Tonight’s sailing from Dublin to Liverpool will be the last scheduled P&O Ferries crossing by NORBAY between the two cities. The workhorse ferry left Dublin approximately 30 minutes ahead of her scheduled 21:30 departure time this evening. Sister-ship NORBANK will continue as the sole vessel on the service for now.
P&O Ferries notified freight customers of the service reduction with a short statement last week. It read:
“We announced in August, that it was our intention to close our Liverpool – Dublin route towards the end of this year. Consequently, as part of this plan, we will now reduce our service to twelve sailings per week from Monday 16 October, as below.
Normal allocations will be suspended and may be revised. Please note that Norbank will be the only ship operating on the route until further notice.”P&O Ferries statement
P&O Ferries will now offer at most a single sailing per day in each direction between Liverpool and Dublin. Dutch-built NORBANK will leave Liverpool at 09:30, arriving in Dublin at 17:30. The return crossing leaves the Irish capital at 21:30, arriving in Liverpool at 05:30 the following morning. There will be no sailing from Dublin on Sundays and no sailing from Liverpool on Mondays.
The service is expected to end completely before the end of the year, with final sailings most likely immediately prior to Christmas.
NIFS understands that at least part of the reason for the early reduction in service are difficulties retaining retaining port staff with the route fast approaching its end. It is understood that Dutch-flagged NORBANK will temporarily move back to the Hull to Rotterdam route she was built for in the New Year. NORBANK is currently expected to provide overhaul cover for PRIDE OF HULL and PRIDE OF ROTTERDAM on the North Sea link.
The fate of British (Bermudan) flagged NORBAY is less clear, however. NORBAY is listed for sale or charter and is understood to have attracted some interest, including from an existing Irish Sea operator. Unlike some less versatile vessels that P&O Ferries has sold this year, it presently seems likely that NORBAY will see further service.
Lack of berths for replacement service
Dublin Port Company been actively seeking another operator to take over P&O Ferries’ Terminal 5 for a new service to England or Wales. Expressions of interest in the opportunity, which was marketed by Lisney, closed at noon on Thursday 12 October.
The approx. 5 hectare site comprises 425 trailer slots and a single tier linkspan. However, a lack of available berths in Great Britain may prevent a new entrant on the Central Corridor from starting a service.
While the terminal opportunity has scope for services to Continental Europe, these are to be in addition to a service to Great Britain. Dublin Port Company has ruled out another service to Holyhead which is already well served from Dublin by both Irish Ferries and Stena Line.
P&O Ferries’ Gladstone Dock terminal in Liverpool is not available after owner Peel Ports agreed a lease with another party for the facility. Seatruck Ferries and Stena Line control the only other suitable berths in the Merseyside area.
The North Wales port of Mostyn, previously used by P&O Ferries, appears to no longer be an option as the tidal port reportedly sold its linkspan. Until 2020, Mostyn was used to transfer Airbus A380 wings from barges to large RoRo vessels for shipment to France for final assembly.
The last ferry to use Mostyn was P&O Ferries’ NORBANK which undertook a berthing trial in April 2020. It is understood that Mostyn’s floating linkspan, which was linked to the shore by a fixed bridge, was acquired by Stena Line some time ago as a long-term replacement for the jack-up platform arrangement at Fishguard.
Enter Stena Line?
Stena Line currently appears to be in pole position to introduce a new Dublin to Merseyside ferry service and has already publicly confirmed its interest.
The Swedish company already has an available berth at its 12 Quays terminal in Birkenhead, which is currently undergoing expansion. As part of the Stena group the company should have few issues acquiring tonnage for a service. Stena recently purchased the Visentini RoRo FRIJSENBORG according to broker sources. The FRIJSENBORG is currently undergoing handover in Ostend and is expected to be renamed STENA FORWARDER in the coming days
Stena’s veteran RoPax ferries STENA GOTHICA and URD would appear to be suitable for a Merseyside service and will soon be spare due to the closure of the Nynäshamn to Hanko route later this week.
According to industry sources, however, the STENA GOTHICA and URD are currently being offered for sale. This suggests that Stena Line may have other tonnage already in mind for a Dublin to Birkenhead service.
URD and STENA GOTHICA will likely be more familiar to UK and Irish readers as the former SEAFREIGHT HIGHWAY and SEAFREIGHT FREEWAY of Sealink British Ferries. The pair have been rebuilt as RoPax ferries, lengthened, and re-engined since their time with Sealink in the mid-1980’s. They were sold by Sealink as part of a deal which saw TZAREVETZ and TRAPEZITZA (later result as the Dover to Calais ferries FANTASIA and FIESTA) come to the company.