TWO Southampton pleasure boat companies say the future of their businesses have been put at risk after they were forced to move from their long-established base at the request of the owners of a new multimillion-pound marina development

Blue Funnel Cruises and Princess Caroline were told they could no longer operate from berths at Southampton’s Ocean Village Marina because the developers of new luxury apartments did not want their craft nearby.

The development also includes the £25m Harbour Hotel, due to open in October, which is owned by a separate but related company.

Blue Funnel’s Ocean Scene and the Princess Caroline are hired out for private functions and Ocean Scene also runs day excursions from the marina – the companies have operated out of Ocean Village for 32 and 15 years respectively.

However, when marina operators MDL signed a deal with Alexandra Wharf Apartments to develop the land the agreement stipulated that no commercial vessels would be “parked” adjacent to the apartments to avoid disturbance to residents.

Blue Funnel and Princess Caroline said they only became aware of the terms of the agreement earlier this year – two years after it was made.

Last week Blue Funnel and Princess Caroline were informed by MDL that they would have to move immediately.

Both were offered alternative bases by MDL at L pontoon close to the mouth of the marina but the companies told the Echo this site was unsuitable as it had no parking for customers or delivery vehicles.

Princess Caroline has since been allowed to move to MDL’s Saxon Wharf on a temporary basis and ferry firm Red Funnel has allowed Ocean Scene to use its Town Quay terminal in the short term.

The management of both boat companies claimed that they received no direct contact from Alexandra Wharf Apartments.

Andrea Van Den Hoek, proprietor of Princess Caroline, said: “Nobody has sat down with us to talk about this – it has been a fait accompli.”

An angry Lee Rayment, director of Blue Funnel, said: “A 60-year-old business that has supported the City through many decades of change and would no doubt be providing guests to stay at the hotel is seen to be an unwanted trade. Southampton could be seeing the end of its waterborne excursions.”

Blue Funnel employs around 30 staff – 25 of those full-time and Mr Rayment said those jobs could be at risk if he couldn’t find a permanent home for the 30m Ocean Scene.

“Saxon Wharf could be workable but it means moving passengers through an industrial site we want some with a nice approach,” he said.

Ms Van Den echoed that point adding that they had bookings for wedding and parties with guests believing they would be embarking from an attractive marina.

“We are now in quite a serious predicament,” she said.

On the question of disturbance caused by the craft, Mr Rayment said there was little noise from his boat as music was always shut off well before it entered the marina and most evening excursions were over by 11.30pm.

“We are finished before most of the bars close,” said Mr Rayment.

MDL Marinas claimed it has been liaising closely with Blue Funnel regarding the reconfiguration of Ocean Village Marina, keeping them fully up to date changes to berthing.

In a statement the company said: “Throughout this period, MDL has followed all formal processes of notice and is fully supporting Blue Funnel Cruises to help find a new, permanent location. During this process we have extended Blue Funnel Cruises’ notice period and provided a temporary position in Ocean Village Marina, allowing them to continue trading.

“MDL will continue to support Blue Funnel Cruises while a permanent solution is agreed.”

Alexandra Wharf Limited said that the terms of the agreement only applied to the area adjacent to their development and added: “There is no restriction whatsoever on the rest of the marina and this has nothing to do with Harbour Hotels.

“MDL are solely responsible for the relocation within the marina or otherwise of the vessels and this agreement was entered into over two years ago, giving all parties time to plan ahead.

“It was our understanding that MDL would be redesigning their marina accordingly and it is for MDL to decide whether to accommodate commercial vessels within the marina or not.

“Harbour Hotels has always supported local businesses and will continue to do so.”

Mr Rayment said the marina dispute would have no bearing on the future of Hythe Ferry which Blue Funnel bought earlier this year.