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Almost Full Circle: Seatruck's New Bristol Trade Car Route Recalls Seaspeed's Dublin / Cork Era

8th October 2016
Seaspeed Challenger berthed Barry, south Wales, during the 1970's trade car business for Ford imports through Dublin and Cork. Post Brexit, could there be a revival but trading by Nissan and in the reverse direction out of the southern city? Seaspeed Challenger berthed Barry, south Wales, during the 1970's trade car business for Ford imports through Dublin and Cork. Post Brexit, could there be a revival but trading by Nissan and in the reverse direction out of the southern city? Photo: Peter Christian Olsen /Shipspotting.com

#Almost360Seatruck Ferries launch of new Dublin-Bristol route last month is almost full circle, as a similar trade car service began more than 40 years ago, albeit instead using a south Wales port, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The ro-ro Clipper Ranger, an R class freight ferry with a capacity for 165 unaccompanied trailer units has been in service since early September on the English route. The Port of Bristol (Portbury) is where the UK west coast port is also a major hub for car imports. This is where Seatruck have tapped into the car manufacturering industry by entering the Irish marketplace through Dublin Port.

In a further developent, according to today's TheJournal.ie, Nissan has denied speculation it will move to Cork as the car manufacturer would either build a new facility or move its Sunderland car plant to the Irish city.

Asides the speculation, Seatruck’s new service is the first ro-ro freight only service connecting Dublin and a Bristol Channel port since the early 1970’s. It is again this role of the car industry that links the Ireland-UK connection to more than four decades ago as in 1974, Seaspeed Ferries established a Dublin-Barry route and in the same year added a second link, Cork-Barry in south Wales.

The Irish city is where Ford had an assembly plant rolling out cars off the production line. Large numbers of completed vehicles, however were also imported in which Seaspeed secured that contract.

The Ford contract proved so successful for Seaspeed, that they increased the Celtic Sea route from once weekly to that of twice weekly on the Barry-Cork service. The newcomer during their tenure on both Barry-Dublin /Cork routes was served by three vessels. Seaspeed Ferry, Seaspeed Trailer and Seaspeed Challenger which traded for Seaspeed Ferries Corporation, Piraeus.

The Greek based operator, however faced what they claimed a lack of co-operation from B+I Line, to whom they shared the linkspan at Cork’s Tivoli terminal. This was a contributory factor that led to Seaspeed pulling out of Cork in late 1975 and instead concentrate on Dublin-Barry operations.

In an ironic twist, Seaspeed Challenger was chartered by B+I Line years later, when in 1989 the state-owned ferry operator had to seek tonnage to increase freight capacity on Rosslare-Pembroke Dock route. B+I had failed to secure a passenger car ferry that could also handle adequate freight capacity on the St. Georges Channel route to Pembroke Dock.

During the charter to B+I, Seaspeed Challenger, had since changed hands and named as Oleander under Cypriot flag. The 3,163 tonnes vessel presented an unusual appearance in Irish waters, given her Mediterranean naval architecture background, sporting sweeping lines having been launched in 1973 as Monica Russotti in Messina, Sicily. Such Italian styling was notably taken in when an opportunity arose to board the then red hulled vessel at Rosslare in between freight sailings.

Rivals, Sealink British Ferries serving Fishguard, had chartered Earl Harold, a former Channel Islands car ferry to B+I Line. Uniquely, the SBF ferry was liveried in her Irish counterpart colours.

Returning to B+I’s operations at Cork, the linkspan at Tivoli was not just for their south Wales link but also served Brittany Ferries on their continental crossings to and from Roscoff. The present day terminal is 12 miles downriver at Ringaskiddy in lower Cork Harbour. Sadly, Brittany Ferries are the sole users of the facility on which the seasonal-only service ceases early next month.

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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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