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Brittany Ferries Resume French Service in Year of 40th Anniversary

2nd April 2018
It's 1978!... pages from a Brittany Ferries brochure in the year Cork-Roscoff service began with flagship Armorique. Also illustrated are fleetmates, Penn-ar-Bed and (centre) Cornouailles, the Breton name for the French region which is cognate with Cornwall in neighbouring UK. The origins of the ferry company began in 1973 when Breton vegetable farmers from Léon west of the region, needed to find new markets. A farming co-operative led to formation of Bretagne-Angleterre-Irlande (B.A.I) otherwise better known as Brittany Ferries which launched their first service, Roscoff-Plymouth. It's 1978!... pages from a Brittany Ferries brochure in the year Cork-Roscoff service began with flagship Armorique. Also illustrated are fleetmates, Penn-ar-Bed and (centre) Cornouailles, the Breton name for the French region which is cognate with Cornwall in neighbouring UK. The origins of the ferry company began in 1973 when Breton vegetable farmers from Léon west of the region, needed to find new markets. A farming co-operative led to formation of Bretagne-Angleterre-Irlande (B.A.I) otherwise better known as Brittany Ferries which launched their first service, Roscoff-Plymouth. Photo: Jehan Ashmore Collection

#FerryNews - Brittany Ferries resumed seasonal Cork-Roscoff service this Easter Bank Holiday, the sailings also celebrated the 40th anniversary of the route, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The 41,700 gross tonnage flagship, Pont-Aven launched the Ireland-France season having arrived in Roscoff yesterday morning. The 14 hours crossing marked the completion of the first round trip of the season that began on Friday night.

The 2,400 passenger/650 car capacity cruiseferry operates on what continues to be the shortest fastest route to France which has proved popular with Irish holiday-makers.

In 2017, Brittany Ferries carried more than 87,000 passengers, which was an increase of 4% on the previous season and contributing to the national economy. While France continues to be a popular travel destination for Irish travellers, the number of French people visiting Ireland showed no signs of waning as nearly 45,000 availed of the route, representing 52% of all passengers carried.

The service which asides providing a convenient direct route to the continent has also developed strong cultural ties between Ireland and France. This year sees the launch by Brittany Ferries économie no-frills Mondays sailings from Cork (from 30 April) in tandem to the flagship's routine Saturday service.

Brittany Ferries as previously reported are to launch the first ever direct Ireland-Spain route, Cork-Santander service starting on 2 May. A chartered in ropax, Connemara will operate the Bay of Biscay route and based on an économie no-frills service.

Rolling back the years and prior to the launch of the Cork-Roscoff route in May, 1978, a special promotional visit to Cork City centre quays took place on St. Patrick's Day. This involved the arrival of the 5,372 tonnes flagship Armorique.

The sleek profile of this 1972 French built ferry, the former Terje Vigen, was acquired three years later by the operator and renamed Armorique. The ship named after the Armorique Natural Park stretches from the Altantic Ocean to inland countryside. As for the ships' stylish lines combined with the French novely factor drew large crowds of curious Corkonians along the South Custom Quay, opposite Cork City Hall. On board were representatives from Brittany that travelled over and took part in the annual festival parade. 

In addition a fleetmate, albeit even smaller, Penn-Ar-Bed made a special trip too that month to Cork and again to the same quay. The maiden commercial voyage was performed by Armorique on 27 May and proved an instant success with holidaymakers and freight. The venture paid off and had defied the critics at the time as to its viability.

The Armorique with a 700 passenger capacity and space for 170 vehicle decks, carried the vast majority of traffic as the end of season sailings were operated by Penn-Ar-Bed. This custom-built ferry of a mere 2,981 tonnes could only handle 420 passengers and 160 cars.

At the end of the first season, the Breton based operator announced that carryings were so encouraging and that they would in 1979 charter a freight-only ferry, Normandia. This allowed all freight to be carried separately and free-up space for passengers and holiday-based motorists on Armorique.

Services then used the former ferryport terminal in Cork at Tivoli downriver of the city, before operations transferred to the current Ringaskiddy Terminal in lower Cork Harbour. In the four decades of the Roscoff service, there have been 14 ferries, some appearing under different names. Also the role of three freight ro-ro ships operating the route.

Some ships it should be added made a once-off call to Cork (see Duc de Normandie) due to providing relief cover for routine ships going for dry-dock. This ferry for example had been deployed from the operators France-UK network which includes direct UK-Spain services.

The network in 1978 comprised of 5 routes, this included the launch of a new direct UK-Spain route, Plymouth-Santander. Over the past four decades the network has expanded to more than double the number of routes linking the four nations. 

Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

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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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