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UK Ferryport Portsmouth International Celebrates 40th Birthday

13th January 2016

#FerryPort40th - The UK ferryport of Portsmouth celebrates its 40th anniversary this year as the Hampshire port opened in 1976.

Over those four decades the English Channel port has grown beyond all initial expectations having begun in June of that year with a small four acre site and with just a choice of two routes and one ‘linkspan' for passengers to board ferries.

Now Portsmouth International Port occupies a 17.6 hectare site, much of it on reclaimed land and from where three ferry companies operate. Brittany Ferries (France), Condor Ferries (Channel Islands) and Wightlink (Isle of Wight) combined offer crossings to more destinations than any other UK port. 

During the busier summer season, Portsmouth International Port will be celebrating the landmark birthday with a series of special events. Staff are also asking passengers to contribute their memories, photographs and home movies of the early days of what is now widely known as “Britain's Best Connected Port”.

The port was built by Portsmouth City Council right next to the M275, the port quickly gained the title because of its closeness to London, with a much larger range of connections on the continent than any other UK port. With no need for passengers and freight coming from the Midlands, West and North to navigate through the congested capital.

Despite the growth of package holidays and cheap air travel, Portsmouth continues to play an important role - as a gateway to the continent for more than 2 million passengers every year.

The south coast port is also increasingly popular as a destination for cruise ships (and as Afloat adds on occasions calling to Irish ports). Around 12 cruise operators bring tens of thousands of holidaymakers arriving every year to visit the port and the wider region.

It’s not all about ferry and cruiseships, as the port has also played a role in how changes in taste during the last four decades are reflected in the fresh produce that arrives daily at Portsmouth International Port.

Bananas have always been a mainstay of the operation, with more than 70% of the delicious fruit eaten in the UK now coming through Portsmouth.

In recent years though increasing amounts of more exotic fruits and vegetables have been arriving from all over the world. Back in 1976 it’s unlikely that anyone would have guessed that mangoes would be frequently seen at Portsmouth, heading to supermarket shelves.

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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