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Belfast Port Key to Two Decades of Stena Services

12th November 2015

#StenaBelfast20th - This year marks twenty years since Stena Line took up its ferry services in Belfast and 2015 is to be the operators busiest year to date for car and freight numbers.

In the two decades since it moved to Belfast on this day in 1995, Stena Line has expanded its services significantly. Currently the company employs over 900 staff, transports 1.4 million passengers, 318 000 cars and almost 500 000 freight units annually.

When the ferry firm established its Belfast operation on 12th November 1995, it operated three ferries to one port in Scotland. (See recent ferry award for Belfast-Cairnryan). Today, that service has expanded to seven vessels operating year round services to Cairnryan, Birkenhead (Liverpool) and Heysham with a mix of freight and leisure traffic.

Stena Line has delivered some impressive numbers on its Belfast services over the last two decades including transporting 26 million passengers, 5.5 million cars and over 4 million freight units. But as Route Manager (Irish Sea North) Paul Grant states, behind the numbers it’s the quality and reliability of the service that has been the hallmark of Stena Line’s successful Belfast operation, commenting: “The opportunity to develop a significant presence in Belfast was always going to be based on how well we developed our customer offering. Today our modern fleet offers a range of quality facilities have helped to set the standard for travel on the Irish Sea including Spa facilities, exclusive Plus lounges, family suites and dedicated Freight Driver lounges. When these facilities are back up by award winning crews and market leading punctuality and reliability figures, the next two decades look equally as exciting.”

The company has also taken a positive view of the development of the local economy over the last two decades. Hans Nilsson, Stena Line’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) said: ”Stena Line and the Stena Group are long term supporters of Belfast. Over the last two decades alone, working in partnership with Belfast Harbour, we have invested over £330 million in establishing and developing our services to and from Belfast. In fact this week we will have an eighth Stena vessel in Belfast with the 117 000 ton ice-breaker series Stena Arctica undergoing a major refit at Harland & Wolff, further testimony of support for and confidence in the local Northern Ireland economy.”

A number of notable milestones over the last two decades in Stena Line's Irish Sea North have including the construction of a new £35 million VT4 terminal in Belfast in 2008. Three years later in 2011 the company established a new port and terminal facility at Loch Ryan Port (Cairnryan) adding two award winning Superfast vessels. In the same year it also acquired the Belfast-Liverpool/Heysham routes from DFDS.

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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