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Giro d’Italia’s Titanic Quarter Recycles Belfast’s Port Link with Tour de France

10th May 2014
Giro d’Italia’s Titanic Quarter Recycles Belfast’s Port Link with Tour de France

#CycleFerry – Only seconds into the Giro d'Italia Discover Northern Ireland TV advert, there's a fleeting glimpse of a Harland & Wolff built ferry that was involved in the logistics of the last prestigious cycling race to this island, the Tour de France in 1998, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The footage shows Belfast's iconic yellow shipyard gantry cranes, Samsun and Goliath, (this weekend flooded at night in pink to reflect Giro D'Italia's pink jersey) and the former Stena Line ferry, Stena Caledonia.

As previously reported on she was sold to Indonesian interests and renamed Port Link. Following the end of the three stages of the Tour de France, Stena Caledonia carried out a special chartered sailing for the cycling's vehicle entourage from Rosslare to Roscoff.

The Wexford-Breton route then, nor now, is operated by the company, though this Spring Stena Line acquired the operations of Celtic Link Ferries route to Cherbourg. Stena's first ever Ireland-continent route is served by Stena Horizon, an Italian flagged ro-pax ferry registered in Bari. After the three Irish stages, the Adriatic port is incidently the destination to where the first 'Italian' stage of the 97th Giro d'Italia finishes next Tuesday.

Likewise to the three stages of the Tour de France, the logistics involved were not only confined to Rosslare. As additional charters of two other Stena Line ferries were drafted in, Stena Challenger and Koningin Beatrix which called to Cork (Ringaskiddy ferry terminal), a first for the company. The pair also sailed to Roscoff.

Returning to the Stena Caledonia, as seen in the Giro D'Italia advert, she was berthed under the shadow of the giant gantry cranes at the Queen Island berth until her sale to PT ASDP Indonesia Ferry (Persero) and delivery voyage from Belfast Lough in 2012 as Port Link.


Portlink berthed at Belfast, close to the H&W shipyard cranes, the vessel is seen on the Giro d'Italia as the previously named Stena Caledonia, noting full Stena Line corporate livery and stern bridge. Photo Jehan Ashmore

She was the final member of a quartet of 'Saint' class ferried ordered for original owners, Sealink / British Rail and launched in 1981 as St. David.

Of the foursome, she was the only one designed with a stern-bridge so to ease operations during berthing in the restricted confines of the inner harbour in Holyhead while on the Dun Laoghaire route, in which she seldom served.

It was also apt that yesterday's 'Grande Partenza' or Big Start, saw the cyclist team trails set off from the Titanic Quarter, at the site to where a former slipway once occupied another ship built at the yard', the White Star liner RMS Titanic in 1912.

Only three years previously the Giro d'Italia was founded in 1909 and after a century later (with exceptions due to two world wars), the start of this year's Giro has for the first time begun outside mainland Europe.



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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!