Belfast Telegraph

Future of Stena’s HSS ferry service on the line

By Robin Morton, Business Correspondent

The days are numbered of Stena’s high-speed HSS ferry on the Belfast to Stranraer route, it was disclosed today.

The twin-hulled Stena Voyager, which was introduced in 1996, is likely to be replaced in the next couple of years by a more conventional fast ferry.

Significantly, no provision has been made for HSS docking facilities at a proposed new £70m ferry terminal due to open in 2011 at Loch Ryan Port in Scotland.

The primary problem for the HSS has been the soaring price of fuel in recent years. When the HSS was launched, oil cost $25 a barrel, but last year the price soared to $147, although it has now settled back to around $65.

It is understood that the breakeven price for operating the HSS is around $45 a barrel.

Another difficulty for the HSS is the speed restrictions in Belfast Lough and Loch Ryan because of the bow wave it creates.

Nigel Tilson, UK communications manager for Stena Line, said: “The plan for now is to continue to operate the HSS Stena Voyager and the conventional ferry, Stena Caledonia, on their present schedules while we review options.”

Despite the onset of the budget airlines, the Stena service carries 1.2 million passengers a year, and is a lifeline for imports and exports. While a question mark hangs over the future of Stena Voyager, her sister HSS Stena Discovery, is in the process of being sold. The vessel was withdrawn from service in 2007.

It is understood that Stena Voyager, which recently underwent sea trials, is likely to be bought by a ferry operator in Venezuela, and will be leaving Belfast shortly.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a Northern Ireland contractor is one of three firms shortlisted for the construction of Loch Ryan Port. McLaughlin & Harvey from Newtownabbey is up against HochTief from Germany and