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P&O Detained Ferry Sets Sail after Furious £570,000 Liverpool Port Fees Row Resolved

21st April 2020
A Dublin-Liverpool ropax ferry Norbay which was caught up in the financial dispute between P&O and Peel Ports, operator of the Port of Liverpool. The freight ferry AFLOAT adds seen above in Dublin Port which departed this morning is bound for Liverpool from where it resumed service last night following almost a week detained in the UK north-west port. A Dublin-Liverpool ropax ferry Norbay which was caught up in the financial dispute between P&O and Peel Ports, operator of the Port of Liverpool. The freight ferry AFLOAT adds seen above in Dublin Port which departed this morning is bound for Liverpool from where it resumed service last night following almost a week detained in the UK north-west port. Photo: Jehan Ashmore

A deadlock was today (yesterday) broken in a high-profile business bust-up which meant a detained ferry carrying key supplies back and forth across the Irish Sea (to Dublin Port) could leave Liverpool.

Top level talks have been ongoing since Thursday when the Liverpool Echo exclusively revealed how the Norbay, a P&O Ferries vessel was stranded in Seaforth.

It followed a dispute with Peel Ports, who own and administer the dock facilities of the Port of Liverpool, and who demanded a cheque for nearly £600,000 of what they claimed were outstanding fees.

P&O disagreed with that figure, believed it was two thirds that amount, and asked for flexibility to pay the bill at a time when they are losing many tens of thousands pounds a day in revenue due to the global pandemic lockdown.

The shipping company also added that their key contact at The Mersey Docks and Harbour Company had been furloughed without their knowledge, interrupting their communications.

Now, an agreement has been reached, allowing the Norbay to set sail for Ireland within the next few hours (last night), if necessary.

Afloat tracked this morning the Norbay which departed Dublin Port and is currently returning to Liverpool and from where Norbank is bound in the opposite direction.

Also tracked departing Dublin but on Sunday was the Norbank which arrived yesterday morning to the north Wales Port of Mostyn to carry out berthing trials as the Echo also reported that the company had hastily tried to pursue an alternative port.

At the Flintshire port was the pilot cutter Patrica in proximity of the ferry's berthing on the Dee Estuary where a predecessor P&O (Irish Sea) inaugurated a service to Dublin Port in 2002 but which only lasted for two years. 

On the opposite side of the estuary is the Wirral Peninula in England and beyond the Mersey estuary where Norbay since Thursday of last week had remained detained in Liverpool until last night's sailing to the Irish capital. 

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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