FEARS for the future of the Hythe Ferry were voiced last night after the operator admitted: "We have run out of money."

Coronavirus restrictions and a corresponding drop in passenger numbers have left Blue Funnel Ferries facing a cash crisis, potentially putting 20 jobs at risk.

The service has been suspended since before the start of the latest lockdown and is unlikely to resume in the near future.

Blue Funnel needs to raise at least £60,000 to cover expenses, including the cost of refitting its main vessel, and is urgently seeking new sources of funding.

The scale of the problem facing the company has been laid bare in a statement issued on social media.

Director Lee Rayment said: "The problem is, we have run out of money.

"The service has not made a profit for 18 months, showing a total loss of over £190,000. We have nothing left to get going again.

"The vessel is due a refit before June and this will cost £60,000 minimum. We are not going to earn that before the refit. In addition, we don't have the money to keep the business running on a potential loss.

"We are trying to speak to local government bodies for help and financial assistance."

Mr Rayment referred to the success of a Crowdfunding campaign launched last summer but added: "Unfortunately a similar amount just would not be enough.

"I hope this clarifies the position and why we are not in a rush to restart any time soon."

Mr Rayment told the Daily Echo: "I am always hopeful and optimistic we can get some form of financial assistance. Meetings are taking place regularly with different people who could possibly assist.

"We're looking for £60,000 for the refit, plus support to get the service back on its feet. There are 20 jobs at risk, plus hundreds of years of heritage."

Hampshire author Alan Titheridge, who has written a book about the history of the ferry, added: "Losing the service to Southampton would be a devastating loss to the Waterside community.

"The ferry is still a vital cog in the local transport infrastructure, a more environmentally-friendly option to the clogged roads into the city.

"Blue Funnel Ferries has revived the service since it took over in 2017. It doesn't deserve to become a victim of the pandemic."

Hampshire county councillor David Harrison, who represents part of the Waterside area, also voiced concern.

He said: "It is fair to say that all public transport operators have suffered very badly as a result of the pandemic and lockdowns.

"The issue is even more acute when the transport isn't owned and managed by a large national organisation with reserves to sustain it.

"The Hythe ferry is a relatively small, independent, business. One hopes the closure will be temporary and they can start operating profitably in the future."