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Rare Launch in Irish Shipbuilding of Car Ferry at Arklow for Rathlin Island

28th September 2016
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Rare moment in Irish shipbuilding as the new carferry Spirit of Rathlin is lowered into the River Avoca yesterday Rare moment in Irish shipbuilding as the new carferry Spirit of Rathlin is lowered into the River Avoca yesterday Photo: AMS

#FerryLaunched – A newbuild and that of a car ferry, which is rare in Irish shipbuilding, was launched at Arklow, Co. Wicklow yesterday, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The 6 vehicle / 140 passenger ferry, Spirit of Rathlin was launched from Arklow Marine Services, which involved the Belfast registered newbuild hoisted off the quayside by a floating crane, Lara 1 and lowered into the River Avoca. The self-propelled crane barge was chartered to the the port for the operation and is more commonly known as the former Mersey Docks & Harbour Board's Mersey Mammoth.

Spectators lined the banks opposite North Quay, to witness the proud moment for the boatyard which was awarded the contract by Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure (DFI). The DFI is still in the process of evaluating the bids for tenderers as previously reported to operate the new Rathlin ferry between the island off Co. Antrim and Ballycastle.

Arklow Marine which is owned by the Tyrrell family, now in their fifth generation of running the marine engineering business synominous with Irish shipbuilding that can trace its origins to 1864. Among the most famous of vessels launched was the State's first custom built sail-training ship, the brigantine, Asgard II built in 1981. 

Asides car ferry building, the yard have also designed and constructed vessels including aluminium catamarans, amphibious vessels, trawlers, tugs, and workboats. They also carry out conversion, repair and refit work.

In more recent years AMS has branched out into specialist newbuilds for the offshore energy sector, with the completion of Wind Farm Service support vessels for the UK market. 

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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