#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.