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Ferry Operator Stena Line Supports Local Industry with Multi-Ship Docking Programme at H&W, Belfast

1st July 2020
Stena Europe AFLOAT adds under the iconic Harland & Wolff shipyard gantry cranes in Belfast. The ferry seen in the Building Dry Dock, otherwise operates the Rosslare-Fishguard route while ropax Stena Nordica is currently covering crossings on the St. Georges Channel's southern corridor service between Ireland and Wales. Stena Europe AFLOAT adds under the iconic Harland & Wolff shipyard gantry cranes in Belfast. The ferry seen in the Building Dry Dock, otherwise operates the Rosslare-Fishguard route while ropax Stena Nordica is currently covering crossings on the St. Georges Channel's southern corridor service between Ireland and Wales. Photo: H&W-twitter

Six ferries of Stena Line's Irish Sea fleet will dry-dock at Harland and Wolff’s famous Belfast shipyard this summer for a range of repairs and upgrades.

Currently the Stena Europe (see related relief ferry), which operates on the Rosslare-Fishguard service, is dry-docked in Belfast with the final works project due to be completed on the Stena Superfast VIII (Belfast-Cairnryan service) at the end of September. This is part of the significant docking programme by the Irish Sea’s largest ferry operator.

2020 marks more than 40 years of Stena ships in Belfast’s iconic Harland and Wolff (H&W) shipyard. In April 1980 the firm’s predecessor (Sealink BR) took delivery of the Belfast-built MV Galloway Princess (later Stena Galloway) which operated on the Northern Ireland routes for many years.

Stena Line continues to select the H&W shipyard for docking works on their Irish Sea ferry fleet, with orders totalling £2.5m.

Paul Grant, Stena Line’s Trade Director said: “Despite the dramatic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on our business, regular ship upgrades and maintenance works are a very important element in our ship management operation. They help us to maintain our excellent reliability record and keep our Irish Sea fleet to the forefront of the ferry sector.”

He added: “Whilst Stena Line has already committed a significant investment to the Irish Sea by introducing two new ships – Stena Estrid (Dublin-Holyhead, Jan 2020) and Stena Edda (Belfast-Liverpool, March 2020) with a third ship to follow for our Belfast-Liverpool service in early 2021, it’s also important that we continue to improve, develop and invest in our existing fleet of vessels, which is exactly what this contract will do.”

John Petticrew, Managing Director of Harland & Wolff said: “Since InfraStrata acquired the Harland & Wolff shipyard, we have built a strong working relationship with Stena Line, demonstrated through the repeat business we have seen with four ships in the yard since our acquisition.”

Belfast-based Paul Grant is head of the company’s Irish Sea operations. His long career at Stena Line includes a short spell working on the mentioned MV Galloway Princess. “We’re delighted that we are continuing our relationship supporting our local shipyard Harland and Wolff and the other local companies involved.  Stena Line continues to support Northern Ireland and have operated throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, ensuring that essential supply lines reach their destinations and enabling the flows of freight and travel customers” he said.

The ferry operator is the largest serving on the Irish Sea, with the biggest fleet offering the widest choice of routes including, combined passenger and freight serviceS: Belfast-Cairnryan, Belfast-Birkenhead (Liverpool), Dublin-Holyhead and Rosslare-Fishguard.

As well as a freight only route, Belfast-Heysham. A total of up to 238 weekly sailing options between Ireland and Britain. Stena Line also offers a direct service linking Rosslare and Cherbourg with three return crossings a week.

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. 

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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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