Irish Ferries’ new Rosslare to Pembroke Dock ferry left Estonia at lunchtime today at the start of her journey to Ireland.
The OSCAR WILDE, which until last Friday (5 May) was known as STAR, will complete berthing trials as part of her journey to the Irish Sea. It is understood that she will call at Cherbourg on the morning of 13 May followed by Pembroke Dock and Rosslare before dry docking in Belfast around 15 May. OSCAR WILDE is the second Irish Ferries vessel to carry the name – the first is currently GNV’s GNV ALLEGRA.
While in Belfast, 2007-built OSCAR WILDE will be painted in a similar all-white livery to Irish Ferries’ Dublin to Holyhead flagship ULYSSES. The former STAR will lose her distinctive bright green hull colour, and the green stripes along her window lines will be replaced with black ones.
OSCAR WILDE is expected to replace the BLUE STAR 1 on the Pembroke Dock to Rosslare route in early June when the latter ferry’s charter expires.
The agreement to charter OSCAR WILDE from AS Tallink Grupp is for an initial period of 20 months. Irish Ferries also has two charter extension options, each lasting two years. Unlike BLUE STAR 1, Irish Ferries also has a purchase option for OSCAR WILDE.
Irish Ferries has said that OSCAR WILDE will “initially” sail on the Rosslare – Pembroke Dock service. However, industry information suggests that OSCAR WILDE will replace EPSILON on the Dublin – Holyhead / Cherbourg rotation late this year. The company is said to be looking at options for a permanent ship for the Pembroke Dock service. Based on current timetable indications, the change is likely to occur at the start of November.
Operators Investing in Irish Sea Services Despite Pressures
The charter of OSCAR WILDE is a vote of confidence from Irish Ferries owner Irish Continental Group (ICG) in its Irish Sea services. Since the UK left the European Union there has been a drop in demand on routes between Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland. In the meantime, much of Irish Ferries’ investment has been on the Dover – Calais route where the company has built itself a respectable market share in less than two years. Irish Ferries purchased two ships, ISLE OF INNISFREE and ISLE OF INISHEER, for the Calais route in addition to investing in ISLE OF INISHMORE and transferring her from the Pembroke Dock route.
Irish Ferries’ biggest competitor on the Irish Sea, Stena Line, has also continued to invest with three brand new E-Flexer vessels and the newly rebuilt and refurbished STENA NORDICA introduced within three years. The company has also invested in refurbishing STENA ADVENTURER in a similar style to its E-Flexer operating mate STENA ESTRID.
Stena is also transferring the cruiseferry STENA VISION to its Ireland to France service between Rosslare and Cherbourg to strengthen its offer there. STENA VISION is currently undergoing work in Poland in preparation for her move to Irish waters. Should Irish Ferries choose to move OSCAR WILDE to Dublin in place of EPSILON later in the year she could form a strong partnership with W.B. YEATS on Irish Ferries’ Dublin – Cherbourg route in response to Stena’s Ireland – France expansion.
Further north, refurbishment is currently taking place on STENA SUPERFAST VII and STENA SUPERFAST VIII on the Belfast to Cairnryan route which includes the addition of pet lounges on the popular ferries and an enlarged Stena Plus Lounge.
The huge Luxembourg-based freight-only operator CLdN has also shown confidence in the Irish market. In addition to strengthening its own services between Continental Europe and Ireland, the company also purchased Irish Sea freight operator Seatruck Ferries last year. Seatruck exclusively operates between Great Britain and the island of Ireland and is the market leader in unaccompanied freight.
Finally, Finnlines now offers a 2-ship service from Rosslare to Zeebrugge with the FINNWAVE and FINNPULP. Three return sailings per week have been offered since late February.