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Ferry Operator's New Stena Embla Makes Maiden Sailing on Belfast-Birkenhead (Liverpool) Route

25th January 2021
Trucks drive on board the newest ferry on the Irish Sea, Stena Embla which made a maiden crossing on the Belfast-Liverpool service last night, boosting both passenger and freight capacity. The newbuild joined Stena Edda and this brings to three E-Flexer Ro-Pax class ferries on service including Stena Estrid on the Dublin-Holyhead route. As AFLOAT highlighted yesterday, this E-Flexer was scheduled to return to the Irish capital (this morning) following a first round trip of Stena’s new route to continental mainland Europe via Cherbourg, France and during weekdays the ‘leadship E-Flexer’ serves on the route to Wales. Trucks drive on board the newest ferry on the Irish Sea, Stena Embla which made a maiden crossing on the Belfast-Liverpool service last night, boosting both passenger and freight capacity. The newbuild joined Stena Edda and this brings to three E-Flexer Ro-Pax class ferries on service including Stena Estrid on the Dublin-Holyhead route. As AFLOAT highlighted yesterday, this E-Flexer was scheduled to return to the Irish capital (this morning) following a first round trip of Stena’s new route to continental mainland Europe via Cherbourg, France and during weekdays the ‘leadship E-Flexer’ serves on the route to Wales.

The newest Stena Line ferry on the Irish Sea made its inaugural crossing on the Belfast-Birkenhead (Liverpool) service last night and as Afloat adds this follows a debut albeit temporarily on the Rosslare-Cherbourg route to enable extra capacity.

Stena Embla joined another E-Flexer ro-pax class Stena Edda on the popular Belfast – Liverpool route with the capacity to carry 1,000 passengers, 120 cars and with 3,100 freight lane meters.

The Chinese built newbuild will increase the Belfast – Liverpool service freight capacity by 20% and raise passenger capacity by 33%.

Paul Grant, Stena Line’s Irish Sea Trade Director said: “Stena Embla will make one daily return trip between Belfast and Liverpool. We have now invested over £400m in our ferries and port facilities on the Irish Sea in recent years. The Belfast-Liverpool route is one of the most popular Irish Sea crossings for both freight and leisure traffic so having a second vessel of the calibre of Stena Embla, with a host of high-quality passenger facilities, will further increase its appeal and expand our capacity. In March 2020 we launched our new build Stena Edda onto the Belfast-Liverpool service and the feedback from our freight and leisure customers was extremely positive.

He added "Now we will have two ships offering identical services and facilities which will help take our service levels on the route to new heights. We have real confidence in the future of our Belfast services and our Irish Sea routes in general, which is why this region has attracted three brand new ships in the last 12 months alone.”

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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