Larne councillors will seek an urgent meeting with P&O chiefs in Dover in a bid to win back the Seatruck freight service at Larne harbour.
Ald Roy Beggs told the council’s monthly meeting on Monday that last week’s report in the Larne Times - that Seatruck would transfer its business to the Port of Belfast - had come as a shock.
The Ulster Unionist representative said he feared the move would have “a catastrophic impact” on the Port of Larne, adding that he understood the decision was taken after P&O, which owns the harbour, refused a request to construct a pontoon that would have enabled expansion of Seatruck’s Irish Sea operation.
“I was very disappointed and indeed worried to learn in the Larne Times last week that Seatruck are to leave Larne harbour,” said Ald Beggs.
The Clipper Group subsidiary ferried on average up to 370 ship-loads a month to and from Larne harbour and had plans to open new routes, including Liverpool, he added.
The expansion required a pontoon “but a deal could not be struck with P&O”, said Ald Beggs, who said it was likely that six stevedores and as many as nine freight clerks would lose their jobs at the harbour. Associated industry was also considering laying off staff.
“Most important of all is that the hub that was created there for hauliers has been shattered,” said Ald Beggs, urging the council to lobby P&O at headquarters level for retention of the Seatruck service, which was to transfer this week
“I believe that even though it is late in the day, the council should directly seek a meeting with P&O at Dover. We have a thriving port, with great potential, and this decision not to make provision for Seatruck will have very serious consequences,” he warned.
Ald Beggs added that he was concerned that the publicly-owned Belfast Harbour Commissioners, who were able to accommodate Seatruck, were not subject to the same constraints as commercial concerns and were in “too powerful a position” in Northern Ireland.
DUP Mayor Cllr Bobby McKee seconded the proposal, saying: “I do agree that, even at this late stage, we must try to address the situation by making approaches to P&O and other interested bodies and include our MP (Sammy Wilson).”
Cllr Gregg McKeen (DUP) said Mr Wilson had already been in contact with P&O and Seatruck. He added: “The crux of the matter is that when P&O were asked to put investment in to Larne harbour to keep Seatruck there, the decision was taken not to put the investment into Larne. And that is not being critical of the local management.”
Cllr McKeen suggested that the council should include the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister in its lobbying to “raise the profile of this straight away”.
Ulster Unionist councillor Mark McKinty said the decision gave the impression that P&O had no interest in Larne. “I think this council needs to find out what the vision is for P&O in Larne and try and get them to invest or further business will be lost to Belfast,” he added.