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Irish Sea Ferry Figures Dip Slightly Reveal UK Industry Body

4th February 2016

#FerryFigures – Irish Sea ferry passengers totals for last year carried on all three main operators, were marginally down by 1.9% from 4.87m in 2014 to 4.78m in 2015, according to a UK wide industry report.

The operators, Irish Ferries, Stena Irish Sea and P&O Ferries formed part of the annual data of ferry figures released last month by Discover Ferries. The ferry industry body provide comprehensive details of ferry companies and routes operating on domestic and international routes from the UK.

Figures show that the UK’s total ferry operators carried 8.61 million cars in 2015, up 1.3% on the previous year. Overall passenger figures on 75 ferry routes held up at 38.90 million, slipping just 0.6% from last year and still 800,000 up compared to the 38.1 million passengers of 2013.

According to the 2015 Ferrystat* figures also released by Discover Ferries, that despite the much publicised disruption issues on the key Calais-Dover route last summer and the closure from July of MyFerrylink – overall continental ferry passengers were only down by 1%.

On the domestic ferry front, routes forged ahead recording their best passenger figures since 2011, with other sectors like the Western Channel and the Netherlands also recorded strong increases in both car and passenger traffic.

UK domestic ferries best performers in 2015

Ferry routes to domestic destinations such as the Isle of Wight, Isles of Scilly, Isle of Man, Channel Isles and Scottish Islands were the top performing sector up 2015, with total cars carried up 4.5% to 3.69m, and passengers up nearly 0.4% to 16m - the best domestic passenger figure since 2011.

Within this sector the Isle of Wight ferry routes carried 1.2% more passengers at 8.74m and 3.4% more cars at 1.78m, and Scottish operator Cal Mac recorded a significant increase of 6.9% in car carryings, to 1.17m, offering both lifeline and visitor services to their multiple western isles destinations.

UK-Continental ferry crossings prove resilient

Total passengers carried by P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways on the short sea routes to Calais and Dunkirk were still over 13m in 2015 (13.01m), compared with 13.29m in 2014, a drop of 2.2%.

Overall, however, continental passengers were down only 1%, from 18.32m in 2014 to 18.13m in 2015, as some passengers chose alternative ferry routes to the continent, resulting in good growth of 3.4% (2.94m passengers) on the Western channel routes to France principally served by Brittany Ferries, with cars carried up by 5.8% to 990,000 in 2015.

North Sea ferry routes run by Stena, DFDS and P&O Ferries increased by 3.9% the number of cars carried to 445,000 in 2015, carrying the same number of passengers in 2015 as 2014 (2.18m)

“The 2015 figures show the ferry industry is resilient and adaptable” said Discover Ferries’ director Bill Gibbons, “Domestic ferry routes carried nearly 16million passengers -their best year since 2011 and despite the summer issues at Calais last year P&O Ferries’ and DFDS operators adapted their capacity and sailings to great effect, and other continental ferry operators took up any car customers who were able to re-route. In perspective, ferry sailings to the Continent were down 8.5%, but passenger numbers in this sector only fell by 1%.

“Ferries also took other challenges in their stride in 2015, including the Government’s introduction of exit checks and significant investment required by new fuel emissions regulations. With ferry routes to northern Spain; Holland; the western Channel to France**; the Isle Of Wight; and Isles of Scilly all showing healthy passenger gains, it demonstrates the broad reach and appeal of the ferry industry and how operators can work together in challenging times. We expect a further surge in customer interest when the industry comes together again to promote National Ferry Fortnight (March 5-19) with offers to appeal to ferry first timers, and those trying a new ferry route with their car for the first time”

*2015 “Ferrystat” passenger figures compiled by IRN Research

**the western Channel is defined as any sea routes west of Dover from the South Coast of Britain

Published in Ferry
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!

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