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Waterford Ferries: From Falklands Conflict to Foyle’s War

22nd December 2016
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VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE: Former Celtic Link Ferries Diplomat at Waterford City in 2010 with view of the upper freight deck that obscures the bow. This deck during the Falklands ‘Conflict’ War in 1982 involved RAF ‘Harrier’ Jump-Jets and helicopters used to transport military equipment. At this same Waterford quay (Frank Cassin Wharf) is currently berthed the cross-border ferry Foyle Venture where her normal operating area on Lough Foyle is at the centre of a territorial dispute.  VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE: Former Celtic Link Ferries Diplomat at Waterford City in 2010 with view of the upper freight deck that obscures the bow. This deck during the Falklands ‘Conflict’ War in 1982 involved RAF ‘Harrier’ Jump-Jets and helicopters used to transport military equipment. At this same Waterford quay (Frank Cassin Wharf) is currently berthed the cross-border ferry Foyle Venture where her normal operating area on Lough Foyle is at the centre of a territorial dispute. Photo: JEHAN ASHMORE

#FerryDiplomacy – Former Celtic Link Ferries first ship that in another guise took part in the Falklands Conflict, had ended her Irish career in 2010 laid-up in Waterford is where at the exact berth is docked since last week a Lough Foyle ferry, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The Celtic Link Rosslare-Cherbourg ro-ro freight-ferry, Diplomat (1978/16,766grt) had vehicle decks for around 82 freight-units. In addition to carrying around 80 passengers. CLF acquired the joint passenger-freight service from P&O European Ferries when they closed their Rosslare-Cherbourg route 12 years ago in December 2004.

P&O's European Diplomat (originally launched as Stena Trader) was renamed by CLF that was owned by the O’Flaherty Brothers of Kilmore Quay. For more on their fish /shipping connected business click here. It was pleasing to see an Irish owned ferry company competing with the established continental serving operators.

Almost full circle as Stena Line acquired CLF in 2011 whom previously deployed Diplomat (see report photo at Waterford) on charter in the Caribbean and replaced by chartered Norman Voyager. A second charter replacement followed in the form of Celtic Horizon (see final voyage report here) since renamed Stena Horizon.

The Italian built ropax Stena Horizon recently underwent a refurbishment upgrade to closer match level of passenger facilities found elsewhere in the Stena fleet. In recent years refurbishments were applied to sisters Stena Lagan and Stena Mersey serving Belfast-Birkenhead (Liverpool). The pair were introduced as newbuilds more than a decade ago for NorseMerchant Ferries.

Falklands ‘Conflict’

Diplomat as previously mentioned was the Stena Trader built in 1978 for Stena Rederi as one of 11 successful ‘Searunner’ South Korean class freight-ferry sisters. She was soon renamed Stena Transporter and from thereon a chequered career involving many charters and names changes. Most notably was her historic role in the Falklands Island ‘conflict’ war with Argentina in 1982.

The UK Ministry of Defence having requisitioned the ship then named Baltic Ferry. The Townsend Thoresen North Sea serving ferry became part of the Falkland Islands Task Force that included HMS Illustrious. In recent weeks the final ‘Invincible’ class aircraft carrier bade her homeport of Portsmouth Naval Base farewell. This saw HMS Illustrious under tow bound for a Turkish scrapyard.

The deployment of Baltic Ferry saw her upper vehicle freight deck (see photo above of Diplomat) modified with a pair of helicopter pads. In addition it was from this deck that the ship saw action by Royal Air Force Harrier Jump-Jets using the aircraft's unique vertical take-off lift (VTOL) capability.

In addition Baltic Ferry on the deployment delivery voyage had on board troops with replenishment at sea equipment prior to the long distance voyage to the South Atlantic. She set sail along with sister Nordic Ferry to the far flung colonial outpost. The ship was service in San Carlos waters of the Falklands and later was stationed in the capital of Port Stanley as a stores ship.

A plaque in recognition of the freight-ferry’s role in the war was noted during my port visit.

A Diplomatic Voyage

An opportunity arose in 2008 having requested CLF to conduct a first ever interview with a captain and that on board a ship. Another reason for the request was Diplomat’s unique Ireland-France ‘freight-ferry service’ days were numbered given the ageing vessel.

The freight-ferry departed Rosslare though the interview took place in the busy English Channel. This all added to the experience of interviewing the master, Captain Ivan Walsh published Ships Monthly, November 2009. The interview also allowed for photography having joined the procession of the eastbound traffic shipping lane before veering off for Cherbourg.

Upon arrival at Cherbourg, a speedy disembarkation was required to make a train connection to another Normandy port, Caen (Oustreham). This was to enable English Channel crossings with Brittany Ferries. They involved sailing to Portsmouth on Normandie but returning to France out of Poole on Barfleur for Cherbourg. All forming part of a three-route ‘working’ holiday.

In reflecting on the Diplomat interview now it is noted that Captain Walsh early career cadetships was that with the former Bell Lines. The Irish based lo-lo container operator whose Waterford Port terminal at Frank Cassin Wharf is where Diplomat had spent the layup. On completion of the Carribean charter Diplomat was sold and renamed Pavilon for scrapping at Alang, India in 2011.

As for the Foyle Venture as mentioned in the introduction she is berthed at the exact berth of Diplomat. This is along the underused city quays lining the River Suir. 

A second on board interview regarded the final leg to Ireland with Irish Ferries cruiseferry Oscar Wilde. This was published in Ships Monthly, August 2009. The interview was conducted with master, Captain John Grace who talked about the ship’s continental service and the role of his crew and working patterns. 

Ironically both masters would later be working together in the early days of Fastnet Line’s Julia on the Cork-Swansea route. Afloat had an opportunity to make a round-trip in the first year of the short-lived service but at that stage another master was in command.

Foyle’s War

Incidentally, Oscar Wilde features on the new owner's website of the Passage East Ferry Company, which Afloat covered the sale to Fraser Ferries earlier this year. The promotional video showcases the tourism attractions of the sunny south-east.

Only last week was where the Waterford Estuary service saw Lough Foyle Ferry Company’s Foyle Venture carrying out ‘berthing’ trials.

This took place in tandem of the River Suir’s routine ferry FBD Tintarn (1978/325grt). The former German ferry shuttles between Passage East, Co. Waterford and Ballyhack, Co. Wexford. 

As Afloat covered the issue of Brexit that raised dormant territorial dispute between Britain and Ireland over the ownership of Lough Foyle.

The estuary between Counties Donegal and Derry is under the auspices of the cross-border Loughs Agency since the Good Friday Agreement.

In addition there is also uncertainty on Lough Foyle and Carlingford Lough between counties Louth and Down over fishing rights as the UK prepares to leave the EU and the Common Fisheries Policy.

On a related note to ferry developments, Fraser Ferries was given the go-ahead in 2015 for a new Carlingford ferry route despite local objections. 

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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