Home' Baird Maritime : November 2011 Contents Irish Sea route takes a hit
With JUSTIN MERRIGAN*
Almost 184 years after the Holyhead mail packets switched
from Dublin's Howth harbour to the new asylum harbour at
Dún Laoghaire (then called Kingstown), Stena Line suspended
its once-daily service on the historic Irish Sea crossing until
April 2012 at least.
Stena blamed the move on rising costs associated with the
HSS fast ferry 'Stena Explorer', particularly fuel costs, and
competition from low-cost airlines. Some 24 staff at Dún
Laoghaire have been affected, along with a further 53 crew based
in the UK. The company, which employs more than 1,800
people in Ireland, said about 26 staff will continue to work all
year round at the administration offices in Dún Laoghaire, while
the crew may be redeployed.
The service ended on September 12 and at this stage sailings
may resume next April or May, with 'Stena Explorer'. Why the
operator would reintroduce the vessel credited with the route's
downfall is puzzling. Local feeling is that rather than introduce a
smaller, more economical vessel, Stena will not return to Dún
Laoghaire at all.
'Stena Explorer' was introduced amid much fanfare in 1996,
described as being to the ferry industry what the jet plane was to
aviation in the era of prop aircraft. With a speed of 40 knots, the
Irish Sea crossing was completed in just 99 minutes. Up to five
round trips a day for 1,500 passengers and 350 cars were offered. It
seemed fast ferries were the way for the future.
However, with high speed came with heavy fuel consumption --
28-32 tonnes of fuel for each 90-kilometre crossing. Fine when oil
cost just US$16 a barrel, but since then fuel has reached as high as
US$147 a barrel. It is worth noting that one of the vessels she
replaced, 'Stena Sea Lynx II', burned around seven tonnes for the
same crossing. HSS services have been reduced -- Stena has already
sold the North Sea HSS 'Stena Discovery', and Stranraer's 'Stena
Voyager ceases service this month.
A report in International Freighting Weekly stated that the 'Stena
Discovery' was using more fuel than Stena's seven other
conventional ferries on the North Sea combined. HSS fuel costs
were noted to have risen 40 percent in 2004-05 and again by
another 15 percent in 2005-06, something that was
"unsustainable". Last winter 'Stena Explorer' was replaced by the
smaller 'Stena Lynx III', but even that service was cut with no
sailings from January to April.
Stena will continue to operate four services daily from Holyhead
to nearby Dublin Port with conventional ferries 'Stena Adventurer'
and 'Stena Nordica'. On the Fishguard-Rosslare service, following
the sale of 'Stena Lynx III' to Korean owners there will be no fast
ferry for the first time since 1994. In the north, between Belfast
and Stranraer, the HSS 'Stena Voyager' has been replaced by two
Superfast conventional ferries.
Dun Laoghaire, meanwhile, is looking at being without a ferry
service for the first time in its operational history. Business
interests in Dún Laoghaire have expressed disappointment. Dún
Laoghaire Rathdown Chamber said the retention of the harbour as
a port was crucial to the region.
Rising costs and weak demand hit ICG
While Stena was cutting losses, Irish Continental Group (ICG),
parent of direct competitor Irish Ferries, reported a 3.4 percent
rise in revenues to 7126.6 million in the six months to the end
of June, though operating profits declined by 26.1 percent to
Revenues at ICG's ferries division were flat at 768.2 million.
Ro-Ro freight revenues were up 10.7 per cent, but passenger, car
and on-board revenues declined by 2.2 percent to 740 million.
ICG carried 670,500 passengers in the half year, down 3.6
percent on the same period of 2010. Car traffic was down 3.1 per
cent at 151,600.
The lower numbers were attributed to weak consumer
demand due to the recession, and the Icelandic ash cloud effect
-- which boosted demand in 2010 -- not being repeated this year.
During the period, fuel costs rose by 74.3 million.
Nonetheless, ICG continues to pay down its debt, which almost
halved in the six-month period to 714.4 million. Interestingly,
Irish Ferries responded to Stena's Dún Laoghaire announcement by
increasing winter sailings with its Dublin-Holyhead fast ferry
'Jonathan Swift' to two round trips daily.
*Justin Merrigan grew up close to Dun Laoghaire harbour, where
the activities of the ferries became a fascination, and has worked for
Stena Sealink Line, Sea Containers and Incat. He is an associate
member of the Master Mariners Association of Tasmania and author
of several books detailing European ferry services.
Photo credit: Gary Davies, Maritime Photographic
November 2011 BAIRD MARITIME
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