From Calm Seas to Choppy Waters

Since we closed our borders March 27 2020, the island’s freight companies have kept our supermarkets stocked, our fridges full and provided a link to the outside world.

Of them all, the taxpayer owned arms length Steam Packet Company has been heralded by the gov as our lifeline, with the night boat from Heysham gliding into its home port representing the continuation of our own Manx normal, no matter how bad things have got, there is still a boat in the morning.

But now, there are choppy waters. Following Thursday’s briefing, a row has broken out over whether or not Steam Packet crews, based on the Isle of Man, have to isolate when they come off shift. So to see how we got to this point, we’ve had a brief look at the history of borders and the Ben-my-Chree.

We’re Buying It

To explain where we are now, we have to go back to May 8 2018 when the news first broke that after months of behind the scenes negotiations, the Manx Gov was to buy the Steam Packet from its then owners Banco Espírito Santo, a Portugese bank. Described as a ‘once-in-a-generation opportunity’, we spent £124 million to buy the company. So Tynwald voted unanimously to buy the company and the Ben-my-Chree came into public ownership. An agreement on sea services was then drawn up as a way to ensure a level of service for residents and tourists, while also seeking to prevent Tynwald endlessly tinkering with the company.

Calmer Waters

So the taxpayer had taken control of the Steam Packet and everything just carried on as normal for almost two years.

The Rona

After being told by the Manx gov that Covid represented a ‘low to medium risk’ to the Isle of Man, the borders were closed on March 27 2020. We were cut off from the outside world, with even some of our own left outside. The Ben (and for a period the Mananan) however kept sailing, bringing in supplies and key workers. 

Eventually the gov realised they couldn’t just refuse to let people return to their own island so finally granted them permission to come home. The Steam Packet’s role in this saw it ferry them back to Douglas from Heysham, before a ridiculous police escort took a coach load of residents down to the Comis Hotel followed by those who drove their own cars. 

Since it all calmed down a bit, the Ben and the Mananan just dutifully went along with their business, serving our island, allowing pets to get to their furever home, allowing returning residents a route home, ensuring uni students and their parents could travel on and off island and making us all dream of hearing those magic words ‘this is your captain speaking’.

Crews

In amongst this, the Steam Packet crews themselves were seemingly granted an exemption from quarantine, or at least that’s what the company believes is what happened.At the time this was welcomed by Nautilus which praised the forward thinking of the Manx gov.

But now we’re not so sure, the waters have become much murkier as yesterday’s press briefing showed when first Gef and then Paul Moulton questioned the gov’s version of events. Despite us doubting the gov version and indeed the Steam Packet itself saying its Manx based staff have to isolate, the gov didn’t move from their position that they always have.

Better Late Than Never

The only movement we did get on Thursday was a screeching (if boats can screech) U-turn to say the crews will be moved up the vaccination list. This was after HQ rejecting the change when suggested by Douglas East MHK Chris Robertshaw that crews should be offered the jabs as a matter of priority after a UK based crew member tested positive for the rona.

In response, the Chief Min said: ‘The only occupational groups currently included in the JCVI prioritisation framework are frontline health and care workers, part of priority group 2, with the over-80s. No other occupational groups are included in the current prioritisation framework, and employees of the Isle of Man Steam Packet and other key workers will be considered as part of the phase 2 priorities.’

However of course, a mere nine days after dismissing first Mr Robertshaw and then later other MHKs concerns, the Chief went full reverse ferret and announced that the Steam Packet, Mezeron and Loganair crews will now be offered the vaccine early after all. 

Clarity

So tonight, after we’ve learned if there have been any new cases, the question on everyone’s lips, who is right and who is wrong? 

Really it boils down to this, either Steam Packet crews have not been isolating for the previous 11 months when they should have been, at which point we also have to wonder how anyone in gov thought they could possibly have lived under such conditions while the majority of us have been free as Thy Sweet Mountain Air and question why no one EVER checked. OR the Steam Packet is right, in which case, its dedicated crews are probably owed a very public apology.

Tonight’s press briefing is at 6pm, watch live on Gef’s Facebook page or read our briefing roundup shortly after.

Leave a Reply