Condor Ferries

Condor Ferries' logo, upddated in 2015.
Condor Ferries' logo.

Condor Ferries is a ferry company operating services with a fleet of four ships from the Channel Islands to France and the United Kingdom.

The fleet is composed with two High Speed Crafts, one RoPax Conventional Ferry and one RoRo Cargo Ship.

Its headquarters are located in Saint-Peter Port. The company is headed since 2016 by Paul Luxon, alongside Alicia Andrews, Fran Collins and Steven Champion as Operational Managers.

The establishment of Condor Ltd

The Genesis of the Company

Condor 1 being lifted down from the ship which delievred her to Condor Limited.
Condor 1 being delivered. Rights reserved.

In 1963, British Railways which was operating a maritime service from Saint-Malo to the Channel Island decided to scrap it, decommissioning the M/V Brittany which was serving, alone, the line. Therefore, Peter Dorey (which was the Manager of the company Onesimus Dorey & Son) and Jack Norman (CEO of the company Commodore) decided to create a new company, belonging at 2/3 to the first one, the rest was to be owned by Commodore. The new company was to be called Condor Ltd.

Both founders decided once the company was created to look for a ship which would be able to operate a France – Channel Islands passenger-only service. They visited the Italian shipyard Rodriguez and decided immediately to purchase a PT50 hydrofoil from this builder. Those hydrofoil were designed to reach a speed of 33 knots, enabling the company to provide fast services from Jersey and Guernsey to France. The first ship was bought for 200,000£, and was called Condor 1.

The beginning

Condor 3 at sea.
Condor 3. Ian Boyle Collection (Simplon Postcards)

Condor 1 was introduced on the new service on 20th June 1964, and was scheduled to operate daily services between Saint-Malo, Saint-Helier (Jersey), Saint-Peter Port (Guernsey) and Sark.

5 years later, in 1969, Condor’s competitor Jersey Line bankrupted. Hence, Condor Ltd decided to charter in a second ship to cope with the growing demand induced by the disappearing of the company. Therefore, Condor 2 was delivered, before being replaced in 1970 by a new hydrofoil, Condor 3.

Condor Ltd decided to buy a third hydrofoil in 1974, Condor 4, in order to reach the growing demand for its services. Two years later, the company replaced Condor 1 with Condor 5, which had a much greater passenger capacity.

In 1979, the company lost one of its founders, since Peter Dorey was lost at sea. However, nothing changed for the company since his wife inherited the shares he had on the company. The following year, the company decided to try a new type of ship, and chartered in to a Norwegian shipyard a catamaran, which was named Condor 6. Moreover, this new ship was propelled by waterjets, replacing the propellers and propelling the ship thanks to the action - reaction law, rather than thanks to the LOI. This ship replaced Condor 3. However, the ship didn’t bring satisfactory to Condor, which decided not to renew her charter for the following year. Therefore, she was replaced in 1981 by another charter of Condor 2.

Yet, the competition was strong at this time, and Emeraude Lines was taking a large market share and therefore Condor Ltd decided to provide services using only one ship for the 1982 season. In 1983, Commodore Shipping bought the market shares it doesn’t owned of the company at the time at this time, making Commodore Shipping the sole owner of Condor Ltd.

The creation of a service to the United Kingdom

The oppening of a new passenger route...

Condor 5 heading to Weymouth at slow speed.
Condor 5 heading to Weymouth. Ian Boyle Collection (Simplon Postcards)

In 1985, Condor Ltd decided to eventually resume service using three ships, and decided to purchased the hydrofoil Condor 7, which was the last hydrofoil bought by the company.

In September 1986, the workers of the ferry company Sealink went on strike, preventing the company from operating services to the Channel Islands from Weymouth and Portsmouth. As a consequence, Condor Ltd decided to provide an alternative service using its hydrofoils from the Channel Islands to Weymouth for the affected travellers. It proved to be popular and the company decided to establish a regular schedule to Great Britain from the Channel Islands for 1987.

