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Ferry Captain Interview: Seatruck Ferries ‘P’ Class Dublin-Heysham Freight-Ferry

7th June 2014
Captain_Phil_Ankers
Master of the Dublin-Heysham freight-ferry, Seatruck Pace, Captain Phil Ankers. All Photos: Jehan Ashmore
Ferry Captain Interview: Seatruck Ferries ‘P’ Class Dublin-Heysham Freight-Ferry

#FerryCaptainInterview - Starting from last weekend is our new series of interviews with Irish Sea ferry captains. Jehan Ashmore talks to Captain Phil Ankers, master of Seatruck Ferries 'P' class ferry freight, Seatruck Pace which in late April entered service on the Dublin Port-Heysham service.

The larger 110 trailer-unit vessel replaces a smaller vessel on the route linking the capital and Lanchashire port. Her introduction also brings enhanced facilities for driver-accompanied trucks on the eight hour Ireland-UK link and offering 16 weekly departures to meet the demands of hauliers.

Before her recent return to Irish Sea, the vessel built as one of a quartet for Seatruck Ferries, had been chartered to Bluwater Shipping A/S to transport wind-farm components from Esbjerg in Denmark for the construction of the Gwynt y Môr Offshore Wind Farm off north Wales.

What set your interest to choose a seafaring career?
There had been seafaring in the family but it skipped a generation with my father, before him there had been two generations of marine engineers!

Name the colleges and or academies to where you studied seamanship courses?
For first certificate (2nd Mates) I studied in Riversdale College in Liverpool then for mates and masters, I studied in Liverpool Polytechnic.

Did any of these educational institutions involve using a training ship? or a stint of service on board a vessel as part of the programme module?
To get 2nd Mates you required 18 months sea service so we had 2 x 6-months in college and the rest spent at sea.

Seatruck Pace Dublin Bay

Seatruck Pace on her morning sailing departing Dublin Bay bound for Heysham in Lancashire

Seatruck Pace upper freight deck

Upper-deck of the 110 freight-unit (2,930 lane metres) larger 'P' class vessel which was introduced on the Irish Sea route in late April

What was the most interesting and also the most challenging aspect of your studying?
Ocean fleets traded worldwide so there was a good variety of interesting runs. Star sights were probably the more satisfying part, learning all law and construction was challenging.

For what reasons did you like a career in deep-sea and what ship was the most rewarding?
At the time you could go away to see the world as you had a little port time and shore-leave to do so. My first voyage to the Far East on 'Ascanus' then 'Glenlyon' were very good.

How many un-accompanied trailers can be handled (types of cargo) on the freight decks?
In total there are 116-trailers or 10 trucks and 12 self-drives (cars or lorries).

Since refurbishment upgrade, what facilities have improved for truck ferries and private motorists?
These Point ('P' ) class ships have offered very good facilities since launch, having private cabins with own-shower's +T.V. in addition a good drivers' mess lounge. The new FSG class of the 'Power' and 'Progress' are now much improved as they have privacy curtains and no bunk beds.

What nationalities make up the crew and how many are there in total between change of rosters?
On here we have 3, masters are British, chief officers are Estonian and all other ratings are also of the same nationality. In total we have 40 members of crew.

On average what is the speed of the vessel on the Irish Sea route?
Around 15 knots, the ship can achieve up to 20 knots but we average approximately 15 knots for economy service.

In terms of fuel, what capacity is consumed on each passage and how often do you need to take on bunkers?
The vessel consumes between 9 and 16 tonnes depending on one or two engine passages.

How often do you go on leave while your fellow counterpart relieves you on duty?
We work 2 weeks on 2 weeks off and this changes to 3 on and 3 off during the summer months.

What aspects do you enjoy the most on the freight-only service?
I have enjoyed passenger runs as well but we can give a more one-to-one service on this route for our 12 passengers, which can be for driver-accompanied trucks, private car motorists and those taking motorhomes.

How well suited is this ro-pax on the route and her sea-keeping handling?
This vessel is well suited to Irish Sea conditions.

Captain Phil Ankers bridge

Captain Phil Ankers on the bridge approaching berth at Dublin Port and a 'FSG' class ship serving Seatruck's route to Liverpool

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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