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Europe Day: Sees Start of Historic New First Ever Direct Ireland-Spain Ferry Route Service

9th May 2018
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EUROPE DAY: Close up of the bow of Brittany Ferries chartered ropax Connemara which today (lunchhour) departed on the new first ever 'direct' Ireland-Spain ferry route service: Cork-Santander, the city famous for its cuisine is located in the northern region of Cantabria. The 500 passenger/195 vehicle ropax is the first ferry to link Ireland with two mainland continental countries, France and Spain. In recent years there had been an Ireland-Spain service (albeit via France) operated by LD Lines. EUROPE DAY: Close up of the bow of Brittany Ferries chartered ropax Connemara which today (lunchhour) departed on the new first ever 'direct' Ireland-Spain ferry route service: Cork-Santander, the city famous for its cuisine is located in the northern region of Cantabria. The 500 passenger/195 vehicle ropax is the first ferry to link Ireland with two mainland continental countries, France and Spain. In recent years there had been an Ireland-Spain service (albeit via France) operated by LD Lines. Photo: BF enthusiasts -twitter

#FerryNews - Europe Day aptly coincided with Brittany Ferries albeit delayed start of the first ever direct Ireland-Spain ferry service when Connemara departed Cork at lunchhour today bound for Santander, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Almost berthed adjacently to Ringaskiddy Ferry Terminal where ropax Connemara welcomed passengers and loaded vehicles for today's historic maiden voyage to Spain, was docked Portuguese flagged cruiseship Astoria. The veteran vessel had arrived earlier this morning. 

As for the ferry, Connemara had also arrived this morning from France (see below) before launching the new historic continental route directly connecting Ireland and Spain for the first time. A scheduled departure at 11.00 did not take place however the ropax finally was underway two hours later. Connemara then past Roches Point Lighthouse at the mouth of Cork Harbour and out into the open sea. 

Connemara, formerly Asterion is on a two-year charter to Brittany Ferries which are to operate the 2007 Italian built Cypriot flagged ropax across the Bay of Biscay service on a trial basis. The 500 passenger /120 cabin ferry is modelled on a économie 'no-frills' service that is scheduled to run two return sailings weekly between Cork and northern Spain. 

Crossing times on the 27,000 gross tonnage Connemara connecting Cork and the Cantrabrian port is around 26 hours. Facilites available of the no-frills operated ferry include a self-service restaurant, café/bar, small shop / boutique and seating lounge. In addition to en-suite cabins for passengers that are exclusively motorist-based. The ropax can handle a mix of around 100-freight trailers units and between 80 and 100 tourist vehicles.

Traveling direct to Spain now offers exciting benefits for Irish tourists to explore the lesser known regions of northern Spain compared to air-dependent destinations to the countries Costa's lining the Meditteranean. It is from these well-trodden resorts where around 2 million Irish holiday-makers annually visit the coast but rarely travel to the interior. Now there's northern Spain, where Santander itself is a culinary destination, Bilbao beckons (for Leinster rugby fans on board) as does the Basque Country and regions heading west to Galicia neighbouring Portugal.

The new Irish-continental link will further forge in strengthening travel and cultural ties with Spain but throughout the Iberian peninsula. In addition to assisting existing and developing new freight trade opportunities.

According to the Port of Cork, which has been trying to open an Ireland-Spain link since 2004, the service will remove 1,200kms off road journey distances for many hauliers currently opting for a land-bridge via the UK. The new Spanish service is a also a game-changer given a post-Brexit UK and its relationship between Ireland and with the rest of the EU.

Prior to today's historic maiden voyage on the Ireland-Spain route, Connemara's debut for Brittany Ferries was completed following a sailing to France yesterday. This morning, Connemara returned to Ringaskiddy to complete the round trip. Due to operational reasons, the 186m Connemara docked in Brest rather than the routine port of call at Roscoff.

The Ireland-France route which this year celebrates a 40th anniversary, is served by flagship cruiseferry Pont-Aven at the weekends. Introduction also of Connemara during the week boosts capacity and likewise of the Spanish service is based on an économie no-frills service, except foot-passengers are catered for on the 14 hour Iink to Roscoff.  

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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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