Despite the COVID-19 pandemic there have been significant developments in shipping services through Irish ports

Despite much of the world going into lockdown in March this year following the arrival of the Coronavirus pandemic the freight shipping sector has remained strong, though challenged. Passenger traffic, which has been a vital element in the ferry business in many parts of the world including Scandinavia and the western English Channel, almost disappeared. This had led to the laying-up of a significant number of vessels and the likely cessation of some services on a permanent basis.

However, most ferry services linking Ireland with English, Welsh and Continental ports are mainly focused on freight traffic while the Lo-Lo services are entirely freight carriers. At the bottom of the COVID-19 lockdown these services reported volume drops of up to 40%, but maintained their sailing schedules and, in doing so, enabled traffic to flow through the system with minimal delays. It’s clear that throughout the lockdown period shipments of pharmaceuticals, medical devices and agri-food kept moving. All of these products are significant in the Irish economic model. Added to this was the switch to trailer or container shipment of volumes that would have left Ireland by air making use of the significant underfloor capacity in passenger aircraft. Normally 65% of Irish airfreight travels in that way. By early June and with the lockdowns being loosened throughout Europe and further afield, freight traffic volumes on all services increased to, in many cases, pre-COVID levels.

Following the successful switch by Brittany Ferries of their Ireland/Spain service to a Rosslare/Bilbao operation in February there was a lull in service changes until May. Since that time several Lines have launched significant new services while others have added sailings to current schedules.

These changes include: –

  • In May CLdN launched its first service out of the Port of Cork with a Con-Ro service which now sails each Sunday from Ringaskiddy to Zeebrugge. The vessel has the capability to carry trailers, containers and trade cars. No driver accompanied trailers are carried.
  • CLdN also announced the restoration of their third weekly Dublin/Zeebrugge rotation and followed up in June with the opening of a weekly Dublin/Liverpool/Santander Con-Ro service. The vessel operating this route sails from Dublin on Tuesday and, after calling at Liverpool arrives in Santander on Friday morning. She sails from there to Dublin, again calling Liverpool en route on Friday afternoon arriving in Dublin on Monday morning. Traffic moving between Dublin and Santander can also be accommodated using connecting services at Zeebrugge.
  • CLdN has also added two Dublin/Liverpool rotations sailing from Dublin on Monday and Tuesday. Only unaccompanied freight is carried.
  • Seatruck added an additional Thursday sailing from Dublin to Liverpool, returning on Friday, while BG Freight Line have increased the frequency of their Lo-Lo service operating between the same ports to three round trips weekly.
  • P&O Ferries have added a fourth vessel to their fleet operating the Dublin/Liverpool ferry service and now schedules four daily sailings ex Dublin from Tuesday to Friday. The Company’s Larne/Cairnryan service has also had a fifth daily round trip sailing restored.
  • Brittany Ferries has launched a weekly Con-Ro service linking Rosslare and Roscoff. This, like the Line’s Cork/Roscoff sailing is a seasonal service scheduled to run until the end of October. The service ex Rosslare will have significant freight vehicle capacity.
  • Irish Ferries have increased frequency on their Dublin/Cherbourg cruise ferry service to seven round trips each fortnight from the wintertime frequency of three times weekly.
  • The weekly BG Freight Line service linking Waterford and Rotterdam launched in July 2019 has received a considerable traffic boost following completion of an agreement with Hapag-Lloyd to carry their feeder traffic from the Munster region. Waterford is now a “Bill of Lading Port” for several deep-sea lines, something that would encourage more regional container traffic to move through the port.
  • CMA-CGM has opened a Dublin/Rotterdam Lo-Lo service under their Containerships The service operates into the Rotterdam Short Sea terminal close to the city centre. As part of a global rationalization of brands the CMA-CGM group now includes all of its European Short Sea services including the MacAndrews Iberian services, under the Containerships brand. CMA-CGM is also launching its CMA CGM Intermodal range of door-to-door products with an objective of using as far as possible rail or barge for landside distribution.
  • Independent Container Lines (ICL) was launched a weekly Lo-Lo service from Ringaskiddy to the US Ports of Chester, near Philadelphia and Wilmington, North Carolina. Transit times to Chester is 10 days and to Wilmington, it is 12 days. Transit times on the inbound service are longer with calls to Antwerp and Southampton prior to arrival at Ringaskiddy, 17 days from Chester and 15 days from Wilmington. The service is operated by a fleet of 3,000 TEU vessels and the line offers a wide range of dry and reefer container equipment while project cargo can also be accommodated. Sales agents in Ireland are Johnson Stevens Agencies.

Rosslare Europort has launched its Masterplan document which outlines plans for a 30m. euro spend for development of facilities within the Port area while further improvements will be made to road access from the N11. Dublin Port has received planning approval from An Bord Pleanala for the next phase of its Development plan while the Cork Port Ringaskiddy Container Port project nears completion.