IT’S a year since Paul Luxon took up the top job at Condor Ferries, in charge of a team that he said had been through an “incredibly testing time”.
The Channel Island ferry company had attracted the wrong kind of publicity thanks to the teething troubles of the £50million Condor Liberation ferry, which sails from Poole.
Over several months, while he completed his duties as a government minister on Guernsey, Mr Luxon was able to observe the company he was due to move to.
As a Channel Islander, he said, “I’m very well aware of the importance of the ferry service”.
The ferry service has three elements, he says: the tourism business, the “lifeline” service that allows 163,000 Channel Islanders to get off the islands with their cars, and the freight business.
“The biggest part of the business is the freight business, because 98 per cent of everything that’s imported into the islands comes by sea. Our ro-ro (roll on, roll off) services form 80 per cent of that .
“The most important thing was to try and assess where we were and try and set priorities. What I found was impressive. There were a tremendous amount of very professional, experienced people across five ports we operated with our four ships.
“What we needed to do was build on that 53 years of service operation.
“Sea, air and digital connectivity because of the nature of modern life are imperative. We take our part around sea communications very seriously.”
The business needed to focus on reliability, punctuality, customer service and communications, he said.
Condor Liberation was the company’s name for the Austal 102 craft it put into service in 2015. Problems included a collision with the Guernsey quayside on its second day of operation, engine and electrical faults, and detention in Poole after an inspection by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency revealed “substantial deficiencies”.
“In 2015, the Austal 102 clearly didn’t go as well as anybody would have expected. There was a whole category of different issues around the process and project and technical issues,” he said.
“That was really regrettable but there have been several independent reports subsequent to that. “
The company had embarked on an “asset health programme” and had introduced an extra set of diagnostic measurements to manage the technical performance of its ships, he said.
Condor’s figures show that in March this year, 97.5 per cent of sailings operated and 91 per cent were within half an hour of the scheduled time of arrival – compared with 95.1 per cent and 90.6 per cent respectively in February.
Staff were given 8.7 out of 10 for staff helpfulness and 6.8 for overall satisfaction, both scores slightly up on the previous month.
Mr Luxon said he was confident reliability was improving. “With all high speed craft you’re always going to have issues from time to time by the very nature of their design and build,” he added.
He said senior management had sought to be open with the public, making their phone numbers and email addresses available.
“A year ago we had just over 1,000 outstanding customer queries or complaints. As of today, we have fewer than 20,” he said.
While a reliable ferry service is massively important for the islanders, it’s also important to the tourism economy. A third of visitors to the islands go by ferry instead of plane.
Despite the lure of budget airlines, he believes the prospects for island trips by ferry are good.
“The exchange rate from Brexit means it’s much more expensive to visit Europe now. A visit to the Channel Islands is good value for UK tourists. Equally from the French point of view, their euros go that much further in terms of visiting the Channel Islands,” he added.