This new service was to compete with other companies thanks to its speed, something that was popular on the 1986’s crossings. Indeed, Condor’s hydrofoils were able to cut by two hours the time required to link the Channel Islands to Weymouth compared to Sealink’s conventional ferries. Condor 5 operated the first year of this service. The service proved to be successful and the company purchased catamaran Condor 8 in 1988 in order to increase the passenger capacity provided on this route.

In August 1990, Condor Ltd was delivered a new and much bigger catamaran, Condor 9, in order to provide additional capacity on the route. the creation of a Car-Ferry service

Condor 10 departing Weymouth bound to Guernsey.
Condor 10 leaving Weymouth. Ian Boyle collection (Simplon Postcards)

Condor noted very fast that there was a growing demand for a fast service that would be able to carry cars. Thus, the company decided to purchase a High Speed Craft equipped with a garage to the Australian shipyard Incat, which was the only one building car-carrying high speed ferries at the time. Incat delivered before the beginning of the 1993 summer season a 74m long catamaran, Condor 10. The new ship was able to carry 580 passengers (a hundred more than Condor 9) with 84 cars.

In 1994, Commodore took other the 1985-established Condor’s competitor British Channel Islands Ferries, enabling Condor Ltd to operate through Summer 1994 a conventional service from Weymouth using the Havelet, alongside Condor 10' fast service. Havelet enabled Condor to provide services whatever the weather forecasts, something that was impossible with Condor 10.

However, due to growing demand (helped by the disappearing of BCIF), Condor decided to purchase a larger craft to replace Condor 10, and as soon as May 1995, Condor was delivered of Condor 11. This new catamaran was able to carry 600 passengers and 145 cars. Actually, Condor 11 was delivered two months behind schedule, after she grounded off the coasts of Tasmania during sea trials, mastered by Incat's chairman, Robert Clifford. Therefore, Condor Ltd had to charter SeaCat Isle of Man to wait for her Condor 11's delivery. The company also enjoyed the delivery of this new ship to renew its corporate identity, choosing Condor Ferries as its commercial name, with a new Blue and Red livery. Meanwhile, Condor 8 was still operating services from Saint-Malo.

Yet, Condor 11 did not bring satisfaction to the company, which replaced her in 1996 by a larger car ferry catamaran, Condor 12. Condor 12 was able to carry 700 passengers and 185 cars, enabling the company to provide additional capacity to cope with the growing demand. Meanwhile, Condor Ferries got an exclusive operating licence to operate passenger services from the Channel Islands to Great Britain, whilst Commodore was operating freight-only services between Portsmouth and the Channel Islands with two RoRo ferries: Island Commodore and Commodore Goodwill. The group's monopolistic position drove a growing demand for Condor Ferries’ services.

Therefore, Condor 12 soon appeared to be too small and Condor Ferries acquired in 1997 a once again larger Incat catamaran, Condor Express, able of carrying 200 cars and 900 passengers. Condor Ferries also decided to transfer its operations from Weymouth to the larger habour of Poole.

Condor Ferries from the late-90s to the early-00s

The difficult end of the 90s

With the introduction of Condor Express, Condor Ferries' aim was to operate only fast services, resulting in the scrapping of the conventional service operated by Havelet, which has proved to be unprofitable due to the competition made by fast ferries. As a consequence, Havelet was laid up and sent back to her owners. On the other hand, Condor Express suffered from abundant teething problems during her first year of services, inducing a lot of cancellations whilst there was no alternative services to sail to the Channel Islands.

In order to get a better service, the Channel Islands’ governments threat Condor Ferries to cancel its operating agreement and launched a competition to find another operator. P&0 European Ferries and Hoverspeed applied for the operating licence, yet it eventually remained in Condor Ferries' hands. Indeed, Condor Ferries pledged to purchase Havelet to cover for Condor Express’ future failures and weather-related cancellations, waiting for the delivery of a new conventional ferry which would replace both Island Commodore and Havelet which would operate a year-round service from Weymouth.

Moreover, the company pledged to create a new service for Summer 1998 season that would link Weymouth and Saint-Malo via Guernsey. It was planned to operate the service with Condor 10, but Hoverspeed required her for another route. Therefore, Condor Ferries decided to purchase Incat Hull 044, a sister ship of Condor Express for this new route. Renamed Condor Vitesse, she was operated to half of her capacity to provide accommodations to affected travellers for any potential Condor Express’ failure.

