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New London Commuter Catamarans Enter Thames Service

19th September 2017
Newest member of MBNA Thames Clipper fleet, the catamaran Jupiter Clipper recently joined the largest commuter and tourist operator on river services though central London. Above the new 175 passenger craft is seen in Southampton prior to making a delivery voyage to the UK capital. Newest member of MBNA Thames Clipper fleet, the catamaran Jupiter Clipper recently joined the largest commuter and tourist operator on river services though central London. Above the new 175 passenger craft is seen in Southampton prior to making a delivery voyage to the UK capital. Photo: Justin Merrigan / Wight Shipyard

#ferry - Afloat last week featured Dublin Discovered Boat Tours, the capital's only dedicated operator on the Liffey, among it's London counterparts are MBNA Thames Clippers which introduced brand new craft but also commissioned to transport commuters, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The newbuild Jupiter Clippper with capacity for 172 passengers is the youngest member of MBNA Thames Clippers having entered service last month following debut of sister Mercury Clipper. They join a fleet providing rapid transport services through central London on various routes based between Putney in the west to Royal Woolwich Arsenal in the east.

Both craft represent (as Afloat reported last year) the largest fast commercial passenger ferries contracted from a UK shipyard in over 25 years and to serve in the nation's coastal waters. The pair made the 200 nautical mile delivery passage from Wight Shipyard Co Ltd on the Isle of Wight to the Trinity Buoy Wharf in east London.

Combined the passenger catamarans form a £6.3 million investment in London’s port and transport infrastructure to provide an additional 14% capacity and increased frequency cross the River Thames network. They are the most technically advanced and energy efficient fast ferries so far for MBNA Thames Clippers that now totals a fleet of 17 craft. The operator expects by the end of 2017 to have carried over four million commuters and tourists alike on Old Father Thames.

The build process took 10 months to complete Jupiter Clipper and Mercury Clipper and this led to the creation of over 75 new jobs across the Isle of Wight and London in the process. The 35m long catamarans are of the Hunt Class Mark 2, designed by Australian naval architects One2Three based in Sydney. They are built to ultra-high specifications among them incorperating a low-wash hull design likewsise of near sisters Clipper Neptune and Galaxy Clipper of the Hunt Class. These slightly smaller 150 passenger capacity craft having only entered service in 2015, make up the most modern and largest fleet on the Thames.

Also as part of river developments before the end of this year will be the completion of three piers added to the MBNA Thames Clipper commuter network. The locations are Plantation Wharf Pier, Westminster Pier and Battersea Power Station Pier.

MBNA Thames Clippers are committed to making the river as accessible to as many people as possible. Also their support of the Port of London Authority (PLA) Thames Vision of doubling the number of people travelling by river and its target of 20 million commuter and tourist trips every year.

As part of the last week's London International Shipping Week attended by the IMDO, a private charter of Thames Clipper was planned by LISW17 for delegates to take a special excursion of the PLA terminals. Among them in London's east docklands is located in Erith (Conway's berth for aggregates) and where during LISW17 Afloat had tracked down cargoship Arklow Resolve (see rare Dublin Cargoship Call to 'Docklands')

It was at this same berth in Erith, that Afloat had also followed Arklow Resolve make a previous call in late August, having finally departed Dublin Port notably where the 2,999grt cargoship had made a rare layover period of more than a month. This took place in the capital's old inner port that is referred as the 'Docklands' quarter, the Irish equivalent of London's Canary Wharf occupied by the financial services sector.

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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