Dover ferry operators strengthen ahead of peak season

By: Steven Tarbox
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P&O PIONEER at Limassol. Image: P&O Ferries.
P&O PIONEER at Limassol. Image: P&O Ferries.

Irish Ferries returns to a three ship service

Irish Ferries’ ISLE OF INISHEER left Belfast earlier today after a stay of almost 5 weeks at the Harland & Wolff shipyard.  The Spanish-built Ro-Pax ferry, which arrived in Belfast on 21 February, had originally been scheduled to be off service for about 2 weeks. 

ISLE OF INISHEER’s return to service later in the week will mean that Irish Ferries has its full Dover fleet at its disposal again for the first time since the beginning of January.  The company has had only two of its three vessels in service on the Dover – Calais route for the majority of 2023, largely due to scheduled maintenance.  

Irish Ferries' ISLE OF INISHEER backs on to Harland and Wolff Belfast's Outfitting Quay, 25.03.23.  Image: © Steven Tarbox.
Irish Ferries’ ISLE OF INISHEER backs on to Harland and Wolff Belfast’s Outfitting Quay, 25.03.23. Image: © Steven Tarbox.

Irish Ferries’ largest ship on the route, ISLE OF INISHMORE, spent six weeks off service during January and February to attend the Fayard shipyard in Denmark where an Exhaust Gas Cleaning Scrubber (EGCS) system was fitted. 

ISLE OF INNISFREE (ex CALAIS SEAWAYS and PRINS FILIP) saw some unscheduled time away from the route after a mid-channel fire on 3 March.  The ship had to be towed to Calais where she underwent repairs.  As a result, ISLE OF INISHMORE was the company’s only vessel in service on the route until 11 March. 

ISLE OF INNISFREE at Dover.  Image: Irish Ferries.
ISLE OF INNISFREE at Dover. Image: Irish Ferries.

Irish Ferries has reportedly captured about a quarter of the Dover – Calais ferry freight market.  The company only started operations on the route at the end of June 2021, but despite impressive growth still remains some way behind the ferry and fixed-link competition.  NIFS also understands that Irish Ferries’ share of the passenger market is somewhat lower with P&O Ferries and DFDS remaining clear ferry market leaders, though Eurotunnel continues to dominate passenger traffic.

P&O’s pioneering new ferry arrives in Europe

The new flagship of the P&O Ferries fleet, P&O PIONEER, made her first call at a European port on 22 March.  The double-ended Dover to Calais ferry took on bunkers at Limassol which also happens to be her port of registration.  The Cypriot port is operated and managed by P&O Ferries’ parent company DP World.  

P&O PIONEER at Limassol. Image: DP World.
P&O PIONEER at Limassol. Image: DP World.

P&O PIONEER’s next call will be at Gibraltar tomorrow, 27 March, after which she is expected to leave for England.  When she enters service during May, P&O PIONEER will become the first double-ended ferry to operate across the English channel.  She will also be both the first hybrid ferry and first to be powered by azipods in cross-channel service.   P&O PIONEER will be joined on the route by sister-ship P&O LIBERTÉ after she is completed later this year.   

P&O PIONEER is due at Dover in the first days of April and will enter service on the Dover – Calais route one month later on 1 May.

PRIDE OF BURGUNDY.  Image: © Gary Andrews.
PRIDE OF BURGUNDY. Image: © Gary Andrews.

The company’s veteran Ro-Pax PRIDE OF BURGUNDY could leave for Turkey as soon as next week.  According to social media posts, the vessel was being stripped of IT equipment during the week ahead of her imminent departure.  According to brokers P&O has sold the ferry to Turkish breakers for about US$3.7 million. The arrival of the two new ships will see PRIDE OF KENT and PRIDE OF CANTERBURY also leave the P&O fleet, giving P&O Ferries the newest fleet on the English channel.  According to P&O Ferries’ online booking system, it appears that the PRIDE OF KENT will be replaced first, when the P&O PIONEER enters service..

DFDS Refurbish

Not to be outdone, DFDS’ three Dover – Calais ferries have, in turn, been overhauled at Fayard, Odense, Denmark.  

CÔTE D’OPALE has had her first major drydock since entering service in Summer 2021.

Meanwhile,  CÔTE DES DUNES and CÔTE DES FLANDRES have received significant refits with their RoadKings Driver Clubs entirely renewed to offer standards on a power with CÔTE D’OPALE to the all-important freight customer.

CÔTE D'OPALE at Calais in November 2021. Image: Matt Sudders.
DFDS’s CÔTE D’OPALE at Calais in November 2021. Image: Matt Sudders.

The 2023 Dover to Calais fleet at a glance

OperatorVesselPassengersFreightMaiden Voyage
P&O FerriesP&O Liberté*1,5002,800 lmTBC
P&O FerriesP&O Pioneer*1,5002,800 lmMay 2023
P&O FerriesSpirit of France1,7502,741 lmFebruary 2012
P&O FerriesSpirit of Britain1,7502,741 lmJanuary 2011
P&O FerriesPride of Kent*2,0001,925 lmJune 1992
P&O FerriesPride of Canterbury*2,0001,925 lmJanuary 1992
DFDSCôte d’Opale1,0003,090 lmAugust 2021
DFDSCôte des Flandres1,9002,000 lmApril 2005
DFDSCôte des Dunes1,9002,000 lm November 2001
Irish FerriesIsle of Inisheer5891,950March 2000
Irish FerriesIsle of Inishmore2,2002,060March 1997
Irish FerriesIsle of Innisfree1,1401,745May 1992

* Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Kent will be replaced by P&O Pioneer and P&O Liberté.

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