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New Craft for London Thames Commuters Recalls Memories of Dublin Liffey Service

22nd October 2016
Underway in the Pool of London, Thames river-bus Meteor Clipper with RMS St. Helena alongside HMS Belfast. The Royal Mail Ship, RMS St. Helena as reported on Afloat in June made an historic first ever visit to the UK capital. She was due to be decommissioned from routine South Africa-St. Helena route this summer, following construction of the South Atlantic island’s first airport. The airport however has not opened due to aviation safety concerns which has led to extension of RMS service. Underway in the Pool of London, Thames river-bus Meteor Clipper with RMS St. Helena alongside HMS Belfast. The Royal Mail Ship, RMS St. Helena as reported on Afloat in June made an historic first ever visit to the UK capital. She was due to be decommissioned from routine South Africa-St. Helena route this summer, following construction of the South Atlantic island’s first airport. The airport however has not opened due to aviation safety concerns which has led to extension of RMS service. Photo: JEHAN ASHMORE

#CityRiverFerry – Last night’s Late Late Show’s competition for a holiday in the UK capital is where visitors can take in the sights of the famous River Thames, which is to benefit with new larger passenger craft in summer 2017, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The order for a pair of 170 passenger craft represents the largest fast passenger ferries contracted from a UK shipyard in over 25 years. Confirmation of the order was recently announced by shuttle river-bus operator, MBNA Thames Clippers. By the end of this year, they are to carry over four million commuters and tourists alike on Old Father Thames through central London.

MBNA Thames Clippers, have placed the £6.3m order for the 35m high-speed craft with an Isle of Wight yard. They will add 14% in capacity to the network and increase frequency. The newbuilds follow a pair of 150 passenger catamarans dating only to 2015. The fleet currently totals 15 craft, which includes Meteor Clipper pictured above (when captured from under London Bridge). 

Asides the busy commuter routes, MBNA Thames Clipper also serve the O2 Arena (former Millennium Dome) downriver in the north Greenwich area, by making before and after event trips.

This service echoes that of a Dublin operation during the mid-1990’s, where Liffey Line had a shuttle river-bus linking City Quay (near Tara DART Station) downriver to the Point Theatre at the North Wall. This is also where round-trips where made from the city-centre to serve patrons of the theatre. The venue would latter become the The O2 currently is now named the 3Arena. 

The craft used was formerly from the Shannon, in which I recall plying the Liffey with advertising hoardings sponsored by Guinness. At the time this bought fresh memories of the stout tankers, The Lady Patricia and Miranda Guinness that had only been disposed a few years previously.

Afloat on another posting will be examining in more detail other operations on the Liffey. This will feature both past and present 'excursion' only operator, Dublin Discovered Boat Tours. 

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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