Yesterday's evening departure from Troon to Larne marked the last commercial sailing of P&O's Express, and the final fast craft sailing between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Back in 1992, when Seacat Scotland inaugurated the first fast craft sailing between Northern Ireland and Scotland, it looked like the future of car and passenger carrying ferry services between the two countries may well have laid with these vessels, with Stena and P&O also introducing fast services to supplement their existing conventional operations, culminating in services being offered to Stranraer, Cairnryan, Troon, Heysham, and the Isle of Man between the three operators.
However, rising operating costs (in no small part due to a rising oil price), competition from low cost airlines, and a general shift in traffic towards freight (of which the majority of craft could not carry, Stena's HSS Voyager being the notable exception) have meant that operating these services has become less and less commercially viable.
As reported by NIFS, P&O announced earlier this year that the InCat Catamaran, Express, would be withdrawn at the end of her season on 31st September. It has since been revealed that she has been acquired by a new Swedish operation, Gotlandsbåten, to operate between the Swedish mainland and Gotland. Although officially P&O have said they are not necessarily closing the Larne-Troon route, it appears to be becoming increasingly unlikely that the route will continue, with no alternative craft having yet been announced as secured. The constraints on vessel size at both Larne and Troon make finding a suitable vessel even more difficult, particularly given that P&O have strongly hinted that they will not operate another fast craft due to the operating economics of such vessels.
NIFS understands that Express will now de-store at Larne, before being delivered to her new owners. The external branding on her port side was removed over the past few weeks. The Isle of Man Steam Packet vessel Manannan (also an InCat catamaran) remains the final car carrying catamaran operating to Northern Ireland. The withdrawal of Express means that there will be no service from Larne to the Isle of Man during the IoM TT season, with the Steam Packet intending to boost capacity by operating additional sailings with Manannan and the ro-pax vessel Ben My Chree instead.
Update 2/10/15: Having already been handed over to her owners, Express arrived at Harland and Wolff this morning for what is understood to be a quick post-handover dry-docking.
Title image: HSC Express. Copyright © Scott Mackey.
EXPRESS leaving Larne on her final ever commercial sailing to Troon at 1600 on 30 September. Copyright © Gary Andrews.