The two Irish Sea fast-ferries will not be returning to service until further notice due to the Covid-19 Coronavirus pandemic. Irish Ferries’ DUBLIN SWIFT and the Isle of Man Steam Packet’s MANANNAN remain tied up in Holyhead and Douglas respectively, despite their planned operating season already being underway. Both operators appear to have taken the decision postpone the return of their fast-craft due to the lack of passenger demand. Travel to the Isle of Man is currently limited to those with specific authorisation from the Chief Secretary to carry out essential work on the island. Movement restrictions also remain in place in both the UK and Ireland with only essential travel permitted. The pair are the only passenger/vehicle catamaran ferries currently used on the Irish Sea.
Irish Ferries has also continued to employ W.B. YEATS on the Dublin – Holyhead route with EPSILON remaining on the Dublin – Cherbourg run. It had previously been planned to switch the two ships at the beginning of this month. Stena Line’s STENA ESTRID has also been tied up in Holyhead over the weekend, though this is due to a technical issue according to some posts on social media. STENA FORECASTER had been expected to provide freight cover at one stage, but she has remained tied up at Belfast’s D1 throughout Saturday and Sunday.
How it affects bookings
Irish Ferries are offering passengers already booked on cancelled sailings the option of moving to one of their conventional sailings, credit for the value of the crossing plus 10% for use until the end of 2021, or a full refund to the original form of payment. The company are also now offering free amendment on all bookings made on sailings up until the end of May. Along with airlines Irish Ferries have come under criticism, however, for their cancellation and amendment policy on sailings which have not been cancelled. The Steam Packet have waived amendment fees up until the end of this month, and are issuing refunds to passengers who can no longer travel to the island. Passengers who booked on MANANNAN from Liverpool and who are authorised to travel can transfer to BEN-MY-CHREE sailings from Heysham. Those who require a refund or amendment should contact their chosen operator directly.
Both vessels had already been dry-docked ahead of their anticipated return to service. DUBLIN SWIFT entered Harland & Wolff’s Belfast Dry Dock (BDD) on March 2nd ahead of her scheduled first sailing on the Dublin – Holyhead route exactly a month later on April 2. The Austal-built vessel left the dry-dock on the night of March 6, arriving in Holyhead the following morning. According to the Irish Continental Group annual report for 2019, around €7m was spent on her last year. The latest dry-docking is understood to have been for routine annual maintenance and inspections. DUBLIN SWIFT is also understood to have undergone work to her engines while laid-up for Autumn/Winter at Holyhead.
The Steam Packet’s MANANNAN dry-docked at Cammell-Laird Birkenhead again this year. Again, this was for routine annual maintenance and inspections ahead of a planned return to service at the end of March. This was to be MANANNAN‘s 11th year in service for the Steam Packet who, like Irish Ferries with DUBLIN SWIFT, purchased her as a US Navy vessel and converted her back to civilian use. MANANNAN was again scheduled to sail mainly between Douglas and Liverpool, with occasional trips to Dublin and Belfast as in previous years.
Will the Ferry Industry Need Government Support?
Freight and passenger volumes throughout Europe are understood to have continued to be much lower than usual for the time of year with many shops and factories closed and non-essential travel banned in many countries. Notably three vessels are now off service on the Dover – Calais crossing, P&O Ferries’ PRIDE OF BURGUNDY and PRIDE OF KENT as well as DFDS’s CALAIS SEAWAYS. Additionally, P&O’s EUROPEAN SEAWAY was already off the route prior to the Coronavirus crisis. Freight and passengers passing through the channel tunnel are also significantly down.
The UK Chamber of Shipping has stated that ferry companies may need financial assistance in order to keep running services at a loss so that essential supplies of food and medical equipment can continue to arrive reliably. It was claimed separately last week that P&O Ferries is losing some £250,000 per day. As already reported on this site, both P&O Ferries and Stena Line have cut back sailings on their routes from Northern Ireland. Further south, P&O have not used their third ship on the Dublin to Liverpool route, CLIPPER PENNANT (on charter from Seatruck), since April 2. SEATRUCK PANORAMA and SEATRUCK PACE have not sailed for Seatruck on the same route since the following day. Volumes have clearly dropped, but at present there is no indication of when they will recover.