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Irish Authorities Approve Stena / DFDS Merger

15th April 2011
Irish Authorities Approve Stena / DFDS Merger
The €40m acquisition of DFDS Seaways by Stena AB through its subsidiary Stena Line (UK) Ltd last December has been approved by the Irish regulatory authority, though its UK counterpart awaits a decision, writes Jehan Ashmore.
The Irish Competition Authority's clearance of the proposed transaction sees Stena Line (UK) Ltd acquire the sole control of vessels, related assets, inventory, employees and contracts relating to passenger and freight ferry services operated by DFDS A/S.

Of the two services, the Belfast-Liverpool (Birkenhead) is for passengers and freight while the and Belfast-Heysham port route is exclusively for freight-only users. To read more about the decision from the authority click here.

In February the UK's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) referred Stena AB's acquisition from DFDS A/S to the Competition Commission, conclusions on the report are not expected to be made until 25 July. To read more about the merger click here.

In the meantime the Belfast-Liverpool (Birkenhead) route continues trading under the name of Stena Line Irish Sea Ferries Ltd which is separately operated to Stena Line's other Irish Sea routes.

Sailings on the 8-hour route are run by the Italian built 27,510 tonnes ro-pax twins Lagan Seaways and Mersey Seaways which have been in service since the newbuilds were launched in 2005.

As the acquisition remains subject to regulatory clearance, passengers intending to travel on the route can continue to make bookings through the DFDS Seaways website by logging onto this link.

In addition the acquisition involved the sale of the South Korean built freight-ferries Hibernia Seaways and Scotia Seaways which operate Belfast-Heysham sailings.

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore

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Jehan Ashmore is a marine correspondent, researcher and photographer, specialising in Irish ports, shipping and the ferry sector serving the UK and directly to mainland Europe. Jehan also occasionally writes a column, 'Maritime' Dalkey for the (Dalkey Community Council Newsletter) in addition to contributing to UK marine periodicals. 

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Ferry & Car Ferry News The ferry industry on the Irish Sea, is just like any other sector of the shipping industry, in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers all contributing to providing a network of routes carried out by a variety of ships designed for different albeit similar purposes.

All this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, 'ro-pax', where the vessel's primary design is to carry more freight capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases though, is in complete variance to the fast ferry craft where they carry many more passengers and charging a premium.

In reporting the ferry scene, we examine the constantly changing trends of this sector, as rival ferry operators are competing in an intensive environment, battling out for market share following the fallout of the economic crisis. All this has consequences some immediately felt, while at times, the effects can be drawn out over time, leading to the expense of others, through reduced competition or takeover or even face complete removal from the marketplace, as witnessed in recent years.

Arising from these challenging times, there are of course winners and losers, as exemplified in the trend to run high-speed ferry craft only during the peak-season summer months and on shorter distance routes. In addition, where fastcraft had once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days from the mid-90's onwards, they have been replaced by recent newcomers in the form of the 'fast ferry' and with increased levels of luxury, yet seeming to form as a cost-effective alternative.

Irish Sea Ferry Routes

Irrespective of the type of vessel deployed on Irish Sea routes (between 2-9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the wheels of industry moving as freight vehicles literally (roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motoring tourists and the humble 'foot' passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such the exclusive freight-only operators provide important trading routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight haulage customer is 'king' to generating year-round revenue to the ferry operator. However, custom built tonnage entering service in recent years has exceeded the level of capacity of the Irish Sea in certain quarters of the freight market.

A prime example of the necessity for trade in which we consumers often expect daily, though arguably question how it reached our shores, is the delivery of just in time perishable products to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival every morning and evening into our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax vessels and fast-craft all descend at the same time. In essence this a marine version to our road-based rush hour traffic going in and out along the commuter belts.

Across the Celtic Sea, the ferry scene coverage is also about those overnight direct ferry routes from Ireland connecting the north-western French ports in Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene may be in the majority running between February to November, however by no means does this lessen operator competition.

Noting there have been plans over the years to run a direct Irish –Iberian ferry service, which would open up existing and develop new freight markets. Should a direct service open, it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers ... heading for the sun!

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