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You Can take the 'Jonathan' Out of Dublin But Not the 'Swift'

15th March 2018
High-Speed Craft HSC Westpac Express is to take on the name Dublin Swift, which Irish Ferries use for marketing purposes of the current craft Jonathan Swift. This HSC is to be replaced on the Dublin-Holyhead route when the newcomer enters service in April. High-Speed Craft HSC Westpac Express is to take on the name Dublin Swift, which Irish Ferries use for marketing purposes of the current craft Jonathan Swift. This HSC is to be replaced on the Dublin-Holyhead route when the newcomer enters service in April.

#FerryNews - Dublin Swift, the marketing name Irish Ferries use for Jonathan Swift which has been sold to Spanish operators, has been put to use again albeit as the new name given to a replacement high-speed craft, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The sucessor HSC, Westpac Express is to take on the name Dublin Swift at Harland & Wolff's Belfast Dry Dock, having entered the facility yesterday afternoon. The HSC had been on charter to the US Military Sealift Command since Irish Ferries parent Irish Continental Group (ICG) acquired the craft in June 2016. The craft had been flagged to the US but has changed to Cyprus. 

The vehicle carrying catamaran HSC built by Austal Ships Pty, Fremantle, western Australia, to their in-house 101m Auto-Express design was redelivered to ICG at the end of November 2017.

Afloat has monitored HSC Westpac Express since arrival in Belfast Port two months ago, having made a stopover call to Holyhead. Invariably, this involved berthing trials prior to taking up service with a scheduled introduction on the Dublin-Holyhead route in April.

On arrival in Belfast, the 2001 built HSC berthed at H&W's Ship Repair Quay adjacent to Belfast Dry Dock to undergo internal refurbishment and maintenance. Work continues to convert the HSC from military requirements (included armoured vehicles) to civilian use. This will enable a refurbishment programme to bring the craft up to Irish Ferries standards.

When Dublin Swift enters service next month, the HSC will bring increased capacity on the Dublin-Holyhead route in partnership with Ulysses. The flagship which is also Cypriot flagged operates with the chartered-in ropax Epsilon which provides more freight-orientated capacity.

The charter of Epsilon will expire in November this year, though ICG has two further one-year options on the Italian flagged 'no-frills' marketed ferry which also serves at weekends on Dublin-Cherbourg round-trips.

Epsilon had previously occupied Belfast Dry Dock for refit. On completion, the ropax resumed service last month albeit with a delayed sailing, firstly on the France route. This was followed by weekday operated sailings on the Wales route.

Jonathan Swift in 1999, became the first fast-craft ferry for Irish Ferries. The custom-built HSC having made the delivery voyage via the Suez Canal from the same Austal yard but based on their 86m Auto-Express design. Due to the marketing name (painted on the hull: see story) of the craft for almost the past two decades, the fastferry has also became known as the 'Swifty'.

In more recent years, HSC Jonathan Swift, became the last fast-ferry remaining on Ireland-UK services, with exception albeit of seasonal operated sailings linking the Isle of Man. It was during the 1990's that the heyday of fast-ferries made their presence on the Irish Sea, in particular services through Belfast.

Dublin Swift's most direct rival came in the form of the High Speed Sea-Service (HSS) Stena Explorer until the Dun Laoghaire-Holyhead route closed with the final season ending in 2014.

The move by Stena Line to abandon the route led to the operator consolidating existing services on the Dublin-Holyhead route that began in 1995. Currently, sailings are by Stena Superfast X while routemate, Stena Adventurer is also in dry-dock for annual refit overhaul.  Taking on relief duties is ropax Stena Horizon.

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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