104 COMMENTARY Ferry operators must have measures in place to ensure they don’t need to cancel sailings and leave passengers waiting in long queues Photo: istock.com/izusek Not so many years ago, any decentsized ferry company would have at its disposal what was termed as a ‘reserve ship’ – a spare vessel that could be pressed into service if one of the regulars was unable to operate as planned. It was possibly an older ship that had been replaced by younger tonnage but would become very useful if there was an engine breakdown, a need for an unscheduled dry docking or another issue that would otherwise leave passengers and freight frustrated on the quayside. Kept in a state of reasonable, if not immediate, readiness, the reserve ship would save the company’s blushes in an emergency and could also be used when its fleetmates were taken out of service for regular scheduled maintenance. As this vessel had likely paid for itself many years previously, operators regarded it as a modest and worthwhile cost to ensure they could maintain reliable services. It is not that resilience no longer matters, but that the ability to lay hands on a reserve vessel has become very rare. This is a result of modern attitudes to accountancy, along with the ability to translate a ship that is redundant to immediate need into instant cash that will register favourably in the quarterly results. And if a ferry has been maintained properly, it will attract attention in the sale and purchase market, which is fast-moving and thoroughly international. The finance director will assert that opportunities to boost the cashflow must be taken, even though the operating team would For years, ferry operators kept a reserve ship on standby for emergency use, but financial pressures mean they must now find alternative solutions to continue providing reliable services when regular vessels are non-operational Coping with the unexpected MICHAEL GREY Michael Grey is a master mariner turned maritime journalist and has edited both Fairplay and Lloyd’s List in a career spanning more than 60 years.