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Ferry nightmares cause chaos for exhibitors
Belfast delays judging but many miss classes

Several exhibitors were caught up in a nightmare ferry trip to the Belfast Show last weekend and major delays resulted in their missing the chance to exhibit their dogs, writes Sandra Johnston.

Norse Merchant Ferries experienced huge problems with two of their vessels starting on Thursday night with the late departure of the ferry from Birkenhead due to the late arrival of the previous inbound ferry which had accumulated delays caused by severe weather in the Irish Sea.

I spoke with one exhibitor of Bassets – Dave Darley who was travelling with wife Claire and two bassets. One basset is actually a multi-titled Portuguese owned Champion which is in the UK for a time to be shown.

Dave was meeting his owner who had flown from Portugal especially to see the dog at the show. The ferry company had contacted travellers the previous day to warn them of a delay and many exhibitors contacted Belfast Secretary Jackie Stubbs and also his committee to be told that they were aware of the delay and had changed judging time to 10am to allow the exhibitors extra time to get to the show.

Dave arrived like many others at around 9pm having left home at 7pm. After check in for the crossing which had been re-scheduled for 1.30 am with an arrival time now of 8.30am in Belfast the boat was boarded and closed and at that point the departure time was still 1.30am. The boat did not actually leave until 3.00 am and when travellers got up in the morning there were notices prominently displayed with a new arrival time of 10.00am. This time became 10.30am then eleven finally ending up at 1.30pm.

By this time most judging was complete and only two dogs made their classes since both were bitches and one was going to the Boxer Breed Show. A good percentage of the Cocker Spaniel entry was also on the boat and all missed their classes. Knowing there was no point in going to the show many exhibitors turned round to rejoin the ferry for the return journey but were told that no decision had been taken about this return and they were not taking enquiries.

Eventually they were telephoned with the news that the ferry was not going back but the 10.30 pm would return leaving at 3.00 am on Saturday morning. Travellers returned to the terminal to check in and were told that this too had been cancelled. This was caused by the inbound ferry which had experienced major problems with the doors.

Harland and Wolff engineers had been called out to try to operate the doors but eventually they were burned open to allow cars and passengers off. In the meantime the vessel ‘Brave Merchant’ was transferred to the service and passengers were boarded at 8.00am, left at 11.00 am and arrived finally in Birkenhead at 6.50pm Saturday evening.

As Dave said this was a journey of over 48 hours with very little in the way of communication from the company in this time which created a bad atmosphere between passengers and staff. He did stress that once on board they were treated well and given cabins where possible, food was plentiful and people were allowed to see the dogs in all decks except one which had four dog cars on. This was totally closed since the alarm was on and the company feared that this alarm going off when the deck was opened could cause another incident. Despite all manner of pleas and threats the company would not open this deck at all and these dogs including Dave’s were left for over 12 hours. Luckily none appeared to be too upset.

I contacted the Managing Director of Norse Merchant Ferries and he apologised profusely explaining that “bad weather had caused the original delays compounded by the mechanical problems experienced by the Lagan Viking and the Mersey Viking. The Brave Viking was transferred to the route on the Saturday morning.’’ He wnet on to say that ‘’this is clearly an unusual series of events whereby mechanical problems were experienced by both our vessels on the Belfast route over the same weekend. The reliability of our vessels is of prime importance and high on our agenda and we are now carrying out a thorough investigation into the circumstances leading to the shortfall in our service offering.’’

He also said that passengers who were inconvenienced should write to the company for a refund of their return journey, together with any other additional expense incurred as a result of the cancelled sailings