Condor 9 came back in the fleet in 1999 in order to replaced the chartered Condor France from Saint-Malo.

The 00s and the Brittany Ferries' partnership

Condor Vitesse entering Saint-Malo's harbour, pictured with the Brittany Ferries' logo on her stern.
Condor Vitesse with the Brittany Ferries' logo. Picture Antoine H.

For Summer 2001, Condor Ferries announced that it had concluded with Brittany Ferries an operating agreement to operate a new Cherbourg-en-Cotentin – Poole service using Condor Vitesse, on which a Brittany Ferries' logo was painted. The ship was to be operated by Condor Ferries, and marketed by both companies. In Brittany Ferries’ marketing, she was called Vitesse and Normandie Vitesse from 2005. The service was sailing on mornings, whilst on afternoons, Condor Vitesse was operating a Poole – Guernsey – Saint-Malo service.

Later, (it is believed that this service began in 2006) Brittany Ferries’ partnership was deepened, and both companies launched a joint conventional service between Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Portsmouth using Commodore Clipper, primarily aimed at caravans. Brittany Ferries was marketing the service and operating the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin port of call.

In 2002, Condor Ferries decided to launch its car-carrying ferry service from Saint-Malo to the Channel Islands instead of the passenger-only service operated with Condor 9. Therefore, Condor 10 which was at the time laid up in Hobart, was refurbished in order to resume service with Condor Ferries. Condor Ferries’ aim at this time was to enter direct competition with Emeraude Lines, which was operating a car-carrying service with Solidor 5.

Later in 2002, Commodore Group, which was the parent company of Condor Ferries (alongside of Commodore Shipping and Commodore Express) was sold to Dutch bank ABN ARNO for £150 millions. For Summer 2003, Condor Ferries’ corporate identity was also reviewed, using the same font as the one Brittany Ferries chose in 2002.

The group was sold to the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2004 for £240 millions, and it has been decided meanwhile to rebrand the entire group. Therefore, the Commodore name disappeared and replaced by Condor Ferries name and logo. Commodore Express was renamed Condor Logistics whilst both Commodore Goodwill and Commodore Clipper were repainted with the Condor Ferries’ logo.

In 2005, the bankruptcy of Emeraude Lines left Condor Ferries without competitors between France and the Channel Islands.

The busy late-00s

The incidents with HD Ferries

HD1, the ship operated by Condor Ferries' competitor HD Ferries.
HD1. Courtesy Ian Boyle (Simplon Postcards)

In order to prevent Condor Ferries from having a monopoly between France and the Channel Islands, the Channel Islands' governments decided to look for another company which would also provide services on this route. In 2007, they granted HD Ferries an operating licence for this route. But the introduction of this company involved abundant incidents.

Hence, on 11th May 2007, the HD1 (HD Ferries’ ship) collided in Saint-Helier with Commodore Goodwill. She later collided with Condor Express in Saint-Helier, on 28th July 2007. Condor Express only suffered from small damages on her paint job, however HD1 was pierced on her hull, preventing her from being operated in more than 2m-heigh waves (before, she was capable to go in seas of up to 2.5m), whilst the operating agreement was suspended for a few days.

Both companies began a communication war when on 3rd August, Condor Ferries published a press release which said that a “so-called ‘low-cost’ company” should not be authorised providing “low-secured services”, referring to both incidents. HD Ferries answered, using bold and red that they will need more than two collisions with Condor Ferries’ ships to prevent it from operating low-cost services to France, recalling its wish to set up on a long-term basis. However, the company lost again its ramp permit on 19th August after an engine failure of HD1.

On 2nd October, HD Ferries announced that the company would lodge a complaint against Condor Ferries for libellous remarks, referring to the earlier press-release. However, the complaint has never been lodged.

The following year, HD Ferries announced that it would not operate a winter service on Winter 2008-2009, owing to the high fuel costs and the bad economic context. Eventually, HD Ferries announced in February 2009 that it would not resume service for Summer 2009, since they were not enough passenger to enable two companies competing of the France - Channel Islands route. Moreover, Jersey government announced that it was very unlikely that HD Ferries would be granted a ramp permit again, leaving Condor Ferries in a total monopoly on the Channel Islands.

