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Ferry Service to Rathlin Island Affected As Sailings Cancelled Due to Strike

5th January 2023
Strike action as car-ferry services to Rathlin Island some six miles off the Antrim coast have been cancelled today. The route is operated by a passenger-only fast-craft and the car-ferry Spirit of Rathlin (above) which was custom-built by Arklow Marine Services in Co. Wicklow.
Strike action as car-ferry services to Rathlin Island some six miles off the Antrim coast have been cancelled today. The route is operated by a passenger-only fast-craft and the car-ferry Spirit of Rathlin (above) which was custom-built by Arklow Marine Services in Co. Wicklow. Credit: Bay Rathlin Development & Community Association-facebook

The passenger car ferry service to Rathlin Island running from Ballycastle on the Antrim coast have been affected due to industrial action with all sailings cancelled today, 5 January.

Operating the route to Northern Ireland's only inhabited island, is Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd which has advised passengers of the disruption on its website which also informs that their office will remain closed. 

According to BBC News NI, it understands that employees are striking over pay and conditions.

With a population of around 150, islanders are served by Rathlin Island Ferry Ltd on behalf of the Department for Infrastructure.

In response to the strike, a department spokesperson said it "hopes a resolution to the ongoing dispute can be achieved through negotiations between the employers and the union". They added "Emergency cover will remain in place during the strike period" 

BBC News NI has contacted the operator and the trade union Unite.

Usually in January, there are 10 sailings operating per day, with five sailings in each direction and beginning at 08:00 GMT from (Church Bay) Rathlin.

The six-mile journey can take between 25 minutes operating a passenger only fast-craft to 40 minutes using as Afloat adds the 5 car / 1 lorry capacity ferry.

The fast-craft Rathlin Express can take 98 passengers and was introduced in 2009 and the car-ferry Spirit of Rathlin with 125 passengers has been in service since 2017.

Both vessels were custom-built by Arklow Marine Services in Co. Wicklow.

Prior to entering service the newbuild Spirit of Rathlin made a once-off call to Greystones Harbour to carry out vehicle-trials at the slipway.

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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!