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Bay of Biscay Ferry Route Nantes-Vigo Wins €27m Subsidy

9th December 2015

#MotorwayOfTheSea – The France-Spain ‘motorway of the sea’ (MoS) ro-ro service between the Atlantic ports of St. Nazaire (Nantes) and Vigo, with capacity for 100 unaccompanied trailers is to benefit from €27 million in state aid, with both countries each contributing €12 million in funding.

The service will also benefit from a €3 million subsidy from the European Union within the framework of its ‘Marco Polo’ sustainable freight transport programme.

Lloyd’s Loading understands that the €27 million in funding is to be spread across seven years, ensuring the economic viability of this MoS service in the mid-term and giving hauliers an alternative to crossing much of France and Spain by truck. The transit time of the St.Nazaire-Vigo ferry is 27 hours.

Also according to Lloyds, a rival to the ‘freight-only’ service operated by Suardiaz Atlántica was LD Lines St Nazaire-Gijón route that closed in September 2014. The company withdrew its three-times-weekly MoS service as public sector subsidies totalling €34 million over a period of four years were not prolonged. For more on the story, click here. adds that LD Lines also that month closed two UK-Spain Routes from Poole, Dorset. The passenger and freight company were citing reasons to close were due to a 'business review' of operations.

LD Lines had operated the ro-pax Norman Atlantic (2009/26,904gt) on the St Nazaire-Gijón route and on an Irish leg of the landbridge route to Spain, this been St. Nazaire-Rosslare. This double route service, Rosslare-St.Nazaire-Gijón, was historic in that it was the first ferry connecting Ireland and Spain, albeit via France.

The ferry launched the Irish route under the name Scintu (see, photo), having served service in the Mediterranean. She was renamed to reflect her 'Atlantic' routes role.

The Rosslare-St.Nazaire route begin in early 2014, however the service suffered an interruption when the Visentini built ro-pax taken off service for three months in March. This was initially to dry-dock the Norman Atlantic and it is understood the ro-pax boosted capacity in support of her sister, Norman Astuarias (2007/26,904) on the France-Spain leg of the route.

In June, the 550 passenger Norman Atlantic (see, photo) resumed the 22 hour route between Wexford and the Loire-Atlantique, yet this would only last to late August when LD Lines completely pulled the plug on the Irish route.

Another Bay of Biscay route was proposed between the Port of Cork Company and the Port of Gijon which was due to began in March 2011. Dialogue with potential operators and investors in the project, however proved more challenging given then the business climate to establish the direct Ireland-Spain service. 

Returning to LD Lines and following the closure of the France-Spanish service, the Norman Atlantic was chartered to Anek Lines. Tragically her last sailing took place almost a year ago in late December 2014 when fire broke-out on the vehicle deck. The incident occured 80 miles west of Corfu during a sailing from Patras, Greece to the Italian port of Ancona.

According to Ships Monthly, high seas and strong winds hampered rescue operations, with fatalities on board, along with two crew members who died on an Albanian tug when a tow line snapped.

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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