train connections, improved punctuality and continued high reliability, demand is falling on our Yarmouth to Lymington route, with customers preferring to use other routes.
“As a result of these changes, customers on our Fishbourne~Portsmouth route will enjoy a more modern ship. Yet, the impact for customers at Yarmouth~Lymington will be minimal. This decision has no impact on our services between October and March and, throughout the summer, we will operate up to 34 sailings a day (17 round trips), on an hourly service. There will be no changes to the first or last sailings of the day and we will continue to offer the late night sailings on key Fridays and Saturdays throughout the summer which we recently introduced in response to customer requests.”
In a statement issued today, Wightlink have said that the latest full year data shows that Wightlink has a superb reliability record, operating more than 99% of scheduled sailings on the Yarmouth~Lymington route, 90% of which depart within five minutes of timetable.