NI ferry routes to qualify for additional U.K. Government subsidy

By: Steven Tarbox
Last updated:
P&O Ferries EUROPEAN HIGHLANDER makes her way past Loch Ryan Port towards Cairnryan on her 04:00 sailing from Larne, 03.08.19. Copyright © Steven Tarbox.
P&O Ferries EUROPEAN HIGHLANDER. Copyright © Steven Tarbox.

Three “critical” ferry routes between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will be able to access a £35m U.K. Government fund to support freight links it has been announced. The cash injection is in addition to the £17m scheme previously announced and is designed to help ensure critical goods, such as food and medical supplies, can continue to move freely despite the COVID-19 crisis. P&O Ferries’ Larne – Cairnryan, Stena Line’s Belfast – Cairnyran, and Seatruck Ferries’ Warrenpoint – Heysham routes are all included in the scheme.

Closure risk

A total of six operators operating both U.K. domestic and U.K to continental Europe routes qualify to access the funding. The 16 routes have all been designated as Public Service Obligation routes for a period of up to 9 weeks. According to the UK Government, the routes “were previously at risk of closure due to a drop in demand as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19)”. Capacity and sailings have already been reduced on many of the routes due to reduced passenger and freight demand. The government will pay out the subsidies to each operator based on the amount of freight that they carry.

No funding for Dublin Routes

Notably, despite protests about not being included in the previous scheme, the central corridor routes from Dublin to Holyhead and Liverpool have not been included. This perhaps suggests that these sailings continue to at least break even despite the reduction in both passengers and freight due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic.

STENA SUPERFAST VIII turns almost within her own length prior to backing on to the berth at Loch Ryan Port. © Steven Tarbox
STENA SUPERFAST VIII turns almost within her own length prior to backing on to the berth at Loch Ryan Port. © Steven Tarbox

Safeguarding supplies

U.K. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said:

From the very beginning of the outbreak, we have committed to do whatever it takes to minimise the disruption caused by COVID-19.

By taking this action, we have helped protect the movement of goods and services in and out of the UK, safeguarding the flow of supplies across the Union.

According to Kevin Shakespeare, director of stakeholder engagement at the Institute of Export & International Trade, the funding will “protect freight traffic including supplies of essential goods such as food and medicines.”

UK Chamber Chief Executive Bob Sanguinetti said:

“Ferry operators have been under immense pressure in the last couple of months and they have continued to keep food, medicines and essential goods flowing into the country.

“The government was quick to recognise the strategic importance of the shipping industry and we are extremely pleased with the financial support which has been agreed. The tailored package for our most critical freight routes will allow the UK to manage through the lockdown and enable trade to increase as we move into the recovery phase.” 

What routes have been designated as Public Service Obligation routes?

The full list of the 16 freight links which have been designated as Public Service Obligation routes by the U.K. government is as follows:

Cairnryan – LarneP&O Ferries
Cairnryan – BelfastStena Line
Heysham – WarrenpointSeatruck Ferries
Poole – Bilbao [ES]Brittany Ferries
Portsmouth – Cherbourg [FR]Brittany Ferries
Portsmouth – Santander [ES]Brittany Ferries
Dover – Calais [FR]P&O Ferries / DFDS
Dover – Dunkerque [FR]DFDS
Folkestone – Coquelles [FR]GETLink (Eurotunnel)
Tilbury – Zeebrugge [BE]P&O Ferries
Hull – Rotterdam (Europoort) [NL]P&O Ferries
Hull – Zeebrugge [BE]P&O Ferries
Harwich – Rotterdam (Europoort) [NL]Stena Line
Harwich – Hoek van Holland [NL]Stena Line
Killinghome – Rotterdam [NL]Stena Line
Teesport – Rotterdam [NL]P&O Ferries
Brittany Ferries CONNEMARA. Brittany Ferries
Brittany Ferries CONNEMARA. The former Cork – Santander ship currently serves the company’s Portsmouth routes. Brittany Ferries

Fuel surcharges

Welcoming the move, the Road Haulage Association has meanwhile appealed for ferry operators to cut fuel surcharges. John Martin, policy manager said:

“Businesses rely on fully-functioning ferry routes to move goods quickly and efficiently.

“This support should give firms a bit of certainty over the next few weeks as the economy begins the long journey to recovery.

“This move should also prompt the operators running ferries between Britain and Northern Ireland to reduce the fuel surcharges they levy on trucks to reflect the considerable reductions in oil prices.”

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