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IMDO Publish Shipping Report for Q2 2020 and Impact of Covid-19 on Ferry Sector

27th October 2020
IMDO has published its Shipping Report for period Q2 of 2020 which outlines trends within Ireland’s shipping industry and how its refleccts the wider economy. The most impacted shipping sector caused by Covid-19 has been the Ferry Sector. Above Rosslare Europort, the nearest Irish port to continental mainland Europe. IMDO has published its Shipping Report for period Q2 of 2020 which outlines trends within Ireland’s shipping industry and how its refleccts the wider economy. The most impacted shipping sector caused by Covid-19 has been the Ferry Sector. Above Rosslare Europort, the nearest Irish port to continental mainland Europe. Photo: Rosslare Europort-twitter

The Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) has published its iShips Index of its Quarterly Shipping Report for the period Q2 of 2020 which covers and outlines trends within Ireland’s shipping industry, and as a result, the wider economy.

Below Afloat has highlighted the Quarterly's report focusing on the Ferry sector which of all the maritime transport modes has been most impacted by Covid-19. For more on this including graphs relating to this particular industry can be found (pages 20-24) from the attached download.

The index report accounts for the five separate market segments, representing the main maritime traffic sectors moving through Irish ports. They are Unitised trade which includes Lift-on/Lift-off (LoLo) and Roll-on/Roll-of (RoRo), while Bulk traffic includes Break Bulk, Dry Bulk and Liquid Bulk.

Passenger Market 

No Irish maritime market segment has been more severely disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and its accompanying restrictions than the market for ferry passengers.

In Q2 2020, just over 1 million fewer passengers passed through ports on the island of Ireland. This represents an 88% decline compared to the same period in 2019. In all, 150,000 passengers either departed or arrived at ports on the island of Ireland in Q2 2020, compared to 1.2 million in Q2 2019.

In Ireland, passenger volumes through Dublin, Cork and Rosslare Europort declined by 91%, equivalent to 644,000 fewer passengers.

In Northern Ireland, passenger volumes declined by 83% through Belfast Harbour and the Port of Larne, equivalent to 415,000 fewer passengers.

Figures 15 & 16 illustrate the passenger volumes recorded across each shipping corridor5 for the first two quarters of 2020 and 2019. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on international ferry travel is evident in the totals for Q1 2020, as shown in Figure 15. Passenger volumes through Ireland and Northern Ireland declined by 20% and 16% respectively, compared to Q1 2019.

In Ireland, passenger travel on the Continental route was proportionally the worst affected as the pandemic and its associated restrictions took hold across mainland Europe sooner than that of Ireland and the UK.

However, the disruption caused by the pandemic was felt most in Q2 2020, as presented in Figure 16. As is evident in the table, such disruptions were felt market wide, with no route avoiding precipitous declines in passenger volumes. Proportionally, the Southern and Continental corridors recorded equivalent declines of 93%, or approximately 130,000 passengers each. Volumes on the Central corridor declined by 89%, equivalent to a loss of 380,000 passengers. In terms of market shares, the Central corridor represented a 70% share of the Irish market. This share is 10% greater than in 2019 and was accompanied by declines on the Southern and Continental Corridors, which fell by 5% each.

On the Northern corridor, volumes fared marginally better as passenger numbers declined by 83%, equivalent to 415,000 passengers. The Northern Corridor represented 56% of all passengers on the island in Q2, a 16% increase on the average market share held for the last six years. The lack of requirement for international travel restrictions between mainland UK ports and Northern Irish ports likely contributed to the shallower declines and increased market shares of volumes through Belfast Harbour and The Port of Larne.

Figure 17 provides a graphical representation of the volumes recorded on each corridor. As mentioned above, the precipitous declines in volumes were felt market wide, with the Southern and Continental corridors recording the steepest proportional declines, followed by the Central and Northern corridors.

Figure 18 combines passenger volumes from Q1 and Q2 to illustrate market performance for the first half year (H1) of 2019 and 2020. In H1 2020, roughly 700,000 fewer passengers passed through ports in Ireland, equivalent to a decline of 69% compared to H1 2019. Northern Irish ports recorded roughly 460,000 fewer passengers, a decline of 59% over 2019. The continental corridor recorded the greatest proportional declines of any corridor on the island of Ireland.

In terms of which months were most affected by the pandemic in H1 2020, Figure 19 illustrated passenger volumes from January to June across the Irish ports of Dublin, Rosslare Europort and the Port of Cork. As is evident in Figure 19 below, passenger volumes begin to steadily decline in the first three months of 2020. April and May were the hardest hit months in H1 2020, as pandemic related restrictions on economic activity and international travel, both in Ireland and across Europe, were strictest during this time.

The IMDO has closely monitored passenger travel through Irish ports on a weekly basis since the outbreak of the pandemic in Ireland. Passenger volumes have slowly continued to rise since their lowest point in mid-April, but at the time ofthis publication, remain considerably below volumes recorded in any previous summer period, the peak period for passenger travel. As restrictions on international travel currently remain in place, the ferry passenger market is far from making a full recovery to previous volumes.


Published in Ferry
Jehan Ashmore

About The Author

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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