Shipping Companies Taking Different Approaches on Irish Routes as Brexit Deadline Looms

Maritime & Ports

Source: Handy Shipping guide, 2020-12-02

With the looming deadline of Brexit on 31 December, shipping lines serving the country are wondering what the future holds in terms of routes for traffic between the Emerald Isle and continental Europe. Traditionally this has run via road over the ‘landbridge’, with Irish and European trucks crossing via mainland Britain, transiting by road (often with deliveries/pickups on route), and then passing from one of the British ports to their destination.

However, with the uncertainty as to just what the situation will be post-Brexit as regards freight traffic passing into and out of the UK, let alone any potential impact on EU-British trade, different shipping lines are setting their agendas for the future.

One deeply committed to the status quo of running via the UK is Swedish ferry company Stena Line, which has just taken ownership of its newest ferry, the Stena Embla. The vessel is the third of five new next-generation E-Flexer RoPax vessels that are being constructed as part of an extensive modernisation of the company’s fleet.

It is last of three new vessels due for the Irish Sea, which marks the end of a 7-year development programme totalling a £400m investment in new ferries and port infrastructure in the region. The vessel will enter service in January 2021. Stena’s COO, Niclas Mårtensson said:

“Taking ownership of Stena Embla is a major milestone for Stena Line, as we look forward to better times ahead. While delivery of the vessel marks the end of a very tough period for us, it also marks the completion of a very significant investment in our Irish Sea operations. It reflects our strong support for the region that will see three of the world’s most modern ferries operating between Britain and Ireland.”

The new Stena ships are certainly impressive. Amongst the most advanced and fuel-efficient vessels in operation, they measure 215 metres in length and provide freight capacity of 3,100 lane metres, meaning a 40% increase in freight tonnage, and the space to carry 210 freight vehicles, 120 cars and 1,000 passengers and crew. The remaining two E-Flexer vessels under construction in China are even larger versions with a total length of 240 metres.

However, at least one operator is reporting that hauliers seem to be interested in hedging their bets when it comes to sending freight to-and-from Europe. Ro-Ro operator CLdN has announced that it will be introducing a second weekly service between Cork in Southern Ireland and Zeebrugge in Belgium.

The route was first opened in May 2019 and services unaccompanied vehicles, so admittedly a different part of the freight market than Stena’s offerings. However CLdN reports that demand has risen steadily since then, fuelled by the uncertainty on how Brexit will effect transit traffic. The possible impact of potentially increased customs clearance times, and the road haulage permit situation, for trucks transiting to and through Britain has seen renewed interest in the unaccompanied sector.

The company says the introduction of this new addition to the timetable is directly due to this expanded traffic and CNdLs expectation is that demand for direct Europe-Ireland sailings will only increase as operators, nervous of potential disruption to the traditional routes, switch over to direct sailings.

The New Year will indicate just what effect Brexit is going to have on Irish freight routes as well as many other facets of trade. However, as of right now with crucial elements still undecided, it’s still anyone’s guess.


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