Irish Sea Ferry Updates January 2024

By: NI Ferry Team
Last updated:
MANXMAN visiting Belfast on Christmas Eve 2023. Image: Luke Wilson.
MANXMAN visiting Belfast on Christmas Eve 2023. Image: Luke Wilson.

NI Ferry Site starts the New Year with an Irish Sea Ferry Update.

Irish Ferries

W.B. YEATS remained at Harland and Wolff, Belfast well beyond her expected 18 November departure from dry-dock. In the event she departed Belfast on 4 December 2023, re-entering service on the Dublin – Cherbourg route on the evening of 5 December.

W.B. YEATS arriving at Belfast for drydock on 7 November 2023. Image: Trevor Kidd.
W.B. YEATS arriving at Belfast for drydock on 7 November 2023. Image: Trevor Kidd.

The delayed overhaul period for W.B. YEATS meant that the charter of EPSILON from Euroafrica was extended by several weeks.  EPSILON’s last Irish Sea sailing was the Cherbourg to Dublin departure on 3 December. 

Following de-storing, EPSILON departed Dublin late on the evening of 4 December, arriving at Harland and Wolff, Belfast the following day.    The vessel was taken over by her owners and will subsequently be used by linked company, Unity Line on Poland – Sweden services.  The ship departed dry-dock on 18 December minus her Irish Ferries funnel colours. After a few days alongside at Belfast, the ship set sail for Trelleborg on 23 December.  EPSILON arrived at Trelleborg for berthing trials on 27 December.  Further trials followed at Świnoujście.  The vessel moved to Szczecin on 30 December.  She moved to the Gryfia Ship Repair yard at Szczecin on 3 January. According to the Euroafrica Facebook page, she will receive the Unity Line livery, some maintenance and minor modifications to the passenger accommodation.

EPSILON is expected to enter service on the Świnoujście – Trelleborg route during the middle of January.  She replaces the GALILEUSZ which moves to the Świnoujście – Ystad route in place of the JAN ŚNIADECKI. The train-ferry JAN ŚNIADECKI is reportedly sold, making her last crossing to Poland on the night of 29 December. The vessel will be handed over to new owners in January.

For a previous photo feature on Unity Line click here.

Irish Ferries’ ULYSSES took a break from the Holyhead – Dublin route for annual overhaul after her arrival at the Welsh port this afternoon, 4 January.  Her place has been taken by the W.B. YEATS which has been providing the customary additional seasonal capacity on the shoulder schedule since the week before Christmas.  ULYSSES is overhauling at the A&P Tyne yard for the first time. The ship has mostly refitted at Harland & Wolff, Belfast in the past. She departed Holyhead this afternoon and is due to arrive on the Tyne on Saturday morning after sailing North of Scotland to Newcastle.

The Holyhead secondary schedule remains uncovered until 11 February when, according to industry information, OSCAR WILDE will take over as the second vessel on the route.  OSCAR WILDE is currently expected at Larne for lay-up and maintenance for 12 days from around 28 January, prior to entering service at Dublin.

W.B. YEATS place on the Dublin – Cherbourg route has been taken by the chartered NORBAY.  ULYSSES is due to return to service with the evening sailing of 25 January. W.B. YEATS currently appears to be returning the French route from 1 February.

It is unclear how Irish Ferries plan to replace OSCAR WILDE on the Pembroke – Rosslare route.  From 1 February, the route remains available for sale but not to foot passengers.  Additionally, Club Class and cabins are also not currently available.  As has been seen previously, this has been done by Irish Ferries until replacement tonnage details are confirmed.  It is also possible that NORBAY could replace OSCAR WILDE on a very short-term basis.  It is notable that previous Rosslare – Pembroke charter vessel, BLUE STAR 1 has had her bow door repaired in recent weeks so may be one possibility for a return.

P&O Ferries

P&O Ferries’ Irish Sea Liverpool – Dublin route closed with the NORBANK’s sailing from Dublin on the evening of 20 December.  This was one roundtrip earlier than planned.  A roundtrip from Liverpool on the morning of 21 December and return that evening was cancelled due to Storm Pia.

