WATCHET Marina’s hopes of clearing the mud which leaves boats high and dry for nearly 20 hours a day, received a major setback when the 55-ton dredger CMS Doonhamer abruptly left the harbour one night without notifying marina staff.
This has resulted in an angry reaction from Watchet Harbour Advisory Committee members who have demanded that Somerset Council answer the claim that the dredger has been repossessed or sold without anyone in the town being told.
Watchet is the only marina of the five operated by the Cardiff-based Marine and Property Group which is not under administration and the company’s sole director Chris Odling- Smee is negotiating for a 200-year lease with Somerset Council.
The Doonhamer has been lying unused in Watchet Marina for nearly nine months despite Mr Odling-Smee’s pledges that the dredger ‘would be working night and day’ to provide the facility with 24-hour retained water by April, 2023.
The Free Press traced the missing dredger to 80 miles up the Bristol Channel at the Newham-on-Severn boatyard of marine contractors Bullo Ltd.
A staff member said the vessel had come in for ‘structural repairs’ but was intended to be operational again.
This leaves the Marine Group with only one workable dredger - the 11-ton CMS Innovation - after their 30-ton vessel Seaka sank in the Burry Port Marina on the night of January 13 and has, it is understood, been written off as a total loss. Police are investigating the circumstances.
The Doonhamer, built in 1991, first arrived in Watchet in August, 2022, but left after a few months to work elsewhere, returning in March, 2023.
Deadlines for completing a dredging programme, first set in 2021, have been missed four times.
In an update to creditors filed with Companies House, the joint administrators of Cardiff Marine Services said that the Doonhamer was subject to a mortgage with Pro Marine Finance Ltd, with £190,903 outstanding.
The vessel had been scheduled to be used for potential dredging contracts but while it was moored at Watchet the administrators were told that significant repairs would be required before the vessel could be transported back to Cardiff Marine Village.
It was likely that more repairs would be needed prior to Doonhamer being used for a dredging contract.
Due to this, the administrators obtained a desktop valuation to ascertain if any equity would be left in the vessel on its sale.
They said: “Taking into account the repairs required, it was clear that there would be no equity in the vessel after the remaining mortgage due to Pro Marine and so the administrators instructed Pro Marine to collect the asset from Watchet Marina.
“Therefore, the estimated to realise value of the vessel is nil.”
The administrators added that there was also a dispute over the other two dredging vessels and legal advice was being sought to establish ownership.
After the dredger’s surprise departure from Watchet, town councillor John Richards, a Harbour Advisory Committee member, said: “After the Doonhamer sneaked out of the harbour at night with some secrecy, the administrators have confirmed that it has been handed over to the mortgage company who provided £190,000 of finance.
“ I have been informed that the cost of repairs would exceed the amount owed to the finance company but I am not certain at this time whether the dredger will be sold ‘as is’ or possibly scrapped.
“I do feel that Somerset Council is under the spell, for unknown reasons, of the Marine Group, just accepting as fact whatever they are told without question and how they can consider granting a new 200-year lease I do not know. “Almost all of the businesses and residents are totally fed up with the lack of action by Somerset Council.
Advisory committee chair and deputy Watchet mayor Cllr Loretta Whetlor has written to Somerset Council expressing her concern. She said: “There are some very unedifying things happening in Watchet Marina and I and the rest of WHAC are extremely concerned.
“We are not being given any information and being completely left in the dark.
“The townspeople are very concerned and need some answers immediately.
“Please contact me with something to allay suspicions that we are being completely left in the dark and that things are going on that we are not being made aware of.
“For example, the dredger has been repossessed/sold and is now in Bullo, near Cinderford.
“Secondly, the upright pontoon structures are corroding where the rubber has been worn away due to lack of maintenance.
“Surely, now is the time to act against Chris Odling-Smee under whichever company he runs Watchet Marina.” In reply, a Somerset Council spokesman said that Mr Odling-Smee had confirmed that Doonhamer was in Cinderford, but would return to Watchet upon deal completion for a new dredging campaign.