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From Oileáin Árann to Icelandic Sæfari

4th May 2017
Former Aran Islands passenger-freight ferry Oileáin Árann currently has a career in Icelandic coastal waters serving a pair of islands. The livery is also an advert for the nation's famous wooly jumpers! Former Aran Islands passenger-freight ferry Oileáin Árann currently has a career in Icelandic coastal waters serving a pair of islands. The livery is also an advert for the nation's famous wooly jumpers! Photo: Samskip

#ÁrannSæfari - The return of Ireland's largest domestic freighter, Bláth na Mara, this week on the Galway-Aran Islands routes recalls memories of a predecessor that remains in service albeit in Icelandic waters, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The predecessor is not to be mistaken for the Naomh Éanna, the veteran vessel dating to 1958 was decommissioned on the CIE operated service that closed in 1988. Unfortunately, the Dublin built ship remains languishing in the capital despite plans to bring her back to Galway. As previously reported she again faces the threat of scrapping!

In fact the last such ship serving scheduled Aran Islands services from Galway Port was the Oileáin Árann. Notably, this vessel was also the final ship to carry ‘passengers’ from the city on a service that combined freight when operated by Doolin based O’Brien Shipping.

At 416 gross tonnage Oileáin Árann (photo) is larger to the Bláth na Mara with a tonnage of 330. This 36m freight-only vessel operates Ireland’s longest distance domestic freight route run by Lasta Mara Teoranta that took over the Government contracted service in 2005. In the following year Oileáin Árann was sold to the then Icelandic owned operator, Samskip which renamed the ship Sæfari.

The almost 40m Sæfari, is part of a giant global logistics company based in Rotterdam from where subsidiary Samskip Multimodal BV operate lo-lo container feeder services to the island of Ireland. Tonight in Dublin Port is berthed their Samskip Express which arrived from Rotterdam. The next port of call is Belview, the main terminal for the Port of Waterford.

On introduction to Irish owners of the Oileáin Árann in 1992, the vessel presented a rather unusual looking appearance on the Aran run given a forward superstructure accommodating passengers complete with a tower-like wheelhouse a deck above. This deck arrangement resembled that of an offshore oil supply support /standby ship and as if based out of Aberdeen to serve in the North Sea.

Oileáin Árann was a custom-built passenger freight ship ordered in the UK, that firstly involved Brombrough based McTay Marine, England, to build the hull. As for the balance of work this was contracted to their then Scottish associates James Miller of St. Monans, Fife. Both these firms are no longer in business but perhaps there is some merit to my theory as to the background of the Fife yard's naval architecture given the Forth of Fife remains synonymous with the oil sector. This is where anchored inactive North Sea rig platforms can be found and BP’s (Crude Oil) Hound Point Marine Terminal.

The Oileáin Árann loaded cargo on board using a deck-mounted crane located on the aft freight deck. Also located here are twin funnels lining along the ships side. It was during a visit to Galway Port, that I observed from the outer pier the dual-purpose vessel depart through the Dun Aengus Dock. These days such services (freight-only) take place at the outer pier.

Under current owners, Samskip undertook rebuilding the vessel that involved an enlarged superstructure. The conversion included work at the aft deck with the fitting of a stern-loading vehicle ramp and a side-loading door for additional ro-ro access.

So the former Aran Islands ship now car-ferry Sæfari operates scheduled trips from Dalvík to Hrisey and Grímsey, Iceland´s northernmost inhabited island of around 100 persons. Most of whom are employed in the fishing industry. Asides the attraction of wildlife for tourists, the Arctic Circle runs right through the middle of Grímsey. Those who enter the Circle receive a special illuminated certificate to confirm their adventure.

As far as current Irish operations are concerned, the recent relief ro-ro ferry Chateau-Thierry (that stood in for Bláth na Mara) has a bow-loading vehicle ramp and a deck mounted crane. Galway port however does not feature a slipway nor indeed a linkspan for more conventional tonnage such as the Sæfari.

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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