Brittany Ferries launches France-Ireland ‘Brexit by-pass’ Ro-Ro service two months early

Maritime & Ports

Source: Lloyd's Loading List, 2021-01-18

Brittany Ferries on 18 January launched its France-Ireland ‘Brexit by-pass’ Ro-Ro service, connecting Cherbourg and Rosslare, two months earlier than originally planned, due to strong demand from freight firms for greater direct freight capacity between the two EU member countries caused by the complications from Britain’s exit from the EU single market and customs union from the end of last year.

The European ferry operator said it had “moved quickly to support the freight sector and to meet the needs of an industry battling Brexit” with the launch on 18 January of the new, weekly round trip service connecting Cherbourg and Rosslare.

“Irish and French hauliers have traditionally relied on the UK land bridge when transporting goods to and from mainland Europe. However, since the beginning of the year, more companies have sought an alternative to the additional administration, new formalities, greater costs and potential delays that come from carrying goods through the UK,” the French Ro-Ro operator said.

The Cherbourg-Rosslare crossing will be operated by the Cap Finistère, the fastest ship in the company’s fleet with a top cruising speed of 28 knots and whose garage decks offer nearly 2 kilometres of space for freight vehicles, it said.

Christophe Mathieu, Brittany Ferries’ CEO, commented: “Brittany Ferries prides itself on decisive action, based on the flexibility of its fleet, and we can meet the needs of the marketplace quickly. Cap Finistère is our fastest Ro-Ro vessel and she is therefore well suited to opening this new Brexit by-pass, making an additional sailing each week connecting France and Ireland.”

At the beginning of this month, DFDS announced the opening of a new freight Ro-Ro service between Rosslare and Dunkirk, “to facilitate trade between Ireland and continental Europe” in offering “direct and paperless transport between EU countries.”

It is being marketed as “a cost-efficient alternative to driving through the UK.” The European Ro-Ro group said that the Port of Dunkirk was a gateway to Ireland’s top export markets – France, Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands – and a host of secondary markets.

Although UK Ro-Ro ports serving the UK-EU and Great Britain-Northern Ireland markets have been spared massive queues in the first two weeks of the year, due largely to much lower than usual traffic volumes, many exporters from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and from the UK to the EU, have been struggling to adapt to the new trading arrangements since the end of the UK’s transition period on 31 December after exiting the EU, with significant disruption reported to freight flows, volumes and patterns.

With Great Britain having left the EU single market and customs union as of 1 January 2021, leaving Northern Ireland inside its rules, Seamus Leheny, Northern Ireland Policy Manager for Logistics UK, said last week that there were a number of factors at play contributing to the disruptions, including the “time and guidance that businesses have had” for what has been “quite a monumental change in how businesses move goods, simply down to the administration and the formalities”.

He said goods were still getting to Northern Ireland from Great Britain, “but not in the regular volumes or patterns that we had been used to”. He added that retailers or manufacturers or distributors that are based in Great Britain are having to carefully look at each load and plan them so that they’re not overwhelmed by the paperwork.

“So, they are having to break downloads differently to how it would normally, because they want to minimise the sanitary or phytosanitary paperwork, or customs requirements,” he added.

“So, it has taken a while to adapt. And we are speaking to the government because we’re looking for as much flexibility as possible with regard to the Northern Ireland protocol, and also further improvements to the IT systems.”

On what more needed to be done, he said there had been a grace period for food products into Northern Ireland, meaning that until 1 April, for most food products, there was still no need for food export health certificate to Northern Ireland from GB. “We need that extended well beyond that, because that would overwhelm businesses in GB who would require veterinary officials to sign off on such paperwork,” he said.

Elizabeth de Jong, Director of Policy at Logistics UK, commented: “Issues which have occurred at the GB/NI border are due, in part, to businesses not having a full understanding of the new border requirements for moving goods to and from Northern Ireland. With only five days from the announcement of a new trade deal with the EU to the end of the transition period, some confusion is inevitable, but it is now vital that government steps up communication with industry to ensure that loads can be dispatched with the correct paperwork and declarations. 

“Logistics is adaptable and resilient and wants to do the best for its customers. However, the logistics sector cannot prepare alone: traders, transport companies, government agencies – both here and in the EU – all need to make sure that their processes and understanding is sufficient.” 

“Freight from GB to NI has seen particular challenges: the GVMS system used for all GB-NI freight was only fully launched on 23 December, while guidance on GB to NI freight providing a grace period for parcels and post was published on 31 December.” 

“Logistics UK has written to Michael Gove and Lord Agnew with three key asks from the logistics sector, which require urgent clarification to ensure that goods can continue to move smoothly across the UK’s borders with the EU.  We have asked for clearer communication of the administrative requirements, akin to the Border Operating Model for GB-EU trade.” 

She added: “We have also asked government to urgently apply simplifications and implement derogations and mitigations for all goods from NI to GB, and also to immediately restart the NI Protocol working groups, which do not yet appear to be functioning. These groups are vital to delivering longer-term solutions and avoid major disruption as volumes of traffic increase.”

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