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Ship Sample 1 of 2: Stena Ferry Continues its 'Nomadic' Role in These Challenging Times

15th June 2020
Ship 'Sample' (Part 1 of 2) Stena Nordica seen shifting berths following a layover in Dublin Port more than a decade ago when serving on the Holyhead route. The ro-pax ferry continues to play an important role for the ship's owners as a relief ferry on the Irish Sea. As since last night the 'Nordica' carried out final sailings on the Wales route until today's resumption finally by the route's newbuild ropax Stena Estrid after engine-trouble in May. Also pictured is former Arklow Racer berthed at DeepWaterQuay (See: Shipping Snippets 'Ports & Shipping' news 5th June) one of the 'R' series of dry-cargo/ container ships which formed part of the backbone of Arklow Shipping's fleet for almost 20 years, but these oldest in the fleet are been disposed as ASL continue a newbuild programme. Afloat will feature in Ship Sample (2 of 2) on some of the 'R' class cargoships which have been sold, while looking into newbuild Irish flagged traders. As for the photo, this may be familar with reader/collectors of 'Ships Monthly' (Feb) 2010 issue as part of their Ships Pictorial centrespread. Ship 'Sample' (Part 1 of 2) Stena Nordica seen shifting berths following a layover in Dublin Port more than a decade ago when serving on the Holyhead route. The ro-pax ferry continues to play an important role for the ship's owners as a relief ferry on the Irish Sea. As since last night the 'Nordica' carried out final sailings on the Wales route until today's resumption finally by the route's newbuild ropax Stena Estrid after engine-trouble in May. Also pictured is former Arklow Racer berthed at DeepWaterQuay (See: Shipping Snippets 'Ports & Shipping' news 5th June) one of the 'R' series of dry-cargo/ container ships which formed part of the backbone of Arklow Shipping's fleet for almost 20 years, but these oldest in the fleet are been disposed as ASL continue a newbuild programme. Afloat will feature in Ship Sample (2 of 2) on some of the 'R' class cargoships which have been sold, while looking into newbuild Irish flagged traders. As for the photo, this may be familar with reader/collectors of 'Ships Monthly' (Feb) 2010 issue as part of their Ships Pictorial centrespread. Photo: Jehan Ashmore

Stena Nordica continues in nomadic mode as Afloat tracked the ropax ferry on a repositioning passage to Fishguard, having relieved duties of former engine troubled newbuild Stena Estrid which returned to the Holyhead-Dublin route today, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The leadship of Stena's E-Flexer class Chinese newbuilds, had problems with the ship's German built engines, which led to repairs following arrival in early May at Cairnryan (Loch Ryan Port). From Scotland, the Stena Estrid made last night a repositioning passage through the Irish Sea to Wales so to resume service from Holyhead with this morning's sailing.

Among measures from today, face coverings are recommended for all passengers and crew on Stena Line vessels (etc), in terminals, and on the company's routes on the Irish Sea and the North Channel where social distancing is difficult to achieve, such as in stairwells, lifts and in corridors.

The final sailings on the Dublin-Holyhead route undertaken by Stena Nordica involved sailings last night before returning to Wales this morning and off again on a repositioning passage from Anglesey to Fishguard. But before more on the Stena Nordica's departure, it should be recalled that the Japanese built ropax was also a routine ferry working on the central Irish Sea route in tandem with existing ferry Stena Adventurer, until replaced by Stena Superfast X in 2015 (see: below DFDS Malo Seaways) and Stena Estrid entering earlier this year.

As for the 'Superfast' series ship is to embark on a new career with Corsica Linea sailing in the Meditteranean Sea but not between France and Algeria in north Africa as originally planned. Due to Covid19, the renamed A Nepita will aptly first serve Corsica on the Marseille-Bastia and Marseille-Ajaccio routes.

Returning to Fishguard where once again Stena Nordica will be on relief duties at the Pembrokeshire port so to enable the routine ferry to Rosslare, Stena Europe head for annual dry-docking at Harland & Wolff, Belfast. After Afloat tracked Stena Nordica this morning the ropax was later caught up at the south Wales port with a lunchtime arrival, however the first relief sailing won't be until tomorrow and at the same time.

These deployments are no way novel, as Stena Nordica has served the Swedish based operator on many a route across the Stena Line network. Mostly involving such duties over the years on the Irish Sea, following a debut for Stena but beginning in Scandinavia. This was in a more settled role when the ferry was a routine  ship on the Karlscrona, Sweden-Gdynia, Poland route.

Prior to the debut on the Baltic route, the ropax had been named European Ambassador for client, P&O Irish Sea which also placed an order for a pair of smaller half-sisters likewise built in Japan to serve the Irish Sea. The pair European Causeway and European Highlander, whose names aptly reflect the geographically locations either side of the North Channel route of Larne-Cairnryan remain in service. With competing Stena Line based at their nearby custom built terminal officially named Loch Ryan Port when opened in 2011 following closure of Stranraer. 

