Irish Ferries has chartered NORBAY following the withdrawal of the vessel from P&O Ferries’ Liverpool to Dublin service. The ship, which the Irish operator says will offer an “economy class service“, is replacing EPSILON on the Dublin to Holyhead and Cherbourg routes.
At the time of writing, NORBAY starts passenger service tomorrow 05 November with the 14:30 ex Dublin according to Irish Ferries’ online sailing updates. The first freight sailing on NORBAY left Dublin at 11:00 today.
Initially, EPSILON will cover the dry docking of W.B. YEATS on the Dublin to Cherbourg route. According to P&O Ferries the initial charter of NORBAY is for a period of up to six months with longer term options. The Dutch-built vessel will be crewed by P&O Ferries. It is understood that EPSILON will leave the Irish Ferries fleet when W.B. YEATS returns from dry dock, leaving NORBAY in service on the Holyhead and Cherbourg routes into the new year.
Commenting on the charter, P&O Ferries’ Director of Maritime Operations Owen Barry, said:
“Norbay is a great asset to retain within the business with many options for the longer term. Following her upcoming time charter we can either renew, redeploy her in our own fleet to give us great flexibility on other routes, or consider other charter options given the high market demand for this type of vessel. This provides not only ongoing employment for the vessel’s crew but strong options for additional revenue within the business.”Source: P&O Ferries Press Release.
Epsilon to leave Irish Ferries after a decade
EPSILON has been on charter to Irish Ferries since late-2013 and the ferry’s ownership has changed twice during that period. When EPSILON originally started with Irish Ferries she was sub-chartered from Caronte & Tourist who had chartered the ferry from a company related to the Visentini shipyard. Caronte & Tourist later purchased the vessel but continued the charter to Irish Ferries.
The vessel is currently owned by Euroafrica Shipping through a subsidiary which purchased the vessel from Caronte and Tourist last year. Euroafrica itself is owned by owned by the Cyprus registered Hass Holding and has links to Unity Lines. It is expected that the vessel will see service on Unity Lines’ services from Sweden to Poland.
While it is understood that the owner is recalling EPSILON from charter, Irish Ferries has had plans to replace the Italian-built ferry for some time. The Dublin-headquartered company had ordered a new-build in 2018 to take EPSILON’s place in the fleet during 2020, but this order was subsequently cancelled following severe financial difficulties at the shipyard.
NORBAY is believed to only be a temporary replacement for EPSILON with Irish Ferries hoping to introduce more permanent tonnage during 2024.
NORBAY was originally built for North Sea Ferries’ Hull to Rotterdam freight service in the mid-1990’s and the facilities onboard reflect this. Passenger facilities consist of a small bar and restaurant area, a Duty-Free kiosk and information desk, and 2-berth passenger cabins. There is no lift available on NORBAY and all access to the passenger accommodation is via staircases. The design passenger capacity of NORBAY is 114, far less than the 500 EPSILON is designed for. For further information on the passenger facilities onboard NORBAY, including photos and a layout plan, see our special feature here.
P&O continue on Liverpool route, for now
P&O Ferries’ Liverpool to Dublin service continues to operate with just NORBAY’s sister-ship NORBANK. It is expected that the last sailing on the route will take place just before Christmas and that NORBANK will transfer to P&O Ferries’ North Sea services on a permanent basis. NORBANK will cover the dry-dock period of the Hull – Rotterdam vessels PRIDE OF HULL and PRIDE OF ROTTERDAN and then reportedly resume a RoPax Hull – Zeebrugge service. It is unclear if such a service would be in addition to or replace the LoLo service of the FREYA. The company has been forced to close the Dublin service due to a lack of a suitable berth at Liverpool after port owner Peel Ports didn’t renew P&O Ferries contract.
While a bidding process to replace P&O Ferries at Dublin Port concluded a number of weeks ago, the outcome has not yet been made public.
To-date, only Stena Line has publicly confirmed an interest in the site and replacing P&O Ferries’ Liverpool service. The new Stena Line Belfast to Birkenhead freight ferry STENA FORWARDER had been due to visit Dublin earlier in the week but this visit was cancelled.
Future tonnage for Irish Ferries?
The NORBAY is very much a stop-gap vessel for Irish Ferries, lacking the passenger capacity required longer term.
As ever, Irish Ferries is very tight-lipped about its plans. However, industry information suggests that long-term OSCAR WILDE, currently chartered from Tallink for the Rosslare to Pembroke Dock route, will end up as the full-time replacement for EPSILON on Dublin – Holyhead. With a purchase option, it is conceivable that the company will buy the ship and modify it to make the quality vessel totally suitable for their operations.
With the company also believed to be in the market for a more suitable vessel than the ISLE OF INISHEER for their Dover – Calais route, no doubt Irish Ferries is busy scouring the market for purchase and charter opportunities. One potential is the ATLANTIC VISION (ex SUPERFAST IX). The Tallink owned vessel has a charter to Newfoundland’s Marine Atlantic expiring in May 2024 but already appears to have finished regular operation. Additionally, it has been widely rumoured that Irish Ferries are considering a vessel from the Attica Group fleet. The company previously chartered BLUE STAR 1 for two years, before she was replaced in the spring by OSCAR WILDE.