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Fast-Ferries Prepare to Resume Seasonal Service on the Irish Sea and Isle of Man-UK

20th February 2023
Cars embark fast-ferry Dublin Swift (to Holyhead) which along with Manannan provide the only high-speed craft crossings operated on the Irish Sea with seasonal services starting in Spring. The latter craft runs from the Isle of Man on routes from Douglas linking Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast.
Cars embark fast-ferry Dublin Swift (to Holyhead) which along with Manannan provide the only high-speed craft crossings operated on the Irish Sea with seasonal services starting in Spring. The latter craft runs from the Isle of Man on routes from Douglas linking Liverpool, Dublin and Belfast. Credit: Irish Ferries-twitter

Fast-ferries of the Irish Sea which number just two, are currently berthed in Belfast and Birkenhead, from where works are been carried out to prepare both craft in advance of seasonal services in the spring, writes Jehan Ashmore.

Irish Ferries high-speed craft, Dublin Swift is at Harland & Wolff’s Belfast Dry-Dock for routine annual overhaul. The 2001 built craft had arrived last week from Liverpool, having been in lay-over mode during the winter months on Merseyside.

Afloat has consulted the operator’s website booking system which sees the first fast-ferry crossing on the Dublin-Holyhead scheduled on 10th March, a week in advance of the St. Patrick’s Day bank holiday weekend.

The Ireland-Wales link is just 1 hour 35 minutes crossing time and runs in tandem with the conventional ferry time of 3 hours 30 minutes. As for passenger (fast-ferry) facilities they include a brasserie, TV lounge, a shop, games zone and free WiFi is available.

On the other side of the Mersey, the Isle of Man Steam Packet’s 1998 built craft, Manannan is at Cammell Laird undergoing maintenance and a partial refit while at the shipyard’s wet basin in Birkenhead.

Also occupying the basin is Stena Europe as Afloat reported previously, the Rosslare-Fishguard ferry which is undergoing repairs following an engine-room blaze. Noting sailings are suspsended until 26th February, just day's before St. David's Day on 1st March. 

As for Manannan's return to duties, this is due to take place on 23rd March, but firstly to cover Douglas-Heysham sailings otherwise routinely carried out by the main ferry, Ben-My-Chree which is to have its annual maintenance in Cammell Laird.

The dry-docking of the 'Ben' is take place between 23-31 March, however this has been brought forward to ensure the ferry provides a more resilient and reliable service during the main busy season, as the delivery of the newbuild Manxman is delayed. The reason follows sea-trails where problems arose with a faulty gearbox which led the new ferry to return to the ship’s Asian shipyard.

Seasonal high-speed craft services between the Manx capital and Merseyside, will see Manannan resume scheduled daily sailings between Douglas and Liverpool landing stage on 31st March.

This fast-ferry operated route takes 2 hours 45 minutes. On board there is seating areas and those comprising of three lounges based on reserved, premium and executive club categories. In addition to two cinema lounges, a bar area and cafe.

Afloat will also have more on the Steam Packet's fast-ferry seasonal routes of Dublin-Douglas and Belfast-Douglas.

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!