An eerie silence descended on our coastline last weekend – a silence we’ve not heard since 1965, caused by some bovver with the hover.
We’ve become accustomed to the sound of the hovercraft plying its trade between Southsea and Ryde every day. The world’s oldest hovercraft service is now Europe’s only hovercraft service.
But at the weekend the Maritime and Coastguard Agency took what I thought was pretty heavy-handed action and grounded all services.
I understand the safety-first argument. But a lot of people rely on this service. Was anyone’s safety really at risk?
The hovercraft Solent Express had experienced problems with a propeller shaft, which became detached. The craft carried on safely to Ryde on one engine.
Then three weeks later, the MCA turn up to inspect the remaining two hovercraft, find irregularities and suspend the whole service. But the two remaining craft are of a completely different design to Solent Express – a design that has been running from Southsea since 1983.
They even have different types of propeller. So surely, if paperwork had not been completed, a solution that kept the craft in service could have been found?
Had cracks in the propellers been discovered, then ground them. But by midday on Monday, Freedom 90 was back in action.
Five or so years back, the MCA was heavy-handed with Wightlink too. After a few minor engine room fires on one of its Fast Cat catamarans, the MCA withdrew the company’s safety certificate.
Even two completely different craft that had experienced no such problems were taken out of service.
Monday turned out to be an awful morning for commuters, as one of Wightlink’s new catamarans experienced mechanical problems. So only one of four ferries was in use for the morning commute, along with a smaller relief vessel.
I’m pretty sure the actions of the MCA were as much a surprise to Hovertravel as they were to passengers. Propeller failures are extremely rare and the hovercraft’s safety record is exemplary.
Whatever, I certainly hope last weekend’s strange silence is not repeated.