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Belfast Bids Farewell to Fastferry HSS Craft Bound for the Breakers

8th May 2013
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Belfast Bids Farewell to Fastferry HSS Craft Bound for the Breakers

#FarewellHSS- A fast-ferry that served the Belfast-Stranraer route, which no longer exists, departed Belfast for the final time at the weekend. The ferry HSS Stena Voyager is bound for Sweden where she is to be scrapped, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The 19,000 tonnes Stena Voyager is under tow to the Öresundsvarvet shipyard in Landskrona, where she will be recycled by a subsidiary of the ferry company, Stena Recycling.

All of the vessels various components will be recycled, as far as is possible, to maintain the company's environmental reputation. Some of the materials will even be reused in the form of car parts or furniture.

Stena Voyager was displaced on the Northern Channel route in November 2011 following the change of Scottish port, from Stranraer at the end of the lough to Cairnryan which is closer to the open sea.

In addition a pair of conventional yet fast ro-pax 'Superfast' ferries were introduced bringing superior facilities coupled with greater freight capacity.

These factors combined with a shorter passage time between Belfast and Cairnryan and rising fuel costs over several years saw the writing on the wall for the HSS craft, which when introduced in the mid 1990's were the pride of the Stena Line fleet.

The Swedish ferry giant commissioned a trio of HSS (High Speed sea-Service) fast-craft, whose futuristic appearance and technology was adopted from the world of aviation that included gas-turbine engines to power water-jets producing up to 40 knots.

Stena Voyager carried 1,500 passengers and 375 cars and she was launched onto the North Channel route in 1996, since then the fast-craft has carried more than 17m passengers and over 45,000 sailings.

"Whilst the HSS class was a unique and highly innovative development for Stena Line, unfortunately the spiralling costs of operating the Stena Voyager have become all too high. When the Voyager was first put into service fuel was approximately $20 per barrel and now the price is around $110 dollar, for a fuel hungry vessel this is simply untenable," said Michael McGrath, Stena Line's Chief Operating Officer.

The first of the revolutionary craft was HSS Stena Explorer which currently maintains the seasonal-only Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead having been also introduced in 1996. Final member of the class was HSS Stena Discovery which served Harwich-Hook van Holland from 1997, however she was the first to go and now serves operators out of Venezuela.

The concept of the HSS craft were also to compete with air-travel on the short hop between Northern Ireland and Scotland. In tandem the HSS ran alongside older conventional ferries, among them Stena Caledonia, which was sold last year to Indonesian operator ASDP and renamed Port Link.

 

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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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