The impact of the Covid-19 Coronavirus is being acutely felt by ferry services on the Irish Sea and beyond. Following an initial increase in freight volumes as a result of the well documented stockpiling, volumes have now collapsed. Restrictions on the movement of people have also seen the passenger market almost disappear entirely, with P&O ferries now focusing on freight as a consequence and other operators reducing crewing levels to a minimum.
Stena Line has become the latest operator to cut sailings from its schedule, with the Belfast – Birkenhead freight vessel STENA FORECASTER tied up this week. Earlier today the timetable for the Belfast – Cairnryan route was ammended. The service is down to four return sailings tomorrow and Monday, three sailings on Sunday, and five Tuesday – Friday. This comes despite a quote from a Stena spokesman in yesterdays Newsletter saying “There’s no change in service at the minute, though it’s being reviewed all the time. We saw a jump in trade originally when everybody was stockpiling”. At present the changes only appear to be for the coming week. Stena were asked for clarification earlier today but had not responded before we published.
Stena Line have also made headlines recently having notified 950 Swedish employees they are to be made redundant. The Oslo – Frederikshavn route has also been closed permanently. The routes former ship, STENA SAGA, has reportedly been advertised for sale as a COVID-19 hospital ship. Closer to home the company has also reportedly withdrawn short-term company sick pay citing the current financial challenges. Stena Line has also withdrawn its offer of a 2.1% pay increase for crew, though they say previously agreed increases for shore based staff will be honoured.
Competitor P&O Ferries had already removed a return sailing from its Larne – Cairnryan schedule from March 23, but will be reducing the timetable further from tomorrow. On Saturdays and Sundays there will be just three return sailings with four sailings on weekdays. The route normally has up to seven return crossings per day. The changes are effective from April 4 until further notice. Elsewhere the company has also reduced sailings on its Hull – Zeebrugge and Dover – Calais routes, while 1,100 staff have been furloughed onto the UK governments employment retention scheme. Today’s Times also reports that the company is losing £250,000 per day and is requesting a £150m bailout from the British Government to stay in operation. PRIDE OF YORK and PRIDE OF BURGUNDY have both been tied up as a result of the reduction of frequency on their routes.