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Belfast Bids Farewell as Last Harland & Wolff built Irish Sea ‘Sealink’ Ferry Sets Sail

3rd July 2012
Belfast Bids Farewell as Last Harland & Wolff built Irish Sea ‘Sealink’ Ferry Sets Sail

#FERRY DEPARTS FOR INDONESIA – An end of an era was marked this afternoon with the departure of the last passenger ship (including 'Sealink' car-ferry) built by Harland & Wolff, when Portlink, slipped down Belfast Lough, for the last time, for new owners in South East Asia, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Since November the ferry then named Stena Caledonia was withdrwan from Stena Line's Belfast-Stranraer route following the opening of a new €80m ferry terminal at Loch Ryan Port close to Cairnryan. The new route is also operated by a pair of larger, newer 'Superfast' sisterships built in 2001, while the older ferry embarks on a career with PT ASDP Indonesia Ferry (Persero).

Originally Stena Caledonia started her career as the St. David, which was launched in 1981 as the final member of a quartet of 'Saint' class near sisterships for Sealink/ British Rail. With her sale to overseas owners, she was the last of the Saint class still operating in UK waters.

Before today's start of the delivery voyage which includes a port of call to Gibraltar, invariably to call for bunkers, the 31 year-old veteran vessel, had been berthed close to the H&W's Musgrave yard. The St. David became the last vessel launched from that particular yard at the Queens Island complex. Incidentally she would also become the last ever passenger ship built at H&W.

For over the last two decades Stena Caledonia has provided a sterling service operating on the North Channel, firstly from Larne-Stranraer when Sealink was taken over by Stena Line in 1990 and then the route switched several years later to the Belfast-Stranraer route.

While in her earlier career as St. David she operated on two routes she was purpose built for between Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead and Rosslare-Fishguard, though she rarely served on the St. Georges service.

Instead she was deployed mostly on the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead route alongside St. Columba, where these vessels featured a stern-bridge. The stern-bridge in itself also reflected an end of an era in ferry design,  this was to facilitate easier and safer access while navigating the tighter confines of the inner harbour of the Welsh port located on Holy Island.

In between her early and final years on the Irish Sea, St. David also ran on routes from Dover where Sealink /British Rail operated their 'Blue' Ribbon service to Calais maintained by two of her three sisters.

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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