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Britannica Makes Waves With Words Set On Course With Brexit Withdrawal Deal at EU Summit

25th November 2018
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The UK flagged Stena Britannica in July having departed Harwich, England (on horizon) heads eastbound for Europe's largest port of Rotterdam (ferry terminal at Hoek van Holland) The Netherlands. Even if the EU approves the Brexit withdrawal deal this morning in Brussels in neighbouring Belgium, it won't be plain sailing on the return of Prime Minister Theresa May to the UK, as the terms of Brexit still has to be passed by Parliament, with many MPs having stated their opposition. So what will be the eventual outcome? given the constantly changing political scene that envelops Westminster. The UK flagged Stena Britannica in July having departed Harwich, England (on horizon) heads eastbound for Europe's largest port of Rotterdam (ferry terminal at Hoek van Holland) The Netherlands. Even if the EU approves the Brexit withdrawal deal this morning in Brussels in neighbouring Belgium, it won't be plain sailing on the return of Prime Minister Theresa May to the UK, as the terms of Brexit still has to be passed by Parliament, with many MPs having stated their opposition. So what will be the eventual outcome? given the constantly changing political scene that envelops Westminster. Photo: JEHAN ASHMORE

#BrexitFerry - Against the backdrop of the UK Prime Minister's Brexit withdrawal deal at a special EU Council Summit this morning, Afloat focuses on one of the major 'land-bridge' links used by Irish hauliers to mainland Europe, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Currently, Irish freight trucks can easily complete the landbridge links to mainland continental Europe on a frictionless basis given the UK's status in the Customs Union and the Single Market.

Firstly, trucks departing on the Irish Sea head to ports in UK, notably on the core central corridoor routes Dublin-Holyhead/Liverpool and then proceed to east and south coasts ports. From either coasts the second onward sea crossing to Europe is across the North Sea, Strait of Dover and the English Channel. Together, these ro-ro routes link Belgium, The Netherlands, France and Spain. The majority of Irish-EU trade exports, totalling 80% uses the UK 'Land-Bridge' according to RTE News (noting context of time of broadcast back in September) see link below.

Afloat has previously featured most of the major North Sea ro-ro routes, P&O Ferries Hull-Rotterdam (Europe's biggest port) a major trade hub that connects the UK and Europe and vice-versa. Also operating from the Humberside port is P&O's Hull-Zeebrugge route, while DFDS serve a Newcastle (North Shields) - Amsterdam (Ijmuiden) link. This leaves the other main route, Stena Line's Harwich-Hoek van Holland (Rotterdam) which Afloat focuses its attention on this historic day between the UK and EU.

This most southern North Sea continental connection is also a major trade artery for UK businesses trading to and from Europe. The Harwich-Hoek van Holland route is operated by the largest ro-ro ferries operating out of Britain, the giant 62,200 gross tonnage sisters, Stena Britannica (UK flagged and photographed above) and Stena Hollandica, Dutch-flagged. The pair are ranked the third largest ferries in Europe (in tonnage terms) and can carry an impressive 300 trucks using the vessels vehicles decks, each of 5,566 lane metres capacity.

According to RTE's Europe Editor Tony Connelly (see report's ferry footage) highlighted that much of the trade on the Dutch route sees 9kms of food trucks boarding 'twice daily' bound for the UK, for example as featured the Stena Hollandica departing for Harwich. On board trucks laden with just-in-time deliveries of food to fill the shelves of the UK's main supermarket chains.

The transport model of just-in-time exports to the UK of meat, vegetables and fresh dairy produce, would simply not servive if the UK leaves the Customs Union and the Single Market. To put this into perspective, currently only two forms of documentation are required by freight truck drivers for customs, however if a No-Deal Brexit happens, the prospect of paperwork increases to 9 formalities during the whole logistics process.

In fact the Port of Rotterdam, added Connelly, could loose up to 9m tonnes in annual freight because of Brexit, has led the port authorities to put in place new infrastructure and customs arrangements for the potential changes.

Both the Stena Line German custom-built cruiseferry giants that entered service in 2010, as alluded play a critical role as freight is regarded as king on the North Sea route. Stena Britannica, recently featured on the Discovery Channel's 'Mighty Ships' which looked back on the maiden round trip voyage, where the vehicles decks as mentioned can load up to 300 trucks in addition 230 cars and 1,200 passengers on the daily 7 hour 30 minute crossing.

Equally the same number truck-trailers are conveyed on Irish Ferries main Dublin-Holyhead route cruiseferry, Ulysses (50,938grt) easily the largest on the Irish Sea, with vehicle space (4,100 lane meters) for 300 trucks and 1,342 cars. In addition when compared to the 'Brittannica', the Irish Sea ferry can accommodate more passengers totalling 1,875 on the shorter 3 hour 30 minute sailing.

Returning to the North Sea where it should be noted that Stena also operate freight-only ships as previously covered on Afloat, as does P&O and DFDS, the latter operator has an extensive network linking the UK to Scandinavia and also within the Baltic Sea.

Prior to the RTE coverage, an overnight mini-cruise (Hull-Harwich) was personally taken in July on board Cruise & Maritime Voyages Marco Polo. Upon arrival off Harwich in Essex, the next day, the mighty sight of Stena Britannica (photographed above) emerged on the port side while in the navigation channel and notably at relatively close quarters.

Stena Britannica is the largest Stena Line UK flagged ferry which operates on the only route the company has connecting Britain and mainland Europe. The Swedish owned operator in recent years has adopted the slogan 'Connecting Europe - for a Sustainable Future' along with green painted waves motif. This is emphasize the suit of 'green' environmental credential implemented across the entire fleet serving the Irish Sea, Scandinavia and the Baltic Sea.

Among the green measures featured on Stena Britannica is the funnel's emission scrubber technology systems installed in recent years under an EU Sulphur Directive. This involved raising the height of the funnel, noting the extension area above the upper band of stripes.

On introduction of this mighty ship which replaced the 2003 built Stena Britannica, this vessel a larger half-sister of Dublin-Holyhead serving Stena Adventurer was transferred elsewhere. The former North Sea ferry currently named Stena Scandinavia serves the Kiel-Gothenburg route linking Germany and Sweden, where the port is headquarters of the giant ferry company.

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. 

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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