NORBANK subsequently departed Liverpool for the last time on Boxing Day, arriving at Rotterdam on the morning of 28 December.  She berthed at the P&O Ferries terminal, astern of the spare Stena Line vessel STENA GOTHICA.  ‘Gothica recently covered the Rotterdam – Harwich route due to the delay in the former Belfast – Birkenhead vessel STENA FORETELLER entering service.

P&O Ferries has confirmed that NORBANK will cover the refit period on the Hull – Rotterdam route.  Returning to the route for which she was built, NORBANK’s first sailing is due to be on 7 January from the Netherlands in place of PRIDE OF HULL.  Following a short maintenance period, PRIDE OF HULL returns to service on 11 January.  NORBANK then covers for PRIDE OF ROTTERDAM from the evening sailing ex Rotterdam on 12 January until the Hull departure on 5 February.

NORBANK. Image: © Scott Mackey.
NORBANK. Image: © Scott Mackey.

En route to Rotterdam, NORBANK had been expected to call at Tilbury for berthing trials.  Due to poor weather, this was cancelled. However, the vessel departed Rotterdam for Tilbury early on the morning of 4 January. Arriving late morning, the vessel spent the day at the P&O Ferries terminal before sailing back to Rotterdam just after 1700.

To date, P&O Ferries has not given any indication of the future use of the vessel beyond the current refit period. However, a Europoort (Rotterdam) – Tilbury route can be seen via a google search revealing a developer version of the P&O Freight website. This combined with the berthing trials, seems to confirm industry information that NORBANK is destined to operate this new route.

NORBAY remains on her six-month charter to Irish Ferries.

P&O Ferries developer Freight website. Image: P&O Ferries
P&O Ferries developer Freight website showing the Europoort – Tilbury route. Image: P&O website.


Finnlines’ Zeebrugge – Rosslare route was reduced to a one-ship service just prior to Christmas.  FINNPULP provided an additional roundtrip on the route since February 2023.   This was in addition to two roundtrips by FINNWAVE which has continued to sail ex Belgium Tuesday and Saturday and ex Ireland Monday and Thursday.

FINNSKY is currently operating the Irish service for the next two weeks. Finnlines timetables show that FINNWAVE will return from 13 January. FINNWAVE currently appears to be at Damen Shiprepair Brest, having sailed there from Rosslare on 1 January.

FINNSKY. Image: Finnlines.
FINNSKY. Image: Finnlines.

At the time of writing, FINNPULP is now operating the Vuosaari (Helsinki) – Travemünde route.

The change has been prompted by an expansion of Finnlines services between Belgium and Spain The company’s three FINNECO-class ships are now deployed on these routes.

Hibernia Line

It is understood from hauliers that a newstart ‘Hibernia Line’ is looking to launch a six times per week each way service from Cork to Boulogne in late spring 2024. Negotiations are understood to be continuing with the Port of Boulogne.

The service is reportedly looking at two un-named 350-cabin RoPax ferries.

Hibernia Line illustration. Image: LinkedIn.
Hibernia Line illustration. Image: LinkedIn.

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company

BEN-MY-CHREE was previously reported as expecting to be at Belfast until 1 December.  However, she remained at Harland & Wolff’s Ship Repair Quay until the evening of 11 December.  The spare Steam Packet vessel then overhauled at Cammell Laird, Birkenhead 12 to 30 December.  Since then she has been laid-up at Douglas.

The Steam Packet’s 2023-introduced RoPax, MANXMAN made her first commercial visit to Belfast on 24 December 2023.  Although the vessel carried out berthing trials at the port on 31 July, it was to be the company’s seasonal Irish sailings that would be her first “in service” trips to Northern Ireland.  The roundtrips on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve marked the Steam Packet’s final pre-Christmas and pre-New Year sailings.

