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News about ferries and car ferries The Irish Sea ferry industry is like any other sector of the shipping industry in that it is made up of a myriad of ship operators, owners, managers, charterers who all contribute to providing a network of routes sailed by a variety of vessels designed for different yet similar purposes.

All of this ferry activity involves conventional ferry tonnage, ‘ro-pax’, where the main design of the vessel is to carry more cargo capacity rather than passengers. This is in some cases however, completely at odds with the fast ferry where they carry far more passengers and charge a premium.

Reporting on the ferry scene, we look at the ever-changing trends in this industry, as competing ferry operators compete in an intensive environment, vying for market share following the fallout from the economic crisis. All of this has consequences that some feel immediately, while sometimes the effects can linger over time, resulting in expense for others, through reduced competition or takeover or even in the face of complete market withdrawal, as evidenced by recent years.

Due to these difficult times, there are of course winners and losers, as evidenced by the tendency to only use high-speed ferries during peak summer months and on shorter journeys. Additionally, where fast boats once dominated the ferry scene, during the heady days of the mid-90s they were replaced by recent entrants in the form of “fast ferries” and with increased levels of luxury, but seeming to train as a cost effective alternative.

Regardless of the type of vessel deployed on the Irish Sea routes (between 2 and 9 hours), it is the ferry companies that keep the cogs of the industry turning as freight vehicles literally ( roll-on and roll-off) ships coupled with motorized tourists and the humble “foot” passenger transported 363 days a year.

As such, freight-only operators provide important trade routes between Ireland and the UK, where the freight transport customer is ‘king’ to generate year-round revenue for the UK. ferry operator. However, the bespoke tonnage brought into service in recent years has exceeded Irish Sea capacity level in some segments of the freight market.

A prime example of the need for commerce that we consumers often expect daily, although we no doubt wonder how it reached our shores, is the delivery of perishable goods just in time to fill our supermarket shelves.

A visual manifestation of this is the arrival each morning and evening at our main ports, where a combination of ferries, ro-pax ships and fast craft descend at the same time. It is essentially a marine version of our rush hour road traffic entering and exiting along suburban beltways.

Across the Celtic Sea, coverage of the ferry scene also includes direct overnight ferry connections from Ireland linking French ports in north-west Brittany and Normandy.

Due to the seasonality of these routes to Europe, the ferry scene can be mostly operated between February and November, but this does not lessen operator competition.

Noting that there have been plans over the years to operate a direct ferry service between Ireland and the Iberian Peninsula which would open up existing freight markets and develop new ones. If a direct service opened it would bring new opportunities also for holidaymakers, where Spain is the most visited country in the EU visited by Irish holidaymakers… on the way to the sun!

About Lillian Coomer

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