The keel of Stena’s second E-Flexer (Avic Weihai #WO264) was laid last Friday, 15th June at the shipyard of AVIC Weihai, Shandong Provence, China. This is the first of two vessels earmarked for the Belfast to Liverpool (Birkenhead) route. Of the 308 blocks needed to construct the vessel, 40 are already built with an additional 46 under construction. The total construction time of both hull and superstructure is expected to take around 7 months.
To date a total of 6 of the E-Flexer class have been ordered, with the first vessel expected to enter service between Holyhead and Dublin in early 2020. In addition to 3 vessels being built for Stena Line Irish Sea services, a further three are being built for two other operators for England to France services. Two of these are for Brittany Ferries while the remaining vessel (the fifth in the series) is for DFDS. The Belfast E-Flexer's are expected to have capacity for 1000 passengers and crew, as well as 3,100 lane metres of freight and 120 passenger cars (housed on their own dedicated car deck). This is significantly more capacity than the existing passenger vessels on the route, STENA MERSEY and STENA LAGAN.
Meanwhile, it was announced yesterday that the Belfast - Birkenhead freight-only vessel STENA PRECISION and her sister vessel STENA PERFORMER are to return to their owner Seatruck at the end of the summer to provide additional capacity on their growing Warrenpoint - Heysham route. The pair had been on charter to Stena since September 2012, however this arrangement has not been renewed. It is not yet clear which vessels will replace them, though current speculation suggests that STENA SCOTIA will be released from the North Sea to replace STENA PERFORMER on the Belfast - Heysham route, with perhaps STENA CARRIER (external link) replacing STENA PRECISION on the Birkenhead run. STENA SCOTIA is a sister-ship of the other Stena Line Heysham freight vessel, STENA HIBERNIA. Stena have yet to announce which vessels will replace the Seatruck vessels however.