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Stena Line Celebrate 50th Anniversary: Expanding Between Belfast and the Baltic

14th July 2012
Stena Line Celebrate 50th Anniversary: Expanding Between Belfast and the Baltic

#STENA 50TH ANNIVERSARY – In this 50th anniversary year of Stena Line, the Swedish owned ferry operator has 19 routes stretching from Belfast to Scandinavia. This is set to further expand as Stena have secured approval by German competition authorities to acquire Scandlines, a rival German ferry firm running in the Baltic Sea, writes Jehan Ashmore.

In the deal which is to be finalised in August, Stena Line are take-over five routes and two ships from Scandlines. The routes are mostly freight-orientated services to Germany, Sweden and Latvia would accelerate Stena's position in one of Europe's fastest growing short-sea shipping markets.

Incidentally the Scandlines ferry 'Sassnitz' (1989/21,154grt) featured on last Sunday's BBC One British version of the popular Swedish police drama series 'Wallander'. The vessel operates from Sassnitz in Germany to Trelleborg near Ystad, where the drama is set and in which detective Kurt Wallander is played by Belfast-born Kenneth Branagh who won a BAFTA in 2010 for the leading-role.

It was in Belfast last year that saw several developments by Stena Line taking place, notable the acquisition of DFDS Seaways Irish Sea operations which included the freight-only Belfast-Heysham and Belfast-Birkenhead (Liverpool) routes. Following this was the launch in November of two 'Superfast' ferries onto the new Belfast-Cairnryan route.

This is new territory as Stena have never operated from the Mersey on the 8-hour crossing which also operates night sailings. The route is another first for Stena on the Irish Sea, which is been marketed as one of their 'Overnight Superferry' routes, however they similarly market other routes being: Harwich-Hook van Holland, Frederikshavn-Oslo, Gothenburg-Kiel and Karlskrona-Gdynia.

As part of the deal with DFDS the 27,000 tons ro-pax sisterships Lagan Seaways and Mersey Seaways would remain on the route, as an existing charter arrangement had still to run its course.

To reflect the change of ferry operator, the sisters were renamed Stena Lagan and Stena Mersey and by the end of March this year both of the 980-passenger / 2,662-vehicle deck lane metre capacity vessels, underwent each a £1.5m internal refurbishment at Harland & Wolff and external painting.

The upgrade saw passenger facilities greatly improved compared to a somewhat spartan interiors as prescribed when the ships were completed by Italian shipbuilder Visentini. Since the vessels return to service the pair have been purchased from the charterer by Stena RoRo, the Gothenburg based charter division of Stena Line.

In essence this means that should further refurbishment of Stena style passenger facilities be planned, they can now be carried out without limitations imposed by the previous charter-owners.

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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