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First DFDS Freight Ferry for New Rosslare Europort-Dunkirk (France) Route Makes Berthing Trials

30th December 2020
Rosslare Europort and hauliers alike welcomed the first arrival of the DFDS owned Optima Seaways this morning so to enable berthing trials prior to the launch of a new direct ro-ro freight-only route to Dunkirk, France on mainland continental Europe. This new 'Brexit-buster' service will avoid the UK Land-Bridge. AFLOAT also adds the direct Ireland-France route will be the first ever ro-ro route to transit straight through the entire English Channel as the French port is located on the North Sea and is east of Calais from where DFDS operate an existing service to Dover along with Dunkirk-Dover. Rosslare Europort and hauliers alike welcomed the first arrival of the DFDS owned Optima Seaways this morning so to enable berthing trials prior to the launch of a new direct ro-ro freight-only route to Dunkirk, France on mainland continental Europe. This new 'Brexit-buster' service will avoid the UK Land-Bridge. AFLOAT also adds the direct Ireland-France route will be the first ever ro-ro route to transit straight through the entire English Channel as the French port is located on the North Sea and is east of Calais from where DFDS operate an existing service to Dover along with Dunkirk-Dover. Credit: Rosslare Europort-twitter

Rosslare Europort welcomed the first of three ro-ro freight-ferries, that DFDS will operate on the eagerly awaited new direct route to Dunkirk (Dunkerque) in northern France thus avoiding the UK's Brexit Land-bridge, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Afloat tracked the Italian 'Visentini' shipyard built Optima Seaways owned by DFDS which departed the French port on Monday evening before berthing in Rosslare Europort this morning.

The inaugural freight sailing is scheduled to take place this Saturday, 2nd January with the departure from the south-east Irish port to mainland continental Europe.

The new route will enable Irish hauliers and other freight customers to keep their vital trade transported within the EU and avoid the customs formalities imposed by Brexit and associated potential delays.

DFDS will run 6 weekly departures from each port, either in the afternoon or evening, with a crossing time of just under 24 hours. To maintain such an intensive schedule the Danish operator has chartered in an additional pair of ships and crews, they are the Kerry, another Visentini built ropax (same design of Optima Seaways) and the larger passenger capacity ferry, Visby which will serve in a freight-only mode.

The DFDS vessel along with the chartered ferries have each a capacity for up to 120 trucks and trailers plus drivers. Accommodation for drivers will be based on individual COVID-19 safe cabins during the crossing of just under a day long in duration.

Another bonus for the Wexford port will be the launch of another 'Brexit-buster' service when Brittany Ferries further consolidates its presence in the opening of a combined freight and passenger 'no-frills' ferry service to Cherbourg on 22nd March. On the next day their Cork-Roscoff 'seasonal' route resumes to Brittany. 

As for Brittany Ferries new Ireland-France service to Normandy using the Visentini ropax Connemara, this will be in competition with Stena Line's service also serving the port at the tip of the Contentin Peninsula. They operate the similiar Stena Horizon, once again another ropax series from the prolific Visentini shipyard. In addition due to a surge in demand, freighter Stena Foreteller began an earlier than scheduled service prior to a planned 4th January start.

Returning to the DFDS new Ireland-France route, is the deployment of mixed vessel types involving a pair of more freight orientated vessels (ropax) limited to around 300 passengers and 160 cars approx. This compared to the larger 1,500 passenger/500 car ferry capacity Visby which as mentioned beforehand (likewise of the ropax's) will be carrying only trucks and drivers.

Perhaps, the chartering of the Visby from Swedish based operator Destination Gotland is just a short term measure? This vessel however had previously served a short sea crossing to the Baltic Sea island of Gotland which took only 3 hours and 15 minutes. Or will DFDS consider opening a 'full' ferry service with a suitable overnight ferry for holidaymakers during the high-season? This would facilitate the Ireland-BeNeLux nations link and Germany in addition towards central Europe.

Noting Brittany Ferries earlier this year opened the new Rosslare-Bilbao route to northern Spain. The route compared to the DFDS operation has a longer crossing time of 28 hours plus when traveling across the Bay of Biscay.

Rosslare Harbour has had a history of pioneering new direct ro-ro routes to mainland Europe, beginning firstly in 1968 by the Irish Shipping Ltd (ISL) route to Le Havre launched by a pair of Normandy Ferries, one each from two other shipping companies in a troika venture until they pulled out four years later. After an absence of the 1972 season, two Scandinavian companies joined ISL to form the following year the ferry division of Irish Continental Line (ICL).

ICL was a passenger subsidiary of the state-owned Irish Shipping Ltd, however the cargoship side went into liquidation in 1984, however ICL survived and would later evolve to become Irish Ferries, whose parent company is the Irish Continental Group (ICG). The ferry firm currently operates from Rosslare but only to the Welsh port of Pembroke in the UK while Stena serve Fishguard also in Pembrokeshire.

As for Irish Ferries services to France, in recent years the operator abandoned the Wexford port and relocated to Dublin Port from where Cherbourg is still served but no longer does the operator run the Rosslare route to Roscoff.

The route between the Irish capital and Cherbourg is operated by yet another variant of a Visentini ropax in the form of the chartered Epsilon. In addition the cruiseferry W.B. Yeats takes over the role of the ropax in May and for the summer season.

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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