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Leinster Seaboard Trials Continue for Arklow Newbuild Northern Car Ferry

29th November 2016
Leinster seaboard scene off the coast of the eastern province as the stout looking carferry Spirit of Rathlin carries out sea trials. Leinster seaboard scene off the coast of the eastern province as the stout looking carferry Spirit of Rathlin carries out sea trials. Photo: AMS

#SeaTrials – Off the Leinster seaboard an Arklow built car ferry contracted by Northern Ireland’s Department of Infrastructure continues to carry out sea trials today, writes Jehan Ashmore.

As previously reported on Afloat.ie the Spirit of Rathlin, a 6 vehicle /140 passenger capacity ferry was launched in September by Arklow Marine Services for the Ballycastle-Rathlin Island route.
The twin-screw car ferry with Belfast as a port of registry departed Arklow from where this morning the 28m long vessel with a beam of 8m is currently underway on sea trials.

Earlier this month the identity of the new operator of the Co. Antrim service to use Spirit of Rathlin following a procurement process was according to Dfi to be announced shortly.

It is rare to have an Irish built car-ferry as previously reported when the newbuild was hoisted from the North Quay in Arklow to be lowered into the River Avoca. The yard owned by the famous Tyrrell family whose generations have built small ships and boats at the shipyard stretching to 1864.

The yards founder John Tyrell opened the boatbuilding facility then on the south quays of the river. In more recent years one of the yard's most iconic vessels built was the brigantine Asgard II. This two-masted tallship was the Irish state’s first custom built sail training vessel launched in 1984.

In terms of car ferry construction the yard for example built in 1999 the Ikom K a 4 car / 60 passenger capacity ferry and likewise of Spirit of Rathin ordered for domestic service. The Ikom K though operates for clients in southern waters for owners Murphy Ferry Service linking Castetownbere to Bere Island, Co. Cork.

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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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