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Could Irish Ferries new Dublin – Holyhead ferry be built in China Instead of Germany?

Summary: There has been a report that Irish Ferries are in talks with Chinese yards to potentially build their next new ferry in place of Germany’s FSG.

Shipping news service Tradewinds last week reported (paywalled) that Irish Ferries owner Irish Continental Group (ICG) is in talks with two Chinese yards to potentially build their next new vessel. The report comes after further reported issues at Germany’s Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG) and the delivery delays to vessels on their order book following serious financial problems. Tradewinds claim that Chinese shipbrokers have said that both CSC Jinling and AVIC Weihai have been approached by the Dublin-based company to build a vessel in place of the German built ship. To date the ship has not been named and so is referred to here by her yard number, FSG 777 instead.

It is important to stress that to-date neither Irish Continental or FSG have confirmed reports that Irish Ferries next vessel could be delivered from anywhere but FSG.

Should they be taking place, talks with other yards do not necessarily mean that Irish Ferries will cancel the order at FSG, as they could well just be part of a contingency plan to be actioned should there be further problems at the German yard. FSG has previously strongly denied any talk of orders being cancelled. However, their CEO has apparently not responded to requests about the current state of the order book at the yard. Irish Continental Group (ICG), meanwhile, is due to publish its interim update this Thursday, August 29.  Their most recent new build ferry, the multiple award winning W.B. YEATS, was also a product of Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft. Fellow FSG customer TT Line Pty (Tasmania) is also known to be investigating alternative yards to build two vessels they have ordered from the German yard for delivery in 2021 at a cost of €219m each, though again they have not cancelled their FSG order.

Irish Ferries W. B. YEATS arrives in Dublin at around 13:30 on 14 March 2019. This was her final sailing from Holyhead before switching to the Dublin to Cherbourg route for the Spring/Summer season and had been delayed about 2 hours due to adverse weather (Storm Gareth). Copyright © Robbie Cox.
Irish Ferries’ W. B. YEATS arrives in Dublin at around 13:30 on 14 March 2019. This was her final sailing from Holyhead before switching to the Dublin to Cherbourg route for the Spring/Summer season. Unfortunately this sailing had been delayed about 2 hours due to adverse weather (Storm Gareth). Copyright © Robbie Cox.

Who are these Chinese Shipyards?

CSC Jinling and AVIC Weihai are currently the two largest builders of ferry tonnage for the Western market. CSC Jinling has a number of orders from companies such as DFDS, Grimaldi, and TT-Line. AVIC Weihai is of course building a series of at least nine 200m+ long Stena E-Flexer ferries for Stena RoRo. These will enter service with Stena Line, Brittany Ferries, and DFDS between early next year and 2023. Both of the named Chinese yards already have busy delivery schedules up until at least 2023 at present. CSC Jinling in particular is a huge shipbuilding concern with eight building berths, two dry docks and an annual ship building capacity of up to 200,000 deadweight tons. They currently have two sites, at Nanjing and Yizheng which together cover around 300 acres, as well as a number of sister yards in the same group such as that at Jiangdong. The keel for the first of Grimaldi’s twelve huge GG5G Ro-Ro’s was laid at the Yizheng yard just last week.

EPHESUS SEAWAYS. DFDS
DFDS’s huge Ro-Ro EPHESUS SEAWAYS was recently delivered by CSC Jinling. She and her sisters, which have been billed “mega ships”, each have capacity for 6,700 lane metres of freight. DFDS

Design and Finance

FSG 777 was designed by FSG shipyard’s in-house design team, just like W.B. YEATS. FSG would need to agree to sell their design for the same ship to be built elsewhere. ICG is partially funding the purchase of the new vessel, as they did with W.B. YEATS, with a loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB) Green Shipping finance programme, in addition to loans from a number of other lenders. Securing alternative finance facilities may not be entirely out of the question if required, however. Italian operator Moby Lines recently negotiated financing for their two Chinese new-builds with a Chinese bank for example.

Artist rendering of the new €165.2 cruise ferry ordered by Irish Continental Group for their Irish Ferries Dublin to Holyhead service. ICG
Artist rendering of the €165.2 cruise ferry ordered from FSG by Irish Continental Group for their Irish Ferries Dublin to Holyhead service. ICG

The Largest Ro-Pax In The World *

The design for FSG 777 incorporates four full freight decks giving an impressive freight capacity of 5,615 lane metres. This will make her the largest Ro-Pax in the world *in terms of freight intake. To reduce turnaround times at Dublin it is also planned to have the uppermost freight deck (Deck 7) accessible via its own dedicated linkspan. The linkspan will land a ramp on the foreword starboard quarter of the vessel where the vehicle deck will be accessed via a hinged door on the superstructure. This new linkspan would be used in addition to the existing twin tier linkspan at Dublin Port. In terms of passenger capacity the new ship will be identical to W.B. YEATS with accommodation provided for around 1,800 passengers in a similar layout, though with less passenger cabins. Due to her much larger physical size, FSG 777 will have an entirely different machinery package to the earlier vessel. The hull form is a lengthened version of that used on ‘Yeats’ which itself was based on FSG’s proven Ro-Ro hull form.

