Further doubt has been cast over the future of the Larne-Troon ferry service, following the publication of P&O's Cairnryan sailing schedule up until 2017. It had been expected by many that one of the current Cairnryan vessels would operate to Troon next year, effectively reducing the sailing frequency of the service from Larne - Cairnryan. However, the new schedule is unchanged from this years, meaning that both vessels will most likely remain on the Cairnryan service as passenger bookings are already being taken for European Causeway and European Highlander.
Of course, other options to save the service from the axe remain, including running a freighter to either Troon or Cairnryan. However, berthing constraints at Larne, Cairnryan and Troon make finding another vessel a difficult task, particularly when factoring in the need for increased vehicle deck height in order to be able to continue to offer a service to customers using high sided traders, such as the supermarket traffic which is one of the main freight users of North Channel ferry services. It is understood that P&O have lost a significant amount of this traffic to Stena Line following the introduction of Stena Superfast VII and VIII back in 2011. Previously Stena were unable to offer a service for these vehicles due to height restrictions on their vessels, Stena Caledonia and Stena Navigator. EU rules regarding scheduling changes mean that it is highly unlikely that any changes will be made to the Cairnryan schedule, especially considering passenger bookings are already being taken.
P&O have already hinted that another fast craft will not be run in the future in the place of the current fast craft, HSC Express, which is currently operating her final season, and which has been sold to an operator in Sweden for service to Gotland. It is also rumoured that the port usage agreement P&O have with Troon port owner ABP ports expires this year.
Crossings to Cairnryan are currently bookable up until the end of 2016 at: http://www.poferries.com/en/cairnryan-larne
(Title image: Express passing Ballylumford power station, Easter Monday 2015. Copyright © Gary Andrews.)