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Ferry Operator Hits Half Million Freight Units in Belfast Harbour

30th January 2017

#RecordFreight - It has been a record year for Stena Line freight traffic volumes on the operator's Belfast Harbour routes in 2016. For the first time in its history, the ferry company has carried over 500,000 freight units through the port.

Stena Line operates three freight services from Belfast Harbour which provide up to 14 daily crossing options between its Cairnryan, Heysham and Liverpool (Birkenhead) services.

Paul Grant, Stena Line’s Trade Director (Irish Sea North), commented: “Despite operating in a highly competitive market, 2016 was a record year for Stena Line’s Northern Ireland operations. To carry over 500,000 freight units is a fantastic achievement for the entire team and one which also cements Belfast Harbour’s position as Northern Ireland’s leading freight hub. In 2016 we also had record car and passenger volumes with almost 1.5 million passengers travelling, which represents a growth of 7% on the previous year.

“Stena Line has invested heavily in its Belfast Harbour hub. It’s reassuring to see that our vision and commitment to an expanding operation from Belfast Harbour has been rewarded. Economic uncertainty is a concern for 2017, however, we remain focussed on providing our customers with the most frequent and reliable services into and out of Northern Ireland. In the first quarter of 2017, we will be investing a further £7m locally with Harland & Wolff as we refit nine of our Irish Sea ship fleet,” said Paul.

Paul Grant concluded: “Whilst last year was a record year we cannot afford to be complacent, it’s vital that our investments in ships and ports is matched by infrastructure improvements to roads in Northern Ireland and Scotland particularly. It’s also important that Belfast and Northern Ireland continues to invest in our growing tourism product.”

Joe O’Neill, Commercial Director, Belfast Harbour, said: “Belfast Harbour is Northern Ireland’s principal maritime gateway with more than 70% of NI’s seaborne trade handled through the Port. This is supported by the record year Stena Line is reporting for 2016. We have been partners with them for more than 20 years and have seen their business here grow significantly during that time.

This year alone they have increased the number of cars carried by 10% as well as grown passenger numbers by more than 95,000 and handled more than half a million freight vehicles with overall volumes growing almost 60% in the last 6 years. This is down to their hard work and adapting to the market and we look forward to continuing to support them and the growth of their business in the coming years.”

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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