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Seatruck was formed by a group of former Merchant Ferries senior managers and began operations in April 1996, resuming the Heysham to Warrenpoint freight service which had been closed by Merchant Ferries the previous year in favour of a Heysham to Dublin service. Initially the company only operated one vessel, the 1985 built BOLERO. She was joined in July by RIVERDANCE (ex Schiaffino, Sally Eurobridge, Eurobridge, etc). The following year BOLERO was returned to her charterers and replaced with a sister to RIVERDANCE, MOONDANCE (exEmadala, Merchant Victor).
In 2002 Seatruck was acquired by the Clipper Group who invested heavily in new tonnage, purchasing no less than 12 vessels including 8 new buildings. At the time of writing Seatruck operate 3 routes, all of which cross the Irish Sea (Heysham – Warrenpoint, Heysham – Dublin, Liverpool – Dublin).
Norse Irish Ferries was formed by a consortium of Northern Irish hauliers and a Norwegian shipping company specifically to re-establish a regular direct freight link between Belfast and Liverpool following the demise of the previous Belfast Car Ferries service. The new operator was chosen ahead of two others and given the exclusive right to use the berth at the newly developed Victoria Terminal 2 in Belfast, instead of having to use the more restricted facilities beside the city centre at Donegall Quay used by previous operators. The new service started during November 1991 and saw the end of a single ship Liverpool to Belfast service operated by P&O subsidiary Pandoro since that August.
In September 1999 Norse Irish Ferries was taken over by the Cenargo International group. Cenargo were also the owners of Merchant Ferries who operated the Belfast to Heysham service following the takeover of Belfast Freight Ferries owner Scruttons in December 1998, as well as services from Dublin to Heysham and recently started service from Dublin to Liverpool. In February of 2001 the operations of Merchant Ferries and Norse Irish Ferries were merged into Norse Merchant Ferries. On 17th of June 2002 the Liverpool service moved to a new £25m purpose-built terminal at Birkenhead’s “12 Quays”, which led to the introduction of day sailings in both directions 5 days a week for the first time.
In November 2005 Norse Merchant Ferries was purchased by Maersk who incorporated it into their Norfolk Line subsidiary. Subsequently Norfolk Line was acquired from AP Moller Maersk by fellow Danish company DFDS, who then sold the Belfast to Liverpool and Heysham routes to Stena Line and closed down the Dublin services. Today the Dublin to Liverpool and Heysham services are operated by Seatruck, a company originally formed by ex Merchant Ferries managers to operate the Heysham to Warrenpoint service after Merchant Ferries themselves left Warrenpoint in favour of Dublin.
In November 2005 Norse Merchant Ferries was purchased by Maersk who incorporated it into their Norfolk Line subsidiary. Despite the change of ownership the routes remained largely unaffected with the biggest changes the deployment of the freight vessels MAERSK EXPORTER and MAERSK IMPORTER on the Belfast to Heysham route and the changing of the funnel colours and rebranding of existing spaces on the Liverpool vessels.
In July 2010 Norfolk Line was acquired by DFDS with the routes and vessels being incorporated into the DFDS Seaways network. However later that year DFDS agreed to sell the Irish Sea part of the Norfolk Line ferry business to Stena Line.
BELFAST FREIGHT FERRIES
Belfast Freight Ferries re-opened the former Sealink Belfast – Heysham route in 1984 as a freight only service initially using the chartered STENA SAILER. The venture was initially a partnership between Belfast Car Ferries and stevedoring company Scruttons, but following financial difficulties at Belfast Car Ferries parent company Belfast Freight Ferries became wholly controlled by Scruttons.
In early 1998 Belfast Freight Ferries parent Scruttons PLC, was taken over by Cenargo International. As a result the Belfast Freight Ferries operation was merged into Merchant Ferries who operated the freight only service between Heysham and Dublin, having moved that service from Warrenpoint in 1995. The Belfast – Heysham service eventually passed to Stena Line who continue to operate it to this day.
Belfast Car Ferries (later known as Belfast Ferries) operated the ferry service from Belfast’s Donegall Quay to Liverpool, initially to Langton Dock then from 1987 Brocklebank Dock. The service was started to replace the P&O service which had ended the previous year in 1981. Belfast Car Ferries ran the service from May 1982 to October 1990 when the service was closed by then owners Irish Continental Group. The service was succeeded in the following year, first by a short-lived P&O service operating from Donegall Quay using MERCHANT VENTURE, and then permanently by the new Norse Irish Ferries service operating from Victoria Terminal 2 in Belfast (currently operated by Stena Line). Throughout the 8 years of the service, ST COLUM I (ex ST PATRICK) was the main vessel in operation. She operated from Belfast overnight, returning from Liverpool during the day. The other ships which operated on the route (covering for St Colum I) were ST PATRICK II (the most regular of the relief vessels), GOTLAND, and EARL WILLIAM.
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