Ferry firms avoid Britain with ‘Brexit buster’ services from Ireland

Maritime & Ports

Source: Politico, 2021-01-14

Ferry companies in Ireland are pulling some of their newest, biggest vessels from British routes to boost “Brexit buster” services direct to the Continent.

Such sea routes were unpopular before Brexit, when the UK landbridge linking Dover in southeast England with Holyhead in Wales gave truckers a much faster path between Ireland and the Continent.

But after new UK-EU trade rules kicked on 1 January, a dysfunctional New Year’s rollout of customs checks is driving unprecedented demand for alternatives that avoid the hassle of Britain.

At Rosslare, Ireland’s closest port to France, sailings and cargo capacity for roll-on, roll-off shipments by lorry have quadrupled in the past month. Other vessels are being rerouted from Belfast, Liverpool and Holyhead to launch more Dublin-France services.

Stena Line, the biggest operator on Ireland-Britain routes, on 7 January night launched its brand-new Stena Embla on its maiden commercial voyage from Rosslare to Cherbourg in northwest France. The 41,700-ton vessel, which arrived this month from China, was supposed to serve the Belfast-Liverpool route.

Paul Grant, the Irish Sea Trade Director for Stena Line, said Embla was being shifted from a UK route to an all-EU one because of “short-term market distortion.” He said Stena Line was determined “to respond to market and customer demands rapidly.”

Stena Line said its cargo traffic this month versus a year ago is 26% lower on the Belfast-Liverpool route and down a staggering 70% on Dublin-Holyhead.

Rosslare Europort Manager Glenn Carr said the southeast Ireland facility was experiencing “unprecedented demand for capacity directly to and from the Continent.”

Irish Ferries last week pulled its newest ship, the W.B. Yeats, from Dublin-Holyhead, the essential route for commerce with Britain — switching to the Dublin-Cherbourg route three months ahead of schedule.

Dublin Port handles most of Ireland’s trade with continental Europe. But Brexit has suddenly made Dublin-Holyhead an avoidable pain for those using Britain only as a landbridge.

The port's customs authorities this week reported that, despite a decision to postpone enforcement of some rules, a third of truckers arriving from Britain still face clearance delays because their declarations are inaccurate or incomplete.

Irish Ferries also confirmed it is withdrawing another ferry, the Epsilon, from the Dublin-Holyhead route on 15 January.

The greatest demand is reported on new services launched this month by Danish firm DFDS, which is using three ships for 12 sailings weekly between Rosslare and Dunkirk in France. It has reported virtually full sailings, with truckers placed on “standby” in the event their spots must be taken by shipments of high-priority medical cargo needed to tackle COVID-19.

Hauliers say Ireland needs potentially 20 more weekly ferry sailings to keep supply chains working normally. They note that, once the pandemic subsides and travel restrictions are lifted, truckers will be competing with holiday-makers’ cars for deck space.

Aidan Flynn, General Manager of the Freight Transport Association of Ireland, questioned the government’s recent assessment that existing Ireland-Europe sea links were sufficient. “Drivers are being stranded overnight because of overbooking,” he said.

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