A DRASTIC drop in passenger numbers cost the Isle of Wight ferry operator Wightlink £25million in lost revenue in the first year of the pandemic.

The number of passengers using its ferries, including the Lymington to Yarmouth route, fell to 1.91m in the financial year ending in March 2021, from 4.5m the previous year.

Accounts for the year show turnover was down from £68.4m to £38.4m.

Director Jason Cogley wrote: “The turnover loss caused by subdued passenger numbers was in excess of £25m.

“The directors took measures to mitigate the losses incurred by seeking to minimise costs, take advantage of UK government business support schemes and defer cash outflows where possible. Ultimately an operating loss before exceptional items for this period was unavoidable.”

Wightlink had a 59.9 per cent market share in the year in 2020-21 and made 19,429 sailings – down from 41,834 the previous year. It saw 94.4 per cent of sailings depart within five minutes of their scheduled time, down from 95.2 per cent the previous year.

In Wightlink Limited’s accounts, director Paul Winter wrote: “Whilst the peak summer months saw a brief return of good passenger levels, much of the remaining year saw low demand for our services. Despite this, both the overall level of business during the period and the financial position at the end of the period are considered to be satisfactory given the challenging events of this year.”

He said plans to develop the business had been restricted by Covid-19.

“Whilst this has damaged the results for this financial year, it is not expected to continue into the longer term,” he said.

The directors were confident that demand would return in the short and medium term, he added.

The figures are for the period before Covid restrictions were eased, prompting many people to take holidays in the UK.

Wightlink chief executive Keith Greenfield told the Daily Echo: "Since the relaxation of travel restrictions in early summer 2021, Wightlink enjoyed a very positive year as the Isle of Wight was a popular choice for staycationers."

Wightlink made a pre-tax profit of £4.09m in 2020-21 despite the pandemic, buoyed by a £9.4m payout from its business interruption insurance.

But its parent company Arca Topco made a pre-tax loss of £23.92m, after a loss of £38m the previous year.

Much of the loss is explained by the accounting practice of amortisation, which writes down over 10 years the £195m value put on the business’s goodwill when it was last sold.