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Manx 'Ben' Backbone of Ferry Services Returns Following Fleetmates Stepping-In

8th September 2020
Manx ferry Ben-My-Chree which provides the backbone of services returned to routine duties today following repairs to a damaged propeller. Alternative services involved fastferry Manannan along with ro-ro freight ferry Arrow (together above in Douglas) from where daily services linking Heysham, England were maintained with the backdrop of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). Manx ferry Ben-My-Chree which provides the backbone of services returned to routine duties today following repairs to a damaged propeller. Alternative services involved fastferry Manannan along with ro-ro freight ferry Arrow (together above in Douglas) from where daily services linking Heysham, England were maintained with the backdrop of the Coronavirus (Covid-19). Credit: Isle of Man Harbours

Following repairs to a propeller of a Manx ferry, the Ben-My-Chree returned to service today plying on the main route linking the Isle of Man and the UK, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The ropax custom built in 1998 for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. arrived to Douglas Harbour on Sunday on completion of works at A&P Falmouth in Cornwall and successful testing of propeller and steering systems.

Ben-My-Chree re-entered the passenger and freight service of Douglas-Heysham three days ahead of schedule as the Steam-Packet already had spare propeller blades in stock.

While the Ben-My-Chree was off service the ferry firm introduced a revised timetable whereby two replacement vessels ensured duties were maintained between the Isle of Man and the Lancashire port. High-speed craft Manannan operated daily passenger ferry sailings while freighter Arrow continued to provide an essential service to the Manx capital with supplies of food and cargo against the backdrop of Covid-19.

It was during Ben-My-Chree's repositioning passage from the Isle of Man to the English south-west shipyard that drone footage captured the 22 year old ferry before arrival at the dry-dock facility.

As Afloat previously reported the IOMSPCo signed a contract for a new ferry with an Asian shipyard to replace the ageing ropax with a slightly larger ferry which is due to enter service in 2023. The new ferry is to have a higher level of onboard facilities, enhanced freight capability and be more enviromentally friendly.

According to the operator they intend to retain the 'Ben' as a reserve vessel, which is in the hands of Arrow (albeit a freight-only ro-ro ship) chartered in from Seatruck Ferries. Currently the Spanish built freighter is at anchor in Douglas Bay.

Meanwhile Manannan made manouveres in Belfast Lough this afternoon following conclusion of seasonal only routes services including Belfast Harbour but not to Dublin Port. Like all ferry operators, the key summer season was beset with Covid-19 travel restictions affecting Manx residents along with plans by holidaymakers.

Despite the troublesome season, the Isle of Man is in an extremely fortunate position of having had no active cases of Covid-19 in the Island since early June. This positive news is thanks to the remarkable efforts of the Manx people and the Isle of Man Government in addition the ability to restrict access to the island.

Access to the Isle of Man remains tightly restricted for non-residents, though according to the Steam-Packet they anticipate restrictions will be eased and look forward to welcoming visitors in 2021 when it is safe to do so noting bookings are now available through a 'Book with Confidence Commitment'. This measure is designed to provide customers with greater flexibility and peace of mind during the uncertainty caused by Covid-19.

As mentioned above Manannan's season has ceased and so the HSC will require a winter-lay-up which in recent years has taken place in Douglas Harbour where this afternoon the ferry is bound with an arrival expected to be early this evening.

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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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