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Freight Demand Leads Stena Line to Boost Capacity On Belfast-Irish Sea Routes

19th August 2020
Due to increased freight demand, Stena Line has anticipated that extra capacity is required for the traditionally busy Autumn period on the Irish Sea as well as the expected increase in pre-Brexit trade activity. Therefore, the ferry company will charter Seatruck's ro-ro freight-ferry Seatruck Panorama (see: sister 'Pace' related 'Ferry News' yesterday) to help boost freight capacity on Stena's Belfast -Liverpool and Belfast-Heysham routes. Due to increased freight demand, Stena Line has anticipated that extra capacity is required for the traditionally busy Autumn period on the Irish Sea as well as the expected increase in pre-Brexit trade activity. Therefore, the ferry company will charter Seatruck's ro-ro freight-ferry Seatruck Panorama (see: sister 'Pace' related 'Ferry News' yesterday) to help boost freight capacity on Stena's Belfast -Liverpool and Belfast-Heysham routes. Photo: Seatruck-facebook

Operator Stena Line announced today that it will charter the ro-ro freight-ferry Seatruck Panorama to help boost capacity on its Belfast-Liverpool and Belfast- Heysham routes on the Irish Sea.

Following the dramatic COVID related drop in freight volumes, Stena Line was forced to remove one freight ship from its Belfast hub which resulted in reduced capacity and frequency.

During the summer months, Stena Line has seen an increase in freight demand and anticipates that extra capacity is required for the traditionally busy Autumn period as well as the expected increase in pre-Brexit trade activity.

Paul Grant, Stena Line Trade Director (Irish Sea) said: “Adding a seventh ship to our Belfast operations will help us increase frequency, capacity and give us greater operational flexibility. This extra ship will be capable of operating to Liverpool and Heysham thus ensuring that we can better match demand and the needs of customers. It has been a very challenging time for the freight industry, but we are confident that having additional capacity available on these important trading routes between England and Northern Ireland will help us provide an enhanced sailing schedule for our customers.”

The freight-only ship is expected to start service on 2nd September and will make 10 sailings weekly between Belfast and Liverpool/Heysham. The addition of Panorama on the Northern Ireland to England corridor will increase freight capacity by 28% and frequency will rise from 46 to 56 crossings weekly compared to the present.

In January 2021, Stena Line will further boost freight capacity when it adds the newly built Stena Embla to its Belfast – Liverpool service. Stena Embla will replace the smaller Stena Mersey and will join its sister ship Stena Edda and Stena Estrid in what is a significant upgrading of freight and passenger services across Stena Line’s Irish sea routes.

Paul Grant added: “Despite all of the challenges we and our customers are facing, Stena Line continues to develop its Belfast business hub with these exciting additions to our fleet. Stena Line remains committed to support the freight industry to the best of its abilities as it has done throughout the Coronavirus pandemic to date, helping to keep vital supply lines open.”

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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