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Le Havre 500th: Ireland-France Ferry Links Past & Present

27th May 2017
Saint Killian II became the last carferry to operate between an Irish port and Le Havre until the route from Rosslare closed two decades ago in 1997. The former Irish Continental Line / Irish Ferries ship since 1978 served other routes between the two nations. The ferry along with fleetmate Saint Patrick II in 1997 went to lay-up in Le Havre and placed for sale. They were replaced by a single ship service on the Rosslare-Cherbourg/ Roscoff routes when Normandy was introduced. This role is currently carried out by cruiseferry Oscar Wilde. Saint Killian II became the last carferry to operate between an Irish port and Le Havre until the route from Rosslare closed two decades ago in 1997. The former Irish Continental Line / Irish Ferries ship since 1978 served other routes between the two nations. The ferry along with fleetmate Saint Patrick II in 1997 went to lay-up in Le Havre and placed for sale. They were replaced by a single ship service on the Rosslare-Cherbourg/ Roscoff routes when Normandy was introduced. This role is currently carried out by cruiseferry Oscar Wilde. Photo: ICL / Irish Ships

#LeHavre500 - Festivities began earlier today and will continue for five months in celebrating the 500th anniversary of Le Havre, a UNESCO-listed city that is also France's fifth largest port, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The port of Le Havre at the mouth of the Seine was founded in 1517 by King Francis I. In recognition of this historic milestone, events are to take place throughout Normandy’s largest city. This will involve the port's historic docks, boat races, the beach and shopping district, art exhibitions, street parades and theatrical performances.

Le Havre is also an English Channel ferryport in which Brittany Ferries sail from the UK using Portsmouth. Those travelling from Ireland can travel from Rosslare albeit not directly as sailings run to Cherbourg. On the Rosslare-Cherboourg route two operators compete, Stena Line and Irish Ferries, the latter having operated the last direct ferry routes connecting Ireland to Le Havre until closure took place two decades ago.

The continental routes were Rosslare-Le Havre, that took 21 hours and Cork-Le Havre. This unique link connecting Munster and Normandy was slightly longer at 21 hours 30 minutes. Historically, this passage time remains the longest of any car-ferry service operating to and from Ireland. The routes were operated by Saint Killian II having been 'stretched' in 1982 and Saint Patrick II. They both dated to 1973 and were built originally to serve Scandinavian operators, Stena Line and Viking Line respectively.

Irish Ferries currently also operate a seasonal-only Rosslare-Roscoff service to Brittany which resumed service earlier this month. An alternative route is Brittany Ferries Cork-Roscoff service that has a longer season sailing extending to early November.

Despite the closure of the former Le Havre services, only last month, Neptune Lines began a new weekly scheduled vehicle-only carrier operation connecting the French port to Rosslare. The service transports imported Renault and Peugeot vehicles as part of a ‘liner’ service with calls connecting Santander, Le Havre, Southampton and before finally reaching Rosslare Europort. The calls to the Wexford port are on Saturday mornings and departures take place in the afternoon.

This evening Neptune Dynamis having departed Rosslare is bound for Santander. Astern of the vehicle-carrier are both Cherbourg bound rival ferries, Stena Horizon and Oscar Wilde. At time of writing they were abreast of each other in the Celtic Sea. 

It is almost a decade ago since an Irish-L Havre service was operating. Then it was the case of French shipping giant Louis Dreyfus Armateurs. This saw LDA through ferry subsidiary, LD Lines began linking Le Havre and Rosslare in November 2008 with ropax, Norman Voyager. They squeezed in at the weekends a Le Havre-Rosslare round trip in between weekday Le Havre-Portsmouth sailings.

Both routes were short-lived as Norman Voyager was chartered in September 2009 to successor, Celtic Link Ferries. The Wexford based Celtic Link continued the Rosslare-Cherbourg in direct competition with Irish Ferries. Main rivals Stena Line took over having acquired CLF operations in the Spring of 2014.

The closure of LD Lines service to Ireland was not entirely the end as the French operator returned to Rosslare in January 2014. They launched a new Ireland-France-Spain service, that was historic albeit providing an in-direct Irish-Iberian link. The 'landbridge' service connected Rosslare, St. Nazaire and Gijon.

Once again the LD relationship on the Irish connection proved to be a short and sporadic existance. The ropax Norman Atlantic was pulled surprisingly off service in advance of the high season. The ropax did resume crossings that summer but they only ran until up to late August having suspended September sailings. 

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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