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Newbuild Car-Ferry Makes Historic Call to Greystones Harbour

18th February 2017

#HistoricCall – The first ever car-ferry to visit Greystones Harbour, Co. Wicklow made history when the Spirit of Rathlin carried out berthing vehicle-loading trials yesterday, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Spirit of Rathlin, a £2.8m ferry which was only launched last Autumn in Arklow is from where the vessel took the short passage to Greystones Harbour. It's arrival was very much a surprise for a handful of curious onlookers who witnessed the entry of the vessel between the circular pierheads.

The presence of a large commercial vessel added to the novelty factor, given the context of the leisure harbour with its 100-berth marina which occupies the inner harbour.

It was within the outer harbour where the 28m long Spirit of Rathlin berthed at the slipway. Soon after arrival the ramp of the bow-only loading ferry was lowered onto the slipway's concrete surface from where the first vehicle was driven in reverse on board. The red-painted vehicle deck is designed to carry six vehicles.

Spirit of Rathlin’s call to Greystones was due to the harbour's proximity and use of a suitable slipway to conduct such vehicle trials of the 140 passenger ferry. This also involved the testing of loading a van belonging to the newbuild’s boatyard of Arklow Marine Services. 

In all the call to Greystones was brief, as the blue-hulled newbuild departed just over an hour later to return to Arklow and berth at the North Quay, where AMS have their boatyard.

The Belfast-registered newbuild was contracted to AMS from Northern Ireland’s Department for Infrastructure. The DFI carried out a tendering process of a new 10 year tender contract to operate Spirit of Rathlin on the Ballyscastle-Rathlin Island service. The tender was awarded to Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd.

Spirit of Rathlin will enter service once works costing £1m to accommodate the new ferry at the mainland Co. Antrim harbour is completed.

The newbuild will replace the current car-ferry Canna. A second passenger-only craft, Rathlin Express also built by the same Arklow yard in 2009 will remain in service.

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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!