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I.O.M. Steam Packet Company Secure Charter of Seatruck Freighter

11th October 2013
I.O.M. Steam Packet Company Secure Charter of Seatruck Freighter

#NEWManxFreighter – In a move to further consolidate freight-service operations, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company has chartered Seatruck Ferries R-class ro-ro freighter Arrow (1998/7,606grt) on a long-term basis, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The agreement includes an option to purchase the 84-truck trailer capacity vessel should this be necessary. The charter of Arrow provides the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company with a long-term back-up for its vital freight services, as well as guaranteed additional capacity to help grow the TT Races and Isle of Man Festival of Motorcycling.

With the introduction of Arrow, the additional freight comes at a time when Ellan Vannin Line, as previously reported on, a new Manx based shipping company aim to introduce a rival freight service to the UK mainland in the first quarter of 2014.

According to the Ellan Vannin Line website, they also plan to start a IOM-UK ro-ro ferry service in readiness for the TT Races next year. Currently the IOM Steam Packet Company are the only operator of all passenger services that link ports to Heyham, Belfast, Dublin, Liverpool and Birkenhead.

Chief Executive Mark Woodward of the Steam Packet said: "MV Arrow is one of a class of vessels ideally suited to Steam Packet Company needs and the services we provide. Vessels which are suitable for operation in all weathers and at all states of tide in both Douglas and Heysham harbours are now becoming increasingly scarce. In recent years it has proven difficult to charter vessels for the short period necessary to either cover the Ben-my-Chree overhaul or simply to provide extra capacity at TT."

Mr. Woodward added: "In the short-term the charter will allow certainty in planning for the scheduled biennial overhaul of Ben-my-Chree in April 2014. It will also enable us to plan ahead and to devote the Ben-my-Chree fully to visitor traffic for next year's TT event, while the MV Arrow provides a bespoke and uninterrupted service for our freight customers."

Chairman Robert Quayle concluded: "We have been concerned for some time now at the falling number of suitable vessels available to us on the charter market. As a result of the recently announced debt reduction, the Steam Packet Company is now well placed to be able to implement key strategic developments for the future."

The company's main vessel the ro-pax ferry Ben-my-Chree. The 12,504 tonnes ferry has been the island's workhorse having provided 15 years of loyal service since introduction in 1998 primarily on the Douglas-Heysham route.

She also operates during Bank Holiday periods running sailings on the seasonal-only route to Dublin, with the balance of summer crossings covered by fast-craft Mannanan. Next month she is to resume operating winter-only sailings on the route to Birkenhead (Liverpool).

In those 15 years of service Ben-my-Chree has carried the equivalent of the Island's population 45 times over and enough freight to reach from Douglas to Birkenhead and back more than 20 times.

The sixth company vessel to carry the name Ben-My-Chree, has carried around 3.9 million passengers, 1.1 million cars, 250,000 motorcycles, and more than 100,000 vans and trade cars.
Freight is measured in metres in which her vehicle decks total 1,235 lane metres and it is estimated she has carried 6.2 million metres of freight. She has moved approximately 500,000 freight trailers which has involved carrying everything from food to space capsules.

She has provided a vital link for the Isle of Man Island all year round, with an exemplary reliability record of 97.8% since January 2010.

The £25m Ben-My-Chree was custom-built built by the Dutch yard of Van der Giessen de Noord shipyard in the Netherlands, for the 'Steam Packet' which claims to be the oldest continually operating passenger shipping company in the world, having begun operations in 1830.


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!