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New Belfast Ferry Stena Embla Successfully Completes Sea Trials

21st October 2020
Stena Embla at CMI Jinling Weihai Shipyard Stena Embla at CMI Jinling Weihai Shipyard

Ferry company Stena Line has announced that Stena Embla, the last of its three new ferries destined for the Irish Sea, has successfully completed its sea trials in China’s Yellow Sea.

Stena Embla is the latest new Stena Line next generation RoPax vessel that is being constructed at the CMI Jingling Weihai Shipyard in China, marking the end of significant recent investment on the Irish Sea by the Swedish owned ferry company. The global pandemic did not delay the build of the vessel, which is being delivered to the agreed schedule.

The sea trials are designed to test the vessel at sea in order to ensure that all systems are fully operational and in line with strict specifications outlined by Stena Line. The tests include areas as engine performance and fuel consumption, navigation and radio equipment, emergency systems, speed tests, manoeuvrability, engine and thruster tests as well as safety tests.

Stena Embla - destined for Belfast Lough but on sea trials this week in China's Yellow SeaStena Embla - destined for Belfast Lough after successfully completing sea trials this week on China's Yellow Sea

“It is great to see that the shipyard has not missed a beat during this year’s final stages of the build. Today the last of our three next generation ferries achieved a very important milestone bang on time” said Stena Line’s Paul Grant, Trade Director, Irish Sea.

“Sea trials are a critical phase in a new ship’s development; it is our first opportunity to test a new vessel out at sea and put her through her paces to ensure that she is up to our high standards.

“We systematically go through all aspects of the new ship and I am pleased to say that Stena Embla has successfully completed every trial. We now look forward to the full handover of the vessel by the shipyard and starting her journey to the Irish Sea” he added.

Stena Line CEO Niclas Mårtensson said that the introduction of Stena Embla and her sister ships, Stena Estrid and Stena Edda, reflected the company’s commitment to the Irish Sea, as Afloat previously reported here.

“The Irish Sea is very important to Stena Line’s global business and represents a significant part of our overall revenue,” said Mr Mårtensson.

“We strongly believe that our ferry business on the Irish Sea will continue to grow. It remains a key region for the company, as evidenced by our continued investment and the addition of three new vessels. This is underscoring Stena Line’s commitment to our Irish Sea operations and our determination to deliver the best possible freight and travel experience to our customers. 

“It has been a very challenging year for our business. But I am proud that as Europe’s largest ferry company, Stena Line continues to shape the industry for life after the global pandemic and to put us into a position to support our customers after Brexit” he concluded.

Part of a multi-million-pound investment in the region, the new Stena Line ferries are amongst the most advanced vessels in operation. They are 25% more fuel-efficient than existing vessels and with 215 metres in length they are much larger than today’s standard RoPax vessels, providing 30% more freight capacity with 3,100 lane meters. They also have the space to carry 120 cars and 1,000 passengers and crew.  The roll-on roll-off design and the ability to load two vehicle decks simultaneously has reduced loading and unloading times, resulting in quicker turnaround times in ports.

The big, bright and airy design of the E-Flexer vessels has provided a safe travel environment during the COVID-19 crisis. With ample space to social distance, access to fresh air and the open plan design has meant large areas of the vessel can be sanitised easily. Giving customers the reassurance that travelling by ferry is the safest form of public travel during the pandemic.

Next up for Stena Embla is an official handover ceremony at the shipyard before she sets sail on the long journey from China to Belfast. Arriving home around Christmas in time start operating on the Belfast to Birkenhead route in early 2021 alongside sister ship Stena Edda, launched in March.

The new vessel replaces the Stena Mersey, which has successfully operated on the Belfast to Birkenhead route for 10 years. The Mersey will then head off to join sister ship the Stena Lagan in Turkey where both ships are being extended, before re-deployment on the Baltic Sea.

During the summer Stena Line also confirmed that the construction of two new larger E-Flexer ferries has begun in Weihai, China. Their keels were recently laid in the same shipyard in Weihai and the delivery is expected in 2022.

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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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