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Stena Line Confirms End of Historic Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead Ferry Service

4th February 2015
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A sight no more!... HSS Stena Explorer in Dun Laoghaire Harbour. Photo: Jehan Ashmore
Stena Line Confirms End of Historic Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead Ferry Service

#RouteClosure - Stena Line has confirmed today a consolidation of its services from Holyhead to Dublin Port. This will see the closure of the neighbouring historic ferry service from the Welsh port to Dun Laoghaire Harbour. 

The company stated that it will be concentrating on expanding its existing ferry service at Dublin Port while at the same time confirming amid much speculation as previously reported on Afloat.ie that it is withdrawing its HSS Stena Explorer service from Dun Laoghaire Harbour. 

There has been a ferry service on this Irish Sea route for 170 years (since 1835).

Stena Line ceased the HSS fast-ferry operated summer season sailings as scheduled last September. However as previously reported, in November the operator made a surprise announcment in the cancellation of sailings over the Christmas and early New Year season.  

Ian Davies, Stena Line's Route Manager for Irish Sea South, said: "With two services operating approx. 10 miles apart we needed to make a decision in relation to what operation best serves the needs of our customers now and in the years ahead, and that operation is Dublin Port."

Stena Line has operated the HSS Stena Explorer into Dun Laoghaire since 1995 during which time the vessel has carried a mix of passengers, car and coach traffic. The Dun Laoghaire service was successful for several years following its introduction, carrying over 1.7 million passengers annually during its peak in 1998.

However, post the withdrawal of 'duty free' shopping, passenger and cars volumes declined dramatically and by 2014, less than 200,000 ferry passengers travelled through Dun Laoghaire Harbour. This represented a decline of over 90% in volume, making the route unsustainable.

During the same time period Stena Line has continued to make significant investment in larger better equipped vessels, and this, coupled with key improvements in road infrastructure and connectivity to Dublin, Belfast and further afield, has led to a significant uplift in both passenger and freight volumes through its evolving Dublin Port business.

Car and passenger volumes into Dublin Port overtook Dun Laoghaire as far back as 2008. Since then volumes through Dublin Port have continued to grow, as volumes through Dun Laoghaire have contracted thus providing Stena Line with a stark choice in relation to its future route network in the region.

Ian Davies added: "While we have enjoyed a very professional working relationship with Dun Laoghaire Harbour over many years, the economic realities of the current situation in relation to our business levels have left us with no choice but to close the service. Dublin continues to grow in importance, not only as the core freight port for Ireland but also as the key tourism gateway into Ireland."

"Ireland remains a strategically important region for us which is why Stena Line has invested over £250m across our Irish Sea business in the last five years alone. A number of economic indicators point to the continued recovery of the Irish and UK economies which has helped to stimulate renewed freight growth and returning tourism confidence in 2014. In 2014 we invested in a new Stena Line service to France from Rosslare and recently announced the arrival of the superferry Stena Superfast X into Dublin Port by late February."

Looking ahead, Stena Line is confident that this upward trend and to increasing its capacity on the Dublin Port service. The new vessel Superfast X  with space for up to 1, 200 passengers and 2 km of vehicle lane capacity will operate a year round sailing schedule.

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!

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