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Ireland-France Ferries Ply in UK Waters Where Plans to Replace Domestic Ferry With More Efficient Ship

24th September 2020
UK 'domestic' waters islands serving veteran passenger/cargo ferry Scillonian III underway in the Scilly Isles linking Penzance in Cornwall, south-west England. Specialist ship designer BMT has a contract to design a new vessel to travel for the coastal service to the island archipelago off Land's End. UK 'domestic' waters islands serving veteran passenger/cargo ferry Scillonian III underway in the Scilly Isles linking Penzance in Cornwall, south-west England. Specialist ship designer BMT has a contract to design a new vessel to travel for the coastal service to the island archipelago off Land's End. Photo: Isles of Scilly Steamship -facebook

As Irish hauliers call for more direct services to mainland Europe given a post-Brexit, it is in these UK domestic waters that plans to replace the Isles of Scilly ferry linking Cornwall are underway likewise of those ferries serving Ireland-France, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The current Isle of Scilly passenger cargo-ferry is the Scillionian III which dates to 1977 having been launched by Appledore Shipbuilders. The north Devon shipyard under Babcock Marine built patrol vessels for the Irish Naval Service and modular construction for the UK Royal Navy's newest aircraft carriers. Recently the facility was acquired by Belfast based Harland & Wolff.

Afloat.ie highlights that this year the Isles of Scilly Steamship (Group) celebrates it's centenary operating the lifeline service for islanders, esssential freight plus seasonal tourists between Penzance Harbour and Hugh Town on St. Mary's. This island is one of the larger isles of the sand-fringed archipelago located between the Altantic Ocean and English Channel.

Scillonian III's passage time, offering scenic Cornish scenery, involves a journey of around 2hrs and 45 minutes, though the company operates airline services too from Land's End, Newquay and Exeter in neigbouring Devon.

In 2017, Scillionian III marked forty years of loyal service and in that time, the 1,255 gross tonnage ferry has covered more than half a million miles, and by 2019 transported more than 4.5 million passengers. The ship has a capacity for 486 and a crew 18 who operate for eight months a year (March-November) and where the 4-deck ferry has developed a loyal and dedicated following of fans given the custom-built vessel remains the longest serving ferry in the Steamship's history.

According to CornwallLive.ie, the veteran vessel is to be replaced by a new ‘greener, more efficient’ passenger ferry.

Ship designer BMT has been awarded a new contract with the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group (ISSG) for vessel design and consultancy services that will provide the “next generation of essential life-line travel and freight services to the Isles of Scilly”.

The ISSG requires a flexible vessel design solution to run between the harbours of Penzance and St Mary’s, in addition to an onward freight supply chain from St Mary’s to the off islands of St Martins, Tresco, Bryher and St Agnes.

A spokesperson for BMT said: “The custom designs will be optimised to meet the future requirements of the islands, and to meet the expanding needs of the local communities, businesses and visitors, to increase tourism, and attract a new generation of visitors to the islands.”

BMT, together with the ISSG, will be working hand-in-hand with the community through public consultation to develop future designs that will benefit and support the residents of the Isles of Scilly for years to come.

More reading on plans for the newbuild development click here. 

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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