The arrival of MANXMAN has continued to prove challenging operationally.  There have been weather-restricted sailings and technical issues.  However, more significant now is a row with Officers’ Union Nautilus over a change in working conditions where crew aboard the MANXMAN will be required to live onboard.  As part of industrial action, some MANXMAN sailings are currently cancelled due to a lack of crew. RoRo vessel ARROW is due to provide additional freight sailings as a result.

Meanwhile, ARROW is reported to be lined up as a contingency vessel for the States of Guernsey and Jersey. The news follows reported financial issues for Condor Ferries and a trial visit of the DFDS RoRo FINLANDIA SEAWAYS, also for contingency planning.

Stena Line

When STENA EUROPE was replaced on the Fishguard – Rosslare route in July 2023, few expected her back in service with Stena Line.  However, that is exactly what is about to happen.

The vessel operated for Intershipping on the Algeciras – Tanger Med route for little over a month in August and September.  After being idle at Algeciras and Gibraltar for a few months, the vessel departed for Falmouth on 28 November.   After dry-dock and overhaul at A&P Falmouth, STENA EUROPE departed for Holyhead on 22 December.  The vessel spent the Christmas and New Year period laid up at the port.  The ‘Europe left Holyhead on 1 January for Fishguard. She remained at the Pembrokeshire port (both on berth and at anchor) until the morning of 4 January when she sailed to Rosslare Europort. At the time of writing, she is anchored off the port.

STENA EUROPE arriving at Rosslare 4 January 2024. Image: Brian Boyce.
STENA EUROPE arriving at Rosslare 4 January 2024. Image: Brian Boyce.

Stena Line’s freight timetable shows STENA EUROPE replacing STENA NORDICA 7 January to 4 April.  The return of the ‘Europe is due to repairs needed to the “jack-up rig” at Fishguard, meaning that only the ‘Europe is suitable for the berth.  Additionally, STENA NORDICA is shown as operating in place of the STENA ESTRID at Holyhead 7 January to 16 March. 

At the time of publishing (evening of 4 January), Stena Line has cancelled STENA EUROPE’s Fishguard – Rosslare sailings 7 to 14 January inclusive for unknown “operational reasons”.

STENA ESTRID is due to replace STENA EDDA on the Belfast – Birkenhead route from 8 January.  It is believed she will be dry-docked for around 3 weeks.  This will be followed by a similar dry-dock for sister E-flexer STENA EMBLA.  It is unclear if other cover duties will follow such as for the Belfast – Cairnryan vessels, STENA SUPERFAST VII and STENA SUPERFAST VIII.

Stena Line’s Rosslare – Cherbourg route will be reduced to a one ship service from 8 January due to the absence of the STENA HORIZON.  The timetable indicates that STENA VISION will operate alone until 8 April.  STENA VISION will operate departures from Rosslare on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and returning from Cherbourg on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  Operating on the Hoek Van Holland to Harwich route, STENA HORIZON will replace STENA HOLLANDICA from the night sailing from the Netherlands on 8 January. She will then cover for the STENA BRITANNICA dry-dock from 25 January until 10 February. Throughout, Horizon will remain on the night sailing ex Hoek Van Holland, daytime sailing ex Harwich schedule. 

STENA HORIZON is then expected to open Stena Line’s new Dublin – Liverpool (Birkenhead) route until long-term tonnage for the route is confirmed.

STENA FORWARDER has had a slightly challenging period since being introduced to the Belfast – Birkenhead route on 3 November with various cancellations and delays.  Stena Line is said to be working hard to resolve some technical issues with the recently acquired vessel.  Meanwhile, the vessel has gradually been receiving Stena funnel colours.

STENA FORWADER’s Birkenhead predecessor, STENA FORETELLER finally entered service on the Harwich – Rotterdam route on 2 January 2024.  STENA FORETELLER arrived at Rotterdam’s Botlet yard on 5 November and left on 29 December.  She is now in full Stena Line colours following the comprehensive drydock.

Article updated 29/01/24 to more accurately reflect STENA EUROPE’s presence at Holyhead over the Christmas and New Year period. Text relating to potential cover for STENA ESTRID has been removed as in light of subsequent developments, that seems highly improbable to have been accurate.

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