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Sea Trials of Ferry Take Place for New Carlingford Lough Service

2nd June 2017

#SeaTrials - A car ferry that is set to launch the new year-round Carlingford Lough ferry service has been conducting sea-trials between the Cooley and Mourne Mountains, writes Jehan Ashmore.

According to the ferry owners, the Frazer Ferries Group, a master from the Passage East Ferry Co (acquired by the group last year) has been assisting the captains of car ferry Frazer Aisling Gabrielle during sea-trials on Carlingford Lough.  

The operation trading as Scenic Carlingford Ferry will serve between Greenore, Co. Louth and Greencastle, Co. Down. The new route will transform the relationships of both regions by opening up new tourist potential.

The 44 car-capacity Frazer Aisling Gabrielle can take cars, coaches and holiday-homes along with motorbikes, however Scenic Carlingford Ferry have stated in recent days that due to circumstances beyond their control, passengers will not be hosted on board this week.

When crossings begin, times will vary between 15 to 20 minutes and this depends on tidal and wind conditions. The new link will give a minimum saving of 40 minutes on any point to point journey.

For the last decade there have been plans to establish a service. The project that has seen an investment of €9.75 million (£8.5 million) was entirely funded by the Group that has a registered office in Limerick.

The Group took over the Lough Foyle service along with acquiring Foyle Venture for €1 million in late 2015. The 300 passenger ferry resumed service the following year linking Magilligan Point, Derry and Greencastle, Donegal, however the route for this season is closed. The summer service was heavily dependent on its core business of Northern holidaymakers headed to Inishowen Peninsula and the rest of Donegal.

Foyle Venture however this Spring deputised for the Passage East-Ballyhack ferry, F.B.D. Tintern during dry-docking at the New Ross Boatyard. Following such work, it was the turn of the former Foyle ferry. The UK custom-built vessel dating to 1978 was launched as Shannon Willow. She originally served Shannon Ferries which is controlled by other interests. 

In order to prepare the almost 50m long ferry for service on Carlingford, €1m was spent on the refit that led to newly installed engines, hydraulics, ramps and other engineering works. The facility at New Ross on the banks of the Barrow also involved applying a new livery to reflect the Carlingford service. This saw the car ferry emerge as the Frazer Aisling Gabrielle and also make an overnight en-route call to Wicklow Port last month. 

There will be three crews and SCF will employ 15 people full time, with additional seasonal employment during the peak season.

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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