The NI Ferry Operators (and their routes)
The information given on this page is subject to change. Please check with your chosen operator as no guarantee is given that this information is correct. Unless otherwise stated services which carry cars, normally also carry motorcycles and bicycles. Clicking on the operators logo will take you to their official website (in a new browser window). Cicking on a vessel name or picture will take you to that vessels page on NI Ferry Site.
: Service carries foot passengers, : Service carries cars and their drivers, : Service carries coaches/buses,: Service carries freight
The company we now know as Stena Line UK & Ireland has its roots in the takeover of Sealink British Ferries from Sea Containers by Swedish ferry operator Stena Line in 1990/91. Sealink British Ferries themselves were a young company, having been a result of the privatisation of British Rail’s shipping division in the early 1980’s. The only current Northern Irish route inherited from the Sealink operation is that from Belfast to Cairnryan (then Larne to Stranraer). The other Stena Line routes from Northern Ireland from Belfast to Liverpool (Birkenhead) and Heysham were in fact acquired as a result of the takeover of the DFDS (previously Norfolk Line) Irish Sea services at the end of 2010. The Stena Line association with Northern Ireland ferries goes back much further than the routes they have directly operated though, with a number of their ferries having either operated here under long or short-term charter (notably Stranraer’s Dalriada and the first Norse Mersey) or having been built for Stena and later purchased (such as Darnia, Buffalo, Bison, and Puma). Stena Line are currently the largest ferry operator in Northern Ireland, offering 3 different routes (1 of which is freight only) and operating a total of 7 vessels from their Belfast hub.
| Belfast (VT4) to Cairnryan (Loch Ryan Port)|
|Up to 6 crossings per day in each direction for passengers, cars, and freight.|
Belfast (VT2) to Liverpool (Birkenhead 12 quays)
|Up to 2 crossings per day in each direction for passengers, cars, and freight, and 1 return crossing for freight only.|
|Belfast (VT1) to Heysham |
P&O ferries only current ferry route from Northern Ireland between Larne and Cairnryan can trace its origins right back to the first commercial passenger carrying roll-on-roll-off service in the world. On 21st of May 1948 the leased converted tank landing craft EMPIRE CEDRIC sailed from Preston to Larne as the first roll-on-roll-off freight ferry with a passenger certificate, operated by what was then known as the ‘Transport Ferry Service’ which was owned by RoRo ferry pioneer Frank Bustard. Transport Ferry Service would later be incorporated into Atlantic Steam Navigation (ASN) (also established by Frank Bustard) which operated a service from Tilbury to Hamburg (later replaced by Felixstowe to Rotterdam) and nationalised. In late 1971 ASN was purchased from the government by European Ferries Group, who at that time traded under the Townsend Thoresen brand.
The ASN had purchased a part of the harbour at Cairnryan in the 1960’s and the company decided to set about repairing the pier in 1970 so they could offer a new short-sea service to the port from Larne. In March 1973 the Larne to Preston service was closed and following berthing trials at the new port the first commercial sailing on the much shorter service took place on 10th July 1973. The vessel used was the 1958-built IONIC FERRY (i) which had been purpose built for ASN when under government ownership. She was also the final vessel to operate the Larne to Preston route, having replaced her year older sister BARDIC FERRY (which was now operating to Belfast with another sister DORIC FERRY) which was the first purpose-built RoRo freight ferry in the world. Though these pioneering vessels had sufficient accommodation for 55 passengers, Ionic Ferry was upgraded to a capacity of 218 for her new service. From 1974 the Cairnryan service operated under the Townsend Thoresen banner and the Preston to Belfast service was closed.
It was not until P&O purchased the European Ferries group in 1987 though that they operated the Larne to Cairnryan route themselves. There was also a Pandoro (a truncation of P-AND-O-ROro) service from Larne to Fleetwood from 1975 until it was sold to Stena Line in 2004. Stena Line closed that service at the end of 2010 however, following their purchase of the DFDS Belfast to Heysham and Birkenhead routes. P&O also previously operated routes they had acquired in the takeover of the Coast Lines group of companies, including Belfast to Liverpool and Belfast (later Larne) to Ardrossan.
| Larne to Cairnryan (Cairnryan Harbour)|
|Up to 7 crossings per day in each direction for passengers, cars, and freight.||EUROPEAN CAUSEWAYEUROPEAN HIGHLANDER|
Limerick based Frazer Ferries currently operate 2 routes to Northern Ireland from the Republic of Ireland.
|Greencastle (Co. Down) to Greenore (Co. Louth)|
|Magilligan Point (Co. L’derry) to Greencastle (Co. Donegal) [Seasonal]|
Ballycastle to Church Bay (Rathlin Island)
The information given on this page is subject to change. Please check with the operator as no guarantee is given that this information is correct. Unless otherwise stated services which carry cars, normally also carry motorcycles and bicycles. Clicking on the operators logo will take you to their website.