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Ireland-Spain First Ferry Connemara Completes Maiden Cork Crossing to Cantabria

10th May 2018
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Ireland-Spain: a historic first as ropax Connemara operated by Brittany Ferries makes a maiden arrival to Santander Bay this afternoon off the northern Spanish coastal region of Cantabria. The 'direct' continental route opens up new tourism potential and improved trade access opportunities.  Up to 2014, there had been an Ireland-Spain service (albeit via France) operated by LD Lines. Ireland-Spain: a historic first as ropax Connemara operated by Brittany Ferries makes a maiden arrival to Santander Bay this afternoon off the northern Spanish coastal region of Cantabria. The 'direct' continental route opens up new tourism potential and improved trade access opportunities. Up to 2014, there had been an Ireland-Spain service (albeit via France) operated by LD Lines. Photo: Corporación de Prácticos Del Puerto Santander Pilots -facebook

#FerryNews - Connemara, Brittany Ferries chartered ropax completed a maiden Cork-Santander crossing this afternoon, marking the historic first arrival of an Ireland-Spain ferry service, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Under glorious blue skies, Connemara arrived into Santander Bay and docked at the Muelle del Almte with the backdrop of the Cantabrian mountains of northern Spain. The 500 passenger / 120-cabin capacity ropax can take between 80-100 cars and 100 freight trailers. The direct route is a game-changer for tourists and hauliers and notably in a looming post-Brexit environment in addition to enhancing cultural ties between Ireland and Spain. 

Brittany Ferries operates Connemara on the 26-hour crossing and based on a twice weekly overnight sailings, departing Cork on Wednesdays (see yesterday's coverage) and Fridays. The return sailings from Santander are on Sundays and Thursdays. The new service has been a strategic goal for the Port of Cork Company when plans were made to establish the link since 2004 that involved discussions with other ferry operators and another port in northern Spain. 

Connemara.jpg

Above: Connemara arrives in Santander this afternoon with officials from Gobierno de Cantabria, the regional authority of the autonomous community. The officials stand on the ferry's ro-ro berth linkspan located on the quay of the ferry terminal (Photo: Government of Cantabria - twitter)

Among the sold-out inaugural économie 'no-frills' which only caters for motorists passengers were fans of Leinster Rugby. They are heading for the European Rugby Champions Cup final in Bilbao to be held on Saturday where they play French team Racing 92 from Paris.

Also driving off the 195 vehicle ferry onto Spanish soil were an impressive array of supercars worth millions of euro. They involved Bentleys, BMW's, McCLarens and Lamborghinis. The cavalcade of high-performance cars are to embark on a 3,000km, 10-day fundraising tour throughout Spain in aid of childrens’ charity the Bubblegum Club.

Brittany Ferries are no strangers to the Cantabrian port having established four decades ago a direct service from the port to the UK. This began with a Plymouth-Santander service in 1978.

In the same year the French ferry company launched the Cork-Roscoff route in which Connemara also carries out a single weekday round-trip service again based on the no-frills concept. The Ireland-France route taking 14 hours is also operated by flagship Pont-Aven which has sailings based on cruiseferry standards.

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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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