An artists rendering of how the Moby Lines new-builds from GSI might look. © Onorato Armatori.
An artists rendering of how the Moby Lines new-builds from GSI might look. © Onorato Armatori.

Delivery Delays and A Backlog

With her huge freight intake and increased length, the Irish Ferries FSG 777 will be even larger than W.B. YEATS. As mentioned above ,FSG is running behind the original schedule on its current orders. This follows the aforementioned financial and supplier issues, a change of management, and a “bailout” by a new investor. FSG has had financial difficulties for some time, but these problems were made much worse by issues with delivering W.B. YEATS on schedule. The ship missed her entire debut summer season as well as the Christmas holiday peak as a result. Delivery penalties had to be paid by FSG as a consequence, but some have speculated the the ship was already being at built close to, or even below, cost price.

One of a series of renders of HONFLEUR at sea released by Brittany Ferries on the day her hull was launched, 14th December 2018. Brittany Ferries.
One of a series of renders of HONFLEUR at sea released by Brittany Ferries on the day her hull was launched, 14th December 2018. Brittany Ferries.

Brittany Ferries new LNG fuelled Ro-Pax HONFLEUR was originally expected to be delivered by FSG during mid-2019. She is still being completed, however, and the French operator now expect her in service around Spring 2020. Irish Ferries was originally expecting delivery of their next vessel before mid-2020 but this now appears to have been pushed back until at least “late” 2020. This is well after when Stena Line expect to have their new vessel for the same route in service, STENA ESTRID. FSG also need to complete the Ro-Ro LEEVSTEN, which now appears to be close to completion and delivery. Additionally the also need to launch a sister-ship for which the hull is currently being assembled on the covered slipway, before assembly of the Irish Ferries vessel can start.

The launch of the seventh FSG-built Ro-Ro for Siem Group LEEVSTEN. Moby Lines and Tirrenia owner Onorato Armatori are said to be negotiating the charter of her having already chartered the previous two units. FSG Ship.
The launch of the seventh FSG-built Ro-Ro for Siem Group LEEVSTEN. Moby Lines and Tirrenia owner Onorato Armatori are said to be negotiating the charter of her having already chartered the previous two units. FSG Ship.

Changes at AVIC Weihai?

Separately, the same Tradewinds article claims that CSC Jinling and AVIC Weihai staff have been seen visiting clients together following an agreement earlier in the year to sell AVIC’s shipbuilding interests to fellow state-controlled enterprise China Merchants. The article also claims “sources” believe AVIC Weihai may become Jinling Weihai, though they also say staff are not clear exactly how the enlarged CMIH/CMHI shipyard interests will be structured.

Stena Line's second E-Flexer STENA EDDA seen during fitting out with Brittany Ferries first E-Flexer GALICIA and Stena Line's third STENA EMBLA under construction in the building docks behind. Stena Line / AVIC Ship.
Stena Line’s second E-Flexer STENA EDDA seen during fitting out with Brittany Ferries first E-Flexer GALICIA and Stena Line’s third STENA EMBLA under construction in the building docks behind. Stena Line / AVIC Ship.

A brief E-Flexer update

Any restructuring is not expected to have an impact on the delivery of the Stena E-Flexer ferries to Stena RoRo, all of which appear to be progressing as planned. The first of these, STENA ESTRID, is still expected to enter service early in 2020 between Holyhead and Dublin.  She is currently being outfitted with all of her cabins and all 720km of cabling in place.  The second E-Flexer, STENA EDDA, will join the Belfast to Liverpool (Birkenhead) route later during 2020.  She is also currently undergoing outfitting but is at an earlier stage than her slightly older sister.

After floating out, STENA EDDA is seen being moved to the outfitting pier at AVIC Weihai. Sister-ship STENA ESTRID can be seen in the background already undergoing outfitting. AVIC Ship.
After floating out, STENA EDDA is seen being moved to the outfitting pier at AVIC Weihai. Sister-ship STENA ESTRID can be seen in the background already undergoing outfitting. AVIC Ship.

Title Image:  A rendering of what the next Irish Ferries new-build from Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG) could look like.  Irish Ferries.

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