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One Year On Since Stena HSS Withdrawn from Dun Laoghaire Service... What Next?

10th September 2015

#HSSoneYearOn – Today, marks the first anniversary since Stena Line withdrew HSS fast-ferry services in 2014 on the historic Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead route linking Ireland and Wales that can be traced back to 1835, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The axing of the Highspeed Sea Service (HSS) craft on the central corridor Irish Sea route took place yesterday 12 months, when the final sailing was carried out on 9 September 2014, thus also ending connections to the era of the first direct 'rail-ship' capitals link between Dublin and London that began in 1848.

Stena's switch to Dublin Port in 2014 was to consolidate on existing operations to Holyhead. The move also saw the introduction of Stena Superfast X in March this year to boost capacity alongside route partner Stena Adventurer.

It was recently announced by Stena Line they are to make a planning application request to dismantle the idle HSS berth at the Dun Laoghaire Ferry Terminal on St. Micheals Wharf.

The purpose-built berth link-span (with a covered walkway above and connecting to the terminal), could only be used by the revolutionary craft as they that used satellite technology to dock.

Incidentally, the foyer of the ferry terminal this cruise-season and before has been adapted for check-in purposes, albeit only for turnaround cruises served by the five-masted wind assisted Wind Surf which docked inside the harbour.

It should be pointed out this check-in procedure involved guests having to then transfer to Carlisle Pier, where Wind Surf and other small cruise ships have berthed in previous seasons.

Considerably larger and deep-drafted cruiseships currently have to anchor offshore which necessitates tendering of cruise-goers ashore. This is where Dun Laogahire harbour Company have proposed an €18m cruise-berth to address this issue, albeit amid much controversy. Added to this is the backdrop of Dublin Port’s ABR project to include a €30m cruise terminal already granted planning permission by An Bord Pleanala.

Also in Dublin Port is where Irish Ferries are in competition with Stena which launched servies to Holyhead in 1995. In the following year Stena entered the HSS fast-ferry on the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead route replacing the conventional ferry.

The ferry terminal on St. Michaels Wharf was custom built in 1995 for the HSS. So could the facility be better utilised for cruise ships than is currently proposed? There have been calls in the debate to attract specialist small cruiseship operators to bring a more discerning clientele to visit Dun Laoghaire, leaving Dublin to concentrate on mass-capacity cruiseships with equally larger-scaled vessels docking in the capital.

As for the restoration of a seasonal ferry service as sought by Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, they said a berth would be made available in 2016. In response, seven operators have shown an interest to run the 52-nautical mile route.

Asides the HSS berth the only other link-span is a legacy of an older 1960's built carferry terminal. This link-span was adapted for fast-ferry craft based on a succession of smaller Stena ‘Lynx’ craft that first pioneered fast-ferry services on the route in 1993.

It was the launch of the HSS Stena Explorer, the first of a trio of HSS 1500 sisters and the world’s largest fast-ferries capable of carrying trucks too that was a game-changer. Also, this particular HSS craft was the first to enter Stena service on the Irish Sea.

The concept of the HSS Stena Explorer would also set a benchmark as the Finnish built craft had an expansive and impressive open planned passenger deck. She also had the ability to make passage times of only 99 minutes.

At the height of her career, she handled 1.7 million passengers in 2008, however in recent years the service was notably in decline.

A combination of factors led to the closure among them fuel for the gas turbine-engined craft soared and a sharp drop in passengers volumes which plummeted to less than 200,000 passengers in her final year of service.

During Stena Explorer's career of 18 years she carried 15.5 million passengers, 3.15 million cars and 469,000 thousand freight units.

Another major indicator that the writing was on the wall was increased sailing times of 2 hours 20 minutes to stave off operating costs. Added to this was a reduced sailing schedule of only a single daily round trip and based on a seasonal-only service introduced in 2012.

Currently, the only fast-ferry on the central corridor is Irish Ferries High Speed Craft (HSC) Jonathan Swift which crosses the Dublin-Holyhead route in 1 hour 49 minutes.

Compare this fast-ferry passage time to the 3 hours 30 minutes taken by conventional ferries also operated by the company as indeed by Stena on the same route to Wales.

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!