The Irish Sea’s largest ferry operator, Stena Line, has signed a significant deal with Peel Ports to sail to Heysham Port for the next 77 years. Stena Line, which first sailed to Heysham at the end of 2010 after acquiring the remaining Irish Sea operations of DFDS, has committed to the Lancashire Port until 2100.
The deal follows a similar agreement, signed by Peel Ports and Stena Line earlier this year, for the ferry company to operate the 12 Quays terminal at Birkenhead, also until 2100.
Commenting on the Heysham agreement, Carl-Johan Hellner, Stena Line’s Chief Operating Officer Ports & Terminals, said:
“Following our signing of the Birkenhead 12 Quays deal earlier this year, this agreement re-enforces our long-term commitment to Peel Ports Group and further strengthens our partnership. Heysham is an important hub for our Irish Sea business and we’ve been developing our operations here year on year. We’re excited for the future of the route and to build on its current success.”Stena Line Press Release, 19 December 2023
New Stena Line Heysham Ferries
Currently Stena only uses Heysham port for a single route, the freight-only link between Belfast and Heysham. Earlier in 2023 Stena Line announced that it had ordered two bespoke ultra-efficient freight ferries for the route. The Heysham to Belfast route is currently served by the 1996-built sister-ships STENA SCOTIA and STENA HIBERNIA.
Dubbed the “NewMax” class, the new twin ferries for the Belfast to Heysham route are built to maximise the amount of freight space available within a footprint compatible with the restricted harbour at Heysham. According to Stena Line, the new Heysham ferries will boost freight capacity by 80% on the route. The ships are being constructed at the same shipyard in China that built Stena’s E-Flexer class, including the Irish Sea trio STENA ESTRID, STENA EDDA, and STENA EMBLA.
When delivered during 2025, the NewMax twins will be the first Irish Sea ferries to be fuelled by Methanol. Presently the entire UK to Ireland ferry fleet is fuelled by Diesel which operators elsewhere, such as Brittany Ferries, Tallink, and Baleària, have started to phase out for cleaner burning fuels with less exhaust emissions.
The NewMax vessels will also be battery hybrids and prepared for connecting to shore power once connections become available in Heysham and Belfast. This will help further reduce emissions. Presently, the only hybrid ferry in operation on the Irish Sea is the Isle of Man Steam Packet’s MANXMAN. Coincidentally, that ship also sails mainly to Heysham.
Niclas Mårtensson, CEO of Stena Line sees the arrival of the new ships and signing of the long-term port agreement as a unique opportunity. He said:
“Our business on our Belfast-Heysham route has thrived in recent years and is a vital connection for freight transport across the Irish Sea. With the upcoming introduction of our NewMax hybrid ships, this route represents a unique opportunity for Stena Line to offer our freight customers more sustainable transport between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and will be a key milestone in our sustainability journey.”Stena Line Press Release, 19 December 2023
Investment in Heysham Port
As part of the 77 year operating agreement, Peel Ports has committed to invest in the infrastructure to provide shore power for Stena Line’s vessels. The ports group, which is one of the largest in the UK, will also collaborate with Stena Line on investing in new terminal management, a ‘smart gate’ check-in system, and providing additional trailer holding capacity.
David Huck, Chief Operating Officer at Peel Ports Group says:
“We have been collaborating successfully with Stena Line for many years and it’s fantastic to establish another long-term agreement with the business.
This deal reaffirms our promise to continue developing and maintaining services across the Irish sea, while also showcasing our ongoing investment into our Heysham operation. We’re confident the route will continue to prove hugely successful for many decades to come.”Stena Line Press Release, 19 December 2023
Since the takeover of Sealink British Ferries in 1990/91, the Irish Sea has become a major market for Stena Line. Prior to the takeover, Stena Line had no presence on the Irish Sea whatsoever, though the Stena group had a history of chartering ships to Sealink and others. Belfast, which Stena first moved a single route to in 1995, is now one of the busiest ports in Stena Line’s extensive network with seven ships serving the company’s routes to Cairnryan, Liverpool (Birkenhead), and Heysham.
The Swedish company also offers services between Dublin and Holyhead, Rosslare and Fishguard, and Rosslare and Cherbourg. In February 2024 the company will also add a new freight-only ferry route between Dublin and Liverpool (Birkenhead), going some way to fill the gap left by the closure of P&O Ferries’ Dublin to Liverpool link.