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New Stena 'E-Flexer' Ropax Makes Delivery Voyage Completing Trio for Irish Sea Service

3rd January 2021
The newest Stena 'E-Flexer' series ropax Stena Embla was tracked by AFLOAT heading through the Irish Sea on New Year's Day and followed by a first arrival yesterday to Belfast Harbour from where it will enter service on the route to Birkenhead (Liverpool). Above the Chinese newbuild is seen taking bunkers from a tanker alongside while off the Spanish port of Algerciras during a month long delivery voyage from Asia.  The newest Stena 'E-Flexer' series ropax Stena Embla was tracked by AFLOAT heading through the Irish Sea on New Year's Day and followed by a first arrival yesterday to Belfast Harbour from where it will enter service on the route to Birkenhead (Liverpool). Above the Chinese newbuild is seen taking bunkers from a tanker alongside while off the Spanish port of Algerciras during a month long delivery voyage from Asia. Credit: Stena Line UKIE-retweeted

Stena Embla the latest Chinese newbuild 'E-Flexer' class ropax completed a month-long delivery voyage to Europe where the ferry is to join sisters on the Irish Sea, writes Jehan Ashmore.

The 40,050 gross tonnage newbuild built in Weihai, was tracked by Afloat.ie on the evening of New Year's Day in the Celtic Sea heading into the Irish Sea bound for Holyhead, Wales to where a brief call was made in the early hours of the next day before proceeding to Belfast Harbour. The new ferry berthed at the port's VT2 terminal.

The last port of call during Stena Embla's long delivery voyage was the southern Spanish port of Algerciras, opposite of Gibraltar, having called previously via Singapore, Sri Lanka and then a transit of the Suez Canal.

The Spanish call was to enable 'bunkers' transferred from a small tanker. On a related note, at the same time Stena Embla was tracked in the Celtic Sea, another tanker, Lizrix from Falmouth, was anchored off Rosslare Europort prior to entering the Wexford port to refuel Stena Horizon serving on the Cherbourg route.

The French service was recently boosted in freight capacity as the ro-ro Stena Foreteller took up service before Christmas which was earlier than planned to tomorrow's original start-up date. This was due to a major surge in demand from hauliers to arrive in mainland Europe and avoid customs checks of a post-Brexit UK.

While there is much attention to yesterday's newest 'Brexit-buster' route to Dunkirk operated by DFDS, Stena will introduce Stena Embla as the second E-Flexer on the Irish Sea between Belfast and Birkenhead (Liverpool). The new ferry has a capacity for 1,000 passengers, 120 cars and 3,100 lane metres of freight.

The other E-Flexer is Stena Edda along with Stena Mersey currently operates the 8 hour route. Each of the E-Flexers, have 40% more deck capacity, 40% more cabins and 30% more fuel-efficient than the Stena Mersey which will be replaced by the newbuild.

Stena Mersey along with former fleetmate and sister Stena Lagan (lenghtened last year to increase freight capacity), was in March replaced by the the E-Flexer, Stena Edda. Both of the 'river' theme named ropax vessels will be reunited when work also to enlarge Stena Mersey is due for completion next summer. At that stage, both the pair will have been renamed to reflect a deployment to a Baltic Sea route for the same operator.

As for the third E-Flexer on the Irish Sea, this is the leadship of the class Stena Estrid which entered service almost a year ago on the Dublin-Holyhead route. This winter the ferry was on relief duty between Belfast-Birkenhead but is back operating routine duties on the premier Irish Sea route.

In total Stena Ro Ro has ordered 9 of the Stena E-Flexer class and all built in China, though last year there was a change of ownership at the shipyard in Weihai.

Three of the newbuilds have been chartered to Brittany Ferries, firstly the Galicia which made a debut in December on UK-Spain service whereas DFDS will receive their E-flexer on the short-sea Dover-Calais service this year.

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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