THE Sandbanks ferry lost almost a third of its income in the year when a fault put it out of action for 16 weeks.

Accounts for the service’s parent company show ferry tolls totalled £1.7m in the financial year to March 31, 2020 – down from £2.5m the previous year.

The period covered in the accounts contains only a few days of the 2020 coronavirus crisis, which also hit passenger numbers and caused the ferry service to be suspended for a period.

The ferry, the Bramble Bush Bay, was out of service between July and October 2019 because of a broken driveshaft, forcing people to take a 25-mile route between Sandbanks and Studland.

Sandbanks Ferry withdrawal a 'nightmare' for business and residents

It was initially thought the ferry would only be out of service for a month, but the need for a specialist part from Sweden caused a lengthy delay.

The ferry’s operator said it paid an extra £46,000 to halve the time taken to secure the replacement part – and replaced a second unaffected driveshaft assembly at the same time to minimise any risk of another breakdown.

Sandbanks Ferry is finally back in service

Mike Kean, managing director of Sandbanks Ferry, said: “The summer outage in 2019 understandably impacted the ferry’s finances due to both loss of income and significant repair costs.

“Covid-19 has also had a significant impact on the business over the last year, but we know it has also impacted many of our customers too, which is one of the reasons we recently launched the new books of 100 pre-purchased tickets at a 38 per cent discount to the standard toll.

“We, like lots of other businesses, are now hoping for a busy summer 2021, with lots of people enjoying Covid-safe ferry trips as part of their visit to the beautiful Dorset coast.”

The Bournemouth-Swanage Motor Road and Ferry Company, set up by a 1923 act of Parliament, is part of the Essex-based Fairacres Group, which also owns property and hotels.

The group as a whole recorded a loss of £7m in the year to March 31, 2020 after revising downwards the value of its hotels.

The ferry itself was valued by outside experts at £1.9m, while a professional estimate put the cost of a replacement at £8.4m. During the year, the ferry company put £792,027 into its reserve fund for replacing the vessel, compared with £74,644 in 2019.

Ferry crossings were suspended from April 21 to June 17 last year after the first Covid lockdown led to a drastic drop in passenger numbers.

Sandbanks Ferry is set to return to full service timetable

The ferry is running a reduced service at the moment because of the Covid lockdown but is due to return to its normal timetable on April 1.