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Irish Ferries Face Competitor By Boosting Freight Capacity With Second Ship on Dublin-Cherbourg Service

31st January 2021
Irish Ferries added freight capacity this weekend noting new competition from Stena Line on the Dublin-Cherbourg. The Irish ferry operator introduced Epsilon as the 'second-ship' joining cruiseferry W.B. Yeats. Both the 'Visentini' ro-pax Epsilon and 'E-Flexer' ro pax Stena Estrid addresses demand more directly from the Irish capital to mainland Europe following the recent rapid rise of new route/services based through the south-east port of Rosslare Europort. The Epsilon returned to Dublin Port (today at noon) and in the file scene is likwise of the current grey skies! Irish Ferries added freight capacity this weekend noting new competition from Stena Line on the Dublin-Cherbourg. The Irish ferry operator introduced Epsilon as the 'second-ship' joining cruiseferry W.B. Yeats. Both the 'Visentini' ro-pax Epsilon and 'E-Flexer' ro pax Stena Estrid addresses demand more directly from the Irish capital to mainland Europe following the recent rapid rise of new route/services based through the south-east port of Rosslare Europort. The Epsilon returned to Dublin Port (today at noon) and in the file scene is likwise of the current grey skies! Credit: Jehan Ashmore

Irish Ferries have further responded to demands from hauliers and new competition from Stena by boosting freight capacity with a second ferry added onto the Dublin-Cherbourg service this weekend, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Afloat ascertained this development having observed the chartered ro-pax Epilson (170 freight units) depart Dublin Port on Friday afternoon with an outbound sailing to the mainland European port. It transpires based from the operator's freight website that the sailing took place earlier than scheduled due to the adverse weather conditions on the Irish Sea (see related story).

Further research revealed that Epsilon's sailing schedule on the direct Ireland-France involves a single round trip at the weekends. Whereas, during week-days the ropax resumes routine crossings on the Dublin-Holyhead service in tandem with the cruiseferry Ulysses.

Noting that the ferry sector is a constantly evolving scene given Brexit etc and so further changes in flexibilty of schedules can easily be expected. This can be due to operational reasons and market demand. 

As for the present, Epsilon this morning is making its inbound sailing to Dublin Port (due 12.00) from where yesterday evening Afloat also observed the route's other ship, the cruiseferry W.B. Yeats (165 freight units) depart in the reverse direction. Also this morning, this ferry is nearing completion of the crossing to the north France port in Normandy.

The move by Irish Ferries is set against the backdrop of rivals, Stena Line which made a first entry on to the Ireland-France route this month. This new service is operated by Stena Estrid, which likewise of Irish Ferries, makes a single round trip at weekends before returning to weekday based Dublin-Holyhead sailings joining Stena Adventurer.

This is about to change as next week Stena Line is to withdraw Stena Estrid from the Ireland-Wales service and onto the Irish capital-continental route and therefore increase sailings and capacity. In addition, the smaller capacity Stena Horizon is to take 'Estrid's place by transferring to the Dublin-Holyhead route having operated Rosslare-Cherbourg service (see: newcomer Brittany Ferries) also run by ro-ro freighter Stena Foreteller.

As reported earlier this month the transfer of W.B Yeats from Dublin-Holyhead to the Ireland-France route took place more than four months in advance than scheduled. This in response to the rapid surge demanded by hauliers wanting to avoid the UK land-bridge and resultant complications of customs clearance of a post-Brexit UK.

W.B. Yeats at more than 50,000 gross tonnage is the largest ferry operating out of Ireland but due to heavy seas the ferry took a 'weather route' which involved departing Dublin Bay via the Baily Lighthouse and onward to the Kish Lighthouse and further offshore to deeper waters.

Otherwise in more favourable weather, the ferry heads south out of Dublin Bay via the Muglins Lighthouse and along off the east coast sandbanks until around off Wicklow Head. From these waters the course veers further offshore and towards the centre of the St. Georges Channel.

With Stena adding to Irish Ferries services on the Dublin-Cherbourg route, they follow the original pioneer on the direct route first launched by P&O Ferries in 2003 using the ro pax European Ambassador. On occasions subject to freight traffic demands, the ro pax would make en route calls to Rosslare Europort but on the majority of occasions this involved an arrival from France.

In the second year of service, P&O opened the route up to 'foot' passengers which was welcomed and also on a personal basis having taken the inaugural crossing on this direct and convenient connection to the continent.

Published in Irish Ferries, 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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