Newly formed Isle of Man Maritime Ltd, which has been formed to develop, support and promote maritime interests on the Isle of Man and replace the Isle of Man Shipping Association, has serious concerns over the fundamental resilience of Douglas Port.
Whilst welcoming the plan for the development of the Inner Harbour (understood to be only a 10 year vision), at no point does the document adequately address contingency plans should there be an incident in the inner harbour, which would prevent the ability of the Ro-Ro vessels to call within the port limits or provide berth availability for larger Ro-Ro’s should an unplanned event disable a “Douglas Max” vessel for a period of time.
The key consideration and concern of the Executive Committee when promoting the development of the outer harbour plan was to provide such contingency.
The main focus of the media and Government to date has been the cruise and support vessel market opportunities the plan proposes. However, the elephant in the room being largely ignored, is the strategic vulnerability of the Douglas Port Infrastructure and the critical dependence the Island has on this single harbour.
The inconvenience created on the Island due to bad weather and the cancellation of sailings for a day or two is well known – but a serious incident in the inner harbour could have a devastating impact economically and socially; not to mention the reputational damage it could cause to the Isle of Man. Vessels experience accidents or mechanical failures globally and can take months to repair, especially if the incident happened within the inner harbour. Recent minor incidents and crashes with the Manannan in August 2017 and the Ben-my-Chree in February 2017 are indicators of such risk which luckily to date have not been significant enough to jeopardise the islands logistical supply chain.
For this not to be adequately considered and factored into the harbour plan is of great concern. The current plans seem to hope for the best rather than anticipate the unexpected.
Until relatively recently there were always small vessels available that could replace a Steampacket Ro-Ro at relatively short notice. However, today the trend is for larger vessels to be built therefore it would not be wise for a short term Strategy to assume the availability of a replacement given the critical nature of this “lifeline” to and from the Island.
The two critical factors of limited availability of vessels suitable to call within the inner harbour and the vulnerability of the inner harbour itself requires the Government to seriously consider a proper strategic review of its main port.