Public conformation that Express WILL be dropped from Larne-Troon at the end of this season.
In an interview with the Larne Times, a P&O spokesperson has confirmed that the fast craft HSC Express will NOT have her charter renewed at the end of her current season, and that notice has already been given to the owners of the craft that this is the case. Express currently operates the seasonal service between Larne and Troon, as well as providing support to the Isle of Man Steam Packet during the TT racing season. This year marks the 15th year in a row that Express has been chartered by P&O, and her 10th operating on their North Channel services.
Last week, NI Ferry Site published the news that staff and crew had been told that Express would not operate next year, however this interview provides public confirmation. As we stated last week, P&O maintain that they are seeking an alternative vessel for the service for next year. The spokesperson refused to disclose any further details, citing that this information was "commercially sensitive", but did say
“As a business, P&O Ferries continually monitors and reviews its fleet to ensure it provides the best vessel for a given route. Since chartering the Express in 2000, the economics of operating this fast craft have changed and we are now looking for the best vessel to service the route.”
NI Ferry Site understands that passenger and car carryings on the Larne-Troon service during April where significantly down on last year. This could partially be attributed to the halving of the frequency of the seasonal Larne-Troon service this year to just one single round trip per day. However, the spokesperson said “Carryings last year were virtually identical to the year before, but the economic climate remains challenging", avoiding discussing the routes performance this year so far. It is, of course, possible that carryings versus last year could recover during the remaining months of the season, and it was claimed that the decision had been made on the vessel alone and not the route.
It is highly unlikely that a ferry company would not renew the charter of an existing vessel, and leave themselves without a craft for a service they intend to operate in the future, without an existing arrangement for an alternative vessel. It remains to be seen whether P&O have indeed secured an alternative vessel, and are just not showing their hand to the competition, or whether as has already been speculated previously, the service will be closed. There had been some speculation in the past that European Causeway could operate to Troon next year (potentially leaving European Highlander to serve Cairnryan alone), however Larne-Troon with this vessel could take up to some 4 hours in each direction, loosing the timesaving benefit the service provides versus the routes operating to Cairnryan from Belfast and Larne. From a foot passenger perspective, airline services to Glasgow and Prestwick may also become more attractive, as could connecting coaches from the Cairnryan ferries of both P&O and Stena Line. A conventional ferry service however could prove attractive to hauliers, due to the much closer proximity of Glasgow to Troon than Cairnryan. This announcement also leaves the Isle of Man Steam Packet with a problem, as they charter Express from P&O to provide additional capacity during the Isle of Man TT.
The full Larne Times article can be found here
Title image: Express passing Ballylumford power station, Easter Monday 2015. Copyright © Gary Andrews.