As for the suffix of 'Ambassador' perhaps something to do with operating on the Irish Sea, given the ferry first served between Dublin and Liverpool, in north-west England. So when P&O introduced the ropax the famous ferry brand then was split under various company names to reflect the region of operations, hence P&O (Irish Sea) Ltd. Due to the 'Nordica's extensive nomadic career, Afloat has concentrated just on Irish related highlights, though in between times at Holyhead, the ropax in 2015 was chartered to DFDS Dover-Calais service as renamed Malo Seaways (See: Deal or No Deal /Ferry & Irish Cargoship).

As for the European Ambassador's service linking the Liffey and Merseyside this did not last long, as P&O also briefly relocated from the UK port to Mostyn in north Wales, where earlier this year, Norbank undertook berthing trials due to the backdrop of a dispute of port fees in Liverpool (Peel Ports Group). This was resolved with the service still in place on the central Irish Sea route connecting the Irish capital with the city of Liverpool.

It was during the use of Mostyn on the Dee estuary shared with the Wirral Peninsula in England, that P&O (Irish Sea) also ran European Ambassador on another route after calling to Dublin but this involved beyond the Irish Sea. This other route connected the Irish capital with Cherbourg, France, though the weekend only summer service linking to mainland Europe only lasted two seasons before Mostyn in 2003 was abandoned with P&O returning to Liverpool.

P&O (Irish Sea) where the first ferry operator to launch the direct Dublin-France service by calling to Cherbourg, the Normandy port is particularly familar with various routes and operators to and from Ireland over the decades. The latest example been the reopening of the Dublin-Cherbourg route which Irish Ferries launched in 2014 using the chartered ropax Epsilon which recently returned to their Dublin-Holyhead service in competition with Stena.

Taking place of the ropax on the Ireland-France route is W.B. Yeats, which resumed 'cruiseferry' operated sailings for the summer months. Due to Covid19, these sailings were delayed severly by almost three months.

From the onset W.B. Yeats was built to operate the Dublin-Cherbourg route (and Holyhead in winter), though ultimately at the expense of abandoning Rosslare Europort where Irish Ferries operated Oscar Wilde to Cherbourg. In addition the summer high-season Roscoff route with shorter sailing times.

The operator faced criticism yet cited the reason for the withdrawal from Rosslare was because that what customers wanted given the convenience of Dublin Port and demand of freight hauliers. However, this was not the case for those residing or operating business in the south-east and from the neighbouring region of Munster.

As Afloat reported yesterday, ferry bosses ruled out increasing Ireland-France summer sailings, despite pressures of Covid19 social distancing measures impacting ferry capacities. In addition to speculation of a boost as people avoid aviation travel and instead take to the seas.

The absence of Irish Ferries was keenly felt in Rosslare albeit with Stena operating to Cherbourg. Things were to change earlier this year when Brittany Ferries strategically filled the void by abandoning the Cork-Santander route and replaced with the Rosslare-Bilbao link. This is the 'Europort's first 'direct' service to Spain. Unlike the longer operating LD Lines, which among its network had an 'in-direct' link from Rosslare to Spain via St. Nazaire, France and onward sailing across the Bay of Biscay to Gijon in northern Iberia.

Also Brittany Ferries first use of Rosslare will see the resumption of the Roscoff route which the operator will run on an économie' branded basis. 

When Stena Nordica takes over the roster of Stena Europe in Fishguard, with a scheduled afternoon crossing to Rosslare, the ropax's arrival will be far from been a stranger but a familiar sight in the Wexford ferryport.

As last year Stena Nordica spent some six months on the southern corridor while Stena Europe went to Asia when dry-docking in Turkey. An extensive mid-life refit was however delayed on the veteran vessel dating to 1981. However despite been the oldest ferry on the Irish Sea, Stena's investment and commitment of the ship is to see the ferry remain for more years on the St. Georges Channel link.

It was during previous P&O (Irish Sea) times when European Ambassador sailing on the Dublin-Cherbourg route would make en-route calls to Rosslare but only occasionally as such stopovers was dictated by freight demand. This made the route all the more fascinating but also a boost for the south-eastern 'Europort' the closest Irish port to our nearest continent.

In the final year of the Dublin-Cherbourg seasonal service that ended in 2003, P&O decided to open up the Ireland-France route to 'foot' passengers, an opportunity that was personally seized upon. The inaugural sailing of this type took place over a St. Patrick's Day bank holiday weekend, with the ferry departing notably from within Alexandra Basin and passing at close quarters the lighthouse at the end of the North Wall Quay Extension. All this making it novel compared to the other terminals in the port downriver.

An another added bonus on board European Ambassador in P&O's famous livery of the funnel's flowing flag, was to sail along Leinster's eastern seaboard. This is where among the coastal sights is scenic Dublin Bay and the Wicklow Mountains. Such scenery no doubt welcomed by those also travelling from mainland Europe.

Such a vista is now available with W.B. Yeats and in cruiseferry comfort plus with the knowledge and benefit of the ship's emission 'scrubbers', following an EU Sulphur Directive to cut down on harmful pollutants. The directive to have scrubbers installed came into effect on and after 1st January this year. 

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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