Monday 14 October 2019

Irish Ferries challenges compensation direction over cancelled sailings

The newly commissioned Irish Ferries ship W.B. Yeats arrives into Dublin Port (Niall Carson/PA)
The newly commissioned Irish Ferries ship W.B. Yeats arrives into Dublin Port (Niall Carson/PA)

Tim Healy

Irish Ferries has brought a High Court challenge over a direction that it pay compensation to thousands of passengers affected by the cancellation of sailings between Ireland and France last summer.

The company says it had to cancel the services because the arrival of its new "WB Yeats" ferry between Dublin and Cherbourg was delayed for several months.

The challenge is against the  National Transport Authority (NTA) over its  decision in January that, arising out of the cancellations, the company breached EU regulations concerning the rights of passengers travelling by sea.  

The NTA is the designated enforcement body for maritime passenger rights in Ireland under the regulations.

The NTA issued the company with two notices requiring it to pay compensation to impacted passengers within a period of two months.

The notices direct the company to pay compensation to passengers impacted by the cancellations who had to travel from Rosslare, instead of Dublin, and from Roscoff instead of Cherbourg.

The notices also state passengers who were delayed in reaching their final destination who have already requested compensation from the company must also be paid compensation.

Non-compliance with the notices is an offence, with a maximum fine on conviction of €250,000.

The company disputes the NTA's finding and says it and the notices are invalid, irrational, in breach of its Constitutional Rights and EU rights.

Irish Ferries also says the NTA has misinterpreted the relevant EU regulations. 

The cancellations occurred because the YB Yeats ship it had commissioned from the German shipyard Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft was delivered some "200 days" late, Irish Ferries' counsel Paul  Gallagher told the High Court on Monday.

Counsel said the delay came as a shock to Irish Ferries and made headlines in the media.

Counsel said the company took steps including offering "an immediate no quibble reimbursement in full" to affected customers, offered vouchers for €150, as well as "the opportunity to rebook on alternative sailings of their choosing".

Some 5,700 bookings were affected by the cancellations.

Counsel said some 82 per cent of passengers chose to travel on alternative sailings to France with Irish Ferries.

The remainder either cancelled and accepted a refund or chose to travel by land bridge through the UK, and were compensated by Irish Ferries for the fuel expended while crossing Britain.

Counsel said that his client is concerned about the long term implications of the NTA's decision.

The situation Irish Ferries found itself was extraordinary, was not of its own making, and it was unable to secure another ferry to operate the planned sailings, counsel said.

All affected passengers, counsel said, were informed of the situation a minimum of seven weeks before the proposed sailing, he added. 

Irish Ferries seeks various orders including one quashing the NTA's decision and the notices it issued to the company.

It also seeks declarations including that the NTA's decision and the notices are invalid,  irrational and  without any legal basis.   

Permission to bring the challenge was granted, on an ex parte (one side only represented) basis, by Mr Justice Seamus Noonan, who also placed a stay on the notices from coming into effect pending the proceedings.. 

The case comes back in May.

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