A myriad of incidents

Commodore Goodwill leaving Saint-Malo bound to Portsmouth.
Commodore Goodwill. Picture Antoine H.

Whilst Condor Ferries suffered from two collisions due to HD1, it also counted incidents induced by itself.

Actually, on 10th December 2007, Commodore Goodwill collided with Saint-Helier’s pier whilst berthing in inclement sea conditions. One of her propellers was damaged and the vessel had to be drydocked in Falmouth to enable repairs. On 13th December, Condor Ferries had to charter Brittany FerriesCoutances to operate as many crossings as possible.

More serious, on 28th March 2011 at 07:45 (GMT+1), Condor Vitesse collided in the Minquiers (south of Jersey) in foggy conditions a fishing ship called Les Marquises. The 9.3m long ship was cut in two whilst Condor Vitesse only suffered from minor damages. Two fishers were rescued by Condor Vitesse’s crew whilst the fishing ship’s captain was lost at sea. The reviewed that followed the scuttling concluded that the Master of Condor Vitesse had neglected the most basics rules at sea: using the horn in foggy conditions and checking the radar’s signals to prevent any collision. Actually, he was chatting with his colleagues.

On 14 July 2014 Commodore Clipper grounded off the coast of Saint-Peter Port, damaging her hull. She had to be drydocked in Falmouth to enable repairs, causing supplying troubles in the Channel Islands. Therefore, MN Toucan and later Arrow had to be chartered to provide additional freight capacity. The report that followed the grounding concluded that crew was not concentrated enough on the mastering of the ship and that some of the alarm systems had been disabled.

Eventually, on 28th March 2015, Condor Liberation collided with St-Peter’s pier in inclement sea conditions. Although the damages were small, the vessel had to be retired from service to enable repairs, replaced by Condor Express. She later collided whilst berthed in windy conditions with Poole's pier.

2012, an anniversay year

Condor Express in her altered livery berthed in 2014 in Saint-Malo.
Condor Express in her altered livery. Picture Antoine H.

On 2012, Condor Ferries celebrated the 25th anniversary of its service linking Great Britain to the Channel Islands. Condor Vitesse was repainted with the addition of three coloured stripes (a Yellow one, a Red one and a Blue One) to her livery with the figure “25” written on her bow. Later that year, Brittany Ferries announced that it would not renew the joint service between Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Poole for the following year. However, Brittany Ferries kept providing dockers to enable the weekly Commodore Clipper's Cherbourg-en-Cotentin port of call at summer.

Both Condor Express and Condor Rapide were repainted in 2013 to a similar scheme to Condor Vitesse’s anniversary livery. However, the Yellow stripe on Condor Vitesse was replaced with a blue one on Condor Express and with a green one on Condor Rapide. The same year, Condor Ferries also resumed service to the Channel Islands from Weymouth, after 18 month of works to repair a wall that collapsed in 2012 in Weymouth. The service resuming was well-welcomed by both islanders and local inhabitants whilst Condor Ferries was talking of purchasing a new ship to replace both Condor Express and Condor Vitesse and that would operate from Weymouth.

In mid-2014, Condor Ferries announced that it has signed with the governments of the Channel Islands an operating agreement until 2022. This agreement is however non-exclusive (both governments got the right to sign an agreement with another operator), and includes the release of punctuality reports four times a year and the renewal of the fleet.

The renewal of the Company

The introduction of Condor Liberation

Condor Liberation arriving in Saint-Malo from Jersey.
Condor Liberation arriving in Saint-Malo. Picture Antoine H.

Whilst celebrating its 50th anniversary with an open day in Saint-Malo in early-June, Condor Ferries also announced in 2014 (on 20th August precisely) that the company has purchased a new ship, the Austal Hull 270 to replace both Condor Express and Condor Vitesse from Weymouth. This new 102m-long ship is a stabilised mono-hull high speed craft (that looks like a trimaran), built in 2009 and which had never been bought. The new ship was to provide a more comfortable service to the travellers. Eventually, the company announced that the new ship would be operated in stronger seas that its predecessors, thanks to an increased stability. However, the ship has never been granted such permission.

Condor Ferries decided to open a competition to islanders to name the so-called Condor 102. Inhabitants of both Jersey and Guernsey decided to name her Condor Liberation, referring to the liberation of Jersey on 9th May 1945 during World War Two. However, Condor Ferries has eventually not been able to introduce the new ship on the Weymouth route since the Dorset Authorities refused to dredge the port (it appeared that Condor Liberation could not use the harbour at very low tides) and built a new berth that would be fitted to the new larger craft. Therefore, Condor Ferries had to transfer its operations to the not-so-popular port of Poole.

Meanwhile, the company has also decided to renew its corporate identity, replacing the Red and the Blue colours with new Yellow, Pink and Dark Blue ones. Condor Ferries also recorded a new Safety Video in collaboration with Bournemouth-based Walker Agency. The aim of the so-called "Safety Rap" was to provide in a funny way security informations to travellers that were not paying attention any more to the former clip. However, the clip became very soon hated from travellers, which found it too ludicrous.

Condor Ferries later organised, in mid-March 2015 open days on board Condor Liberation to show the new ship to the islanders. Her introduction on 27th March was also well received by Condor Ferries’ customers.

A failed renewal

Commodore Clipper arriving in Saint-Malo with her 2015 livery.
Commodore Clipper in her 2015 livery. Picture Antoine H.

During her two first years of service, Condor Liberation encountered a lot of incidents, inducing a lot of cancellations and the ship being rescheduled. Most of her incidents have been engine, bow thrusters and electrical related failures. Moreover, she also collided several times piers in inclement conditions, as on 28th March 2015 in Saint-Peter Port. Condor Liberation also had difficulties arriving on schedule during 2015 summer season, and therefore she even had to let ashore 24 cars and 60 passengers in St-Helier on 11th April 2015, since she would have missed the tide if she had loaded them. She also hadn’t been able to berth several times either in Saint-Helier or St-Peter Port in inclement sea conditions, inducing more disruptions.

In order to accommodate affected travellers, Condor Rapide had during most of Condor Liberation’s teething problems to be rescheduled in order to carry affected travellers. On May 2015, Condor Ferries announced that 10% of Condor Liberation scheduled crossings were cancelled, an half of those operated arrived in time.

Condor Ferries’ customers have been disappointed by the introduction of this new ship, claiming for the service resuming of the former ships. Most of those complaints are about the ending of the Weymouth service and of the possibility of day trips between both islands, overpricing, unpunctuality and instability of Condor LiberationCondor Liberation was soon said as being unsuitable for service in the Channel Islands. Some of Condor Ferries’ customers became rude with the staff, forcing Condor Ferries to publish on 12th June 2015 a press release, asking passengers to remain polite with its staff.

The attempts to improve the service

Condor Rapide in her 2016 livery approaching Saint-Malo.
Condor Rapide in her 2016 livery. Picture Antoine H.

On May 2015, Condor Ferries announced that it would fund a review of Condor Liberation in order to ensure its customers of her suitability for service in the Channel Islands.

Moreover, during Winter 2015-2016, Condor Ferries refurbished its three other ship in order to upgrade them the new corporate identity. Moreover, in late-2015, Commodore Clipper and Commodore Goodwill were to be equipped with exhaust scrubbers in order to enable them to reach the latest European regulations. However, due to scrubbers being delivered behind scheduled, Commodore Goodwill was only equipped in mid-2016.

At Eastern 2016, the governments of both Jersey and Guernsey asked Condor Ferries to propose a scheme to improve the services it provides, and it has been considered for a few days to charter Normandie Express to act as a cover in case of any potential Condor Liberation’s failure, however the deal has never been concluded.

In June 2016, Condor Ferries also had to announce that the passengers numbers of its services on the Northern Route were decreasing. Indeed, passengers are using alternative services to Condor Liberation, such as Commodore Clipper and airlines. A survey to help the company reaching its customer's needs has also been launched, with the pledge of taking into account all of the customer's view. However, the questionnaire has not satisfied the Ferry Watcher Group which have been gathering data about Condor Ferries' service since late-2015, which funded its own survey.


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