1,000% rise in missed ferry crossings with 608 in past five years

1,000% rise in missed ferry crossings with 608 in past five years

27 March 2024

THERE have been almost 610 missed sailings on the Strangford ferry service over the past five years due to weather and maintenance issues.

The startling statistic has been confirmed by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) with almost half of the cancelled sailings occurring last year.

In 2022, just 17 crossings between Strangford and Portaferry were cancelled due to maintenance, technical or fuel issues, with the figure spiralling to 169 last year.

There are an average of 22,500 scheduled crossings each year, with the government department explaining they can be affected by issues it has no control over including adverse weather such as fog, storms and high tides.

In addition, the DfI said sailings can also be disrupted by maintenance, technical and fuel issues and when staff transfer from one vessel to another.

The number of cancelled sailings was revealed in response to questions tabled by Strangford MLA Michelle McIlveen, herself a former DfI minister.

The DfI said the number of missed sailings due to poor weather between 2019 and 2023 was 93, 22, 127, 10 and 126 respectively.

Cancelled sailings due to maintenance issues over the same period totalled 11, 10, 23, 17 and 169 respectively.

Ms McIlveen has also asked Stormont Infrastructure Minister John O’Dowd if consideration is being given to operating both ferries — the MV Strangford II and MV Portaferry II — during peak and holiday periods to cope with the large numbers of people wishing to cross the lough.

In addition, Mr O’Dowd has been asked if consideration is being given to the introduction of an early morning sailing. 

He is expected to formally answer before the end of the month.

Given the high cancellation of sailings, Ms McIlveen has asked the DfI to put measures in place to mitigate the inconvenience they cause to passengers.

“In the past five years there have been 608 missed sailings due to weather or maintenance issues, but nearly 50% of those cancelled sailings occurred in the past year,” she said.

Ms McIlveen said while the number of cancellations was “proportionately small”, they will have had a detrimental impact.

She continued: “Incredibly, out of the 230 sailings missed through maintenance issues, 169 of these occurred in the past year. This is a rise of nearly 1,000% from the year before when there were only 17 such cancellations.”

Ms McIlveen said there was a “huge reliance” on the ferry as the population on the southern part of the Ards Peninsula has grown, with large numbers of schoolchildren travelling for secondary education at schools on the other side of the lough. 

“While there is little that can be done about the weather, it is important that all steps are taken to minimise loss of sailings due to maintenance issues,” she said.

Ms McIlveen added: “There are two ferries but only one in use at any one time. I have asked the Minister to ensure that there additional sailings earlier in the morning and that both ferries are in use at peak times. 

“This would ensure that any inconvenience would be minimal.”