Irish Ferries signs up to £111m deal for a new ship
The Irish Ferries fleet is to get a new €144m (£111m) passenger ship after owner Irish Continental signed a contract with a German firm to build the vessel and deliver it by May 2018.
It will accommodate almost 1,900 passengers and crew and will have 435 cabins and the capacity for 165 freight vehicles and 300 cars.
Irish Continental - led by Co Antrim businessman John B McGuckian as chairman - said it had placed an order with Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft for the new vessel.
It will use a combination of existing cash resources and loan facilities to finance the acquisition.
It is understood that Irish Continental, which also owns the Eucon freight line, has also signed an option for another vessel with the shipyard.
The company, which is headed by chief executive Eamonn Rothwell, said the new 50,000-tonne ship could be deployed on any of its routes.
However, it is likely to be introduced on routes that are currently served by the MV Epsilon, which is chartered by Irish Continental.
Epsilon sails from Dublin to Holyhead midweek, and between Dublin and France at the weekends.
The new ship will provide additional capacity, but also significant cost savings for the group.
"This investment underpins the confidence the group has in both the freight and passenger tourism markets between Ireland, Britain and France," said Eamonn Rothwell.
"The construction of a cruise ferry of this size will offer a premium experience for all our customers," Mr Rothwell added.
Passenger facilities over four decks will include suites with balconies, as well as entertainment including a cinema.
Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft is currently building two freight ferries that will be chartered by DFDS.
Irish Continental made a €57m (£43.8m) profit in its last financial year, which was 75% higher than in 2014. Revenue also climbed 10.5% to €320.6m (£246m).
The group benefited from lower fuel prices, stronger sterling and an improving Irish economy.