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Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead (HSS) High Speed Sailings Close

13th September 2011
Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead (HSS) High Speed Sailings Close
At 13.07hrs Stena Line's HSS 1500 fast-craft ferry HSS Stena Explorer pulled away from her berth for the last time this year on the Dun Laoghaire Harbour-Holyhead route, as she headed for the harbour mouth several crew members waved from the stern to shore-based colleagues on the link-span, writes Jehan Ashmore.
Only yesterday, sailings on the daily single-round trip operated route had to be cancelled due to adverse weather conditions on the Irish Sea caused by the tail end of Hurricane Katia. The decision with today's closure was made well in advance and comes as no surprise as the Stena Explorer (1996/19,638grt) "has traded at a financial loss for several years" according to her owners Stena Line. Around 53 staff in Dun Laoghaire will be affected by the decision.

The core reason to withdraw the HSS on the 120-minute route which is not to re-open until the 2012 season, rests with the high operating costs of the fuel-thirsty fast-ferry which is powered by four gas-turbine engines. In addition the route's generated most of its turnover during the period May-September, leaving the remaining months unsustainable, as such the company wants the route to be seasonal-only in the long-term.

HSS_Stena_Explorer

HSS Stena Explorer departs Dun Laoghaire Harbour on her final sailing this season. Photo: Jehan Ashmore

Passengers and freight customers will instead need to use the company's other Dublin Bay route between Dublin Port and Holyhead. The 3 hour 15-minute central corridor route is served by two ro-pax vessels, Stena Adventurer (2004/43,532 grt) and Stena Nordica (2000/24,206 grt) which operate to a year-round schedule, for times click HERE.

What is not certain is the precise date for resumption of Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead services as Stena Line have only indicated that they hope to reopen in April or May nor it is outlined as to what type of fast-craft would operate the route next year.

With today's break in service for at least the next six months, this is the most significant absence of the revolutionary HSS (High Speed Sea Service) 1500 fast-ferry which made her official maiden voyage on the route from Dun Laoghaire on 10th April 1996. The only other notable occasions when the HSS was off-service was for the short spells to allow for annual dry-docking, refit, repairs or when the route in recent years was partially operated by Stena Lynx III.

The 1500 referred to the number of passengers the Stena Explorer could accommodate. She was the first of the three Finish-built HSS 1500 catamaran vehicle capable carrying craft to enter service on three routes from the UK. The next sister completed HSS Stena Discovery entered service in the same year between Harwich-Hook van Holland and the final of the trio HSS Stena Voyager entered the Belfast-Stranraer route in 1997. Several years ago the HSS ceased operating on the Dutch route and the HSS currently serving on the North Channel is due to be replaced by conventional ferries in mid-November as previously reported on Afloat.ie, to read more click HERE.

On the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead service the HSS enjoyed the boom years, and at its peak there were five daily round trips. From 2006 onwards the routes fortunes began to decline due to the ending of duty-free sales, competition from low-cost airlines, and the increasing cost of fuel.

In order to stave off further losses, a series of cost cutting measures were implemented over the next five years. Firstly the sailing frequency was reduced then the passage times were increased to reduce fuel consumption at the expense of faster crossings. In addition the company resorted to withdrawing the Stena Explorer during the shoulder months surrounding the summer and as previously mentioned these sailings were covered by the Stena Lynx III.

When the Stena Explorer returned for the summer months, the Stena Lynx III switched to her normal high-season spell on Rosslare-Fishguard sailings in tandem with regular route vessel Stena Europe. This year she served as usual on the St. Georges Channel route with the last high-season sailing completed on 4 September.

Stena Lynx III remained initially at Fishguard until making a repositioning voyage to Dun Laoghaire via the Kish Lighthouse last Wednesday. She berthed adjacent to the now disused HSS berth link-span on St. Michaels Wharf. The Tasmanian built craft has spent previous winter layover periods in Dublin and last year in Dun Laoghaire whereas the Stena Explorer is expected to do so in her home port of Holyhead.

At the neighbouring Carlisle Pier, the former terminal where numerous steam-packets, 'mailboats' and the conventional Sealink/British Rail car-ferries served (the last being the Stena Adventurer better known as St. Columba built in 1977) there are plans for a national diaspora museum.

The centrepiece landmark building would form as part of the masterplan proposed by the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company as part of a concerted effort to offset the reduced role of ferry operations. The masterplan is also to attract cruiseship business amongst other proposals envisaged.

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

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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