CAUGHT ON CAMERA: The two ferries, Rapparee and Shanklin aboard the transport ship OXL Fantasy, entering the Grand Harbour in Malta.
THE TWO Fastcat ferries, originally destined to ply their trade on a new route between Ilfracombe and Swansea, have been sold.
But the man behind the scheme to set up a ferry link between Ilfracombe and South Wales, says the plan remains steadfast.
The two ferries, Rapparee and Shanklin – still sporting their bright yellow Severn Link livery – were pictured on Monday, aboard the transport ship OXL Fantasy, entering the Grand Harbour in Malta.
Their final destination is Russia, where they are believed to have been bought by a company called Alien Shipping.
The company, set up in 1999, owns and maintains passenger services and moored vessels in and around St Petersburg.
But for Chris Marrow, chairman of Severn Link, the sale was always going to be inevitable, after the financial backer who owned the mortgages on the two vessels, pulled out of the project for the Bristol Channel.
Mr Marrow said: "We have anticipated this for quite a long time, after the shareholder dropped out, but it doesn't make any difference to our plans.
"I feel very disappointed for the people who were so keen for us to start the service. But I haven't come this far to give up now.
"We are still hot on the trail of new finance and vessels are easy enough to purchase once that is in place. It doesn't have to be those two vessels."
He said Severn Link was currently in talks with three potential investors, but plans could not move forward until a deal was clinched.
"We have two alternative business plans and it will depend on the financial backing, which way we go in the future. The finance will also dictate, to a certain extent, the type of vessels we go for."
He explained that as well as the problem with docking facilities that they had encountered in Swansea, there was a lock which was exactly the same length as the Fastcat ferries at 40m.
"If we get vessels that are perhaps 38m long, they will be able to go through that lock and berth there without a problem."
The first of the alternative plans, he said, was very similar to the original and involved the simultaneous launch of services between Ilfracombe and Swansea, as well as between Cardiff and Minehead.
The second option is to launch the Cardiff service first and the Ilfracombe service later. But that "depends on what finance we are able to secure," says Mr Marrow.
He was unable to estimate a timescale for the launch of a future service.
He said: "It would be too late to launch anything this year, as time is getting on, but if the finance falls into place, bearing in mind the current financial climate, we could possibly get something running next year."
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