THE beleaguered Strangford Ferry was out of action again at the weekend, but this time it was fog which stymied commuters’ journeys.
However, local users have been angered that messaging intended to advise users of disruption failed to warn them on time, resulting in wasted journeys, time and petrol.
The weather disruption to the service on Saturday, followed weeks of continued interruption due to industrial action and a ferry malfunction.
Portaferry councillor Joe Boyle said he had been contacted by a constituent angered by his wasted journey.
The motorist said the digital signs located between Downpatrick and Strangford, intended to warn people that the 10 minute ferry ride was not running as scheduled, failed to work adequately, meaning a 50 mile commute for him.
Mr Boyle has said the service is in a poor state and getting worse.
“Once again users and visitors to the area were very disappointed last weekend, with another suspension of the Strangford Ferry Service,” he said.
“I understand that this was due to fog and I accept that this happens periodically, but what is unacceptable is the that all the strategically positioned information signage was not operative, meaning that those expecting to avail of the service were travelling to the Strangford Ferry terminal only to then realise that the Strangford Ferry Service was suspended and not operating.”
Mr Boyle said the local economy also shared in bearing the brunt of the disruption, with dinner reservations being thwarted with little notice.
“I also had those constituents living in the Ards peninsula contacting me, having reserved bookings in hospitality venues in Strangford, which also happened to residents in Strangford reserving bookings in restaurants in Portaferry,” he said.
“All of this has a detrimental and negative impact on the local economy, particularly whenever businesses continue to struggle to remain open and functioning.”
He concluded: “Once again the reliability of the Strangford Ferry Service and the operational methods from its operators and Department for Infrastructure (DfI) officials is being called into question and I am calling for a rethink of current operational procedures.”
Strangford MLA, Kellie Armstrong, said her main concern centred around the lack of a back-up ferry.
“My main concern about the ferry is Portaferry II is in constant operation while Strangford II has been out of operation for some time,” she said.
“If Portaferry II breaks down, it is vital the other ferry can be put into operation quickly. I have asked if there is an issue with Strangford II and asked why it has not been operational for some time.”
A spokeswoman from the Department for Infrastructure confirmed the ferry service was disrupted at the weekend due to fog.
“SMS messages warning of possible delays due to weather were sent to over 4,000 customers and five of the six Variable Message Signs were updated – the sixth is currently undergoing maintenance,” she said.
Confirming the other ferry, the MV Strangford II, was currently out of service for the installation of diesel particulate filters, the spokeswoman said: “This work is substantially complete but there are some minor outstanding issues which need to be completed before the vessel can return to routine service.
“It is anticipated normal service of this vessel will resume on or before June 30. In the meantime, services are being provided by the MV Portaferry II.”
The DfI statement maintained that since April 2022, the ferry service has been available for 99.8% of over 22,000 scheduled sailings.