While many UK mainland Europe ferry operators are concerned about Brexit and what it means for trading conditions, one company is looking to future growth, even inking its confidence with an order for a new passenger vessel.
Britain is Ireland’s largest trading partner by volume, accounting for 36% of the total volume of overall exports so naturally, the result of the Brexit vote came as a shock across the Irish Sea. Despite this, Irish Continental Group (ICG) is confident that whatever happens, it will react in an efficient and profitable way. In early 2017, ICG reported earnings before interest, tax and other items of €83.5 million (US$98 million) for the year ending 2016 – up almost 11% on 2015, and a new record for the group.
ICG’s ferry division, Irish Ferries, is the island nation’s leading maritime transport group. The company operates a schedule of up to 16 daily vessel departures between the freight and tourism hubs of Dublin and Holyhead, as well as between Rosslare Europort and Pembroke Dock in South Wales, and routes to Continental Europe through Cherbourg and Roscoff in France. ICG’s container and terminal division incorporates container shipping operator Eucon, Dublin Ferryport Terminals and Belfast Container Terminal.
This network plays a key role in connecting Ireland with its primary trading partners the UK, as well as Continental Europe, and Irish Ferries considers itself to be a proud partner in the strategic development of these trade routes.
Andrew Sheen, managing director of Irish Ferries, says the past 12 months have been a very positive period for Irish Ferries.
“In addition to growing its freight and car carryings, Irish Ferries also made some changes to its fleet structure, with a significant acquisition and a disposal,” he says. “In May 2016, the company purchased the high-speed craft Westpac Express and agreed to continue her charter to Sealift (Military Sealift Command). The transition was managed with the change of head owners and head charterers going smoothly overnight so that the vessel could continue its operation in Naha, Okinawa.”
More recently, Irish Ferries completed the sale of passenger ferry Kaitaki. “The vessel had been on long-term charter to its now owners Kiwi Rail since 2005, operating on New Zealand’s Interislander service across Cook Strait between Wellington and Picton,” Sheen explains. “As the Isle of Innisfree, the ship was the first newbuild undertaken by ICG in 1995, as part of a four-ship building programme over a five-year period. She was followed soon after by the larger Isle of Inishmore and then by the high-speed craft Jonathan Swift. But it was perhaps Ulysses in 2001 that truly turned heads. In her first decade of operation, this 12-deck vessel made around 14,000 crossings, a distance of 826,000 nautical miles and, remarkably, all the Irish Sea could throw at her never caused her to remain in port.”
In addition to the newbuild investments, the luxurious Oscar Wilde was purchased in February 2007 and has earned a reputation as one of the finest ships to ever sail direct from Ireland to France.
Following a review of the company’s operational approach on its key freight and tourism services on the Dublin – Holyhead corridor, Irish Ferries identified a demand for a ‘mirrored’ day and night schedule. It trialled the concept by adding the chartered Epsilon to its weekday rotation in 2013. The arrival of the ship also enabled the company to introduce a new direct service linking Dublin with Cherbourg, a move which has proven hugely successful.
“Based on the performance of this additional tonnage, the decision was taken to commission Germany’s Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesselschaft & Co. (FSG) to build a new cruise ferry at a cost of €144 million (US$169 million),” Sheen says. “This newbuild project will deliver incremental capacity, additional departure frequency and flexibility, and improved operational and running cost effectiveness.”
Sheen added: “FSG is a highly sought-after partner in the construction of such ro-ro vessels, and it was felt that they were best placed to deliver a ship similar in design approach and scale, but more efficient than, the company’s current flagship Ulysses by integrating the latest technologies and innovations.
FSG is also very highly regarded in terms of its hydrodynamic, stability and engineering credentials.
“As would be expected, this newbuild will deliver smarter compliance with the latest Energy Efficiency Design Index and indeed will be at least 20% more fuel efficient than previous ro-ro passenger ship designs,” says Sheen. “Bespoke designs for high-efficiency controllable pitch propellers are particularly noteworthy in this regard. Other features planned in support of the ships environmental credentials include the introduction of exhaust gas abatement technology (scrubbers) as a first for a new vessel launching on the Irish Sea, as well as ballast water treatment systems, and inbuilt sewage treatment plants that will practically eliminate non-recyclable hard waste.”
Working closely with FSG and the appointed interior architects, Irish Ferries has designed a double-deck, drive-through vessel that can operate in ‘day’ mode, offering 1,800 passengers a full range of food, beverage and accommodation facilities for daylight services. It can also operate in ‘night’ mode (offering all 1,800 passengers the same services, but also including cabin accommodation across a range and wide choice of sleeping configurations.
“As one would expect, and in acknowledgment to the preferences of both current and future ferry passengers, the availability of customer-facing interactive technology is a key deliverable to compete with facilities available in five-star hotels across the world,” says Sheen. “Irish Ferries is continuously reviewing and upgrading its service offering in line with customer feedback and user trends that are being identified in the comparable hospitality and service sectors.”
Irish Ferries is looking forward to launching this unique vessel off the slip in Flensburg in January 2018, with delivery scheduled for next June, and the ferry entering service on the Irish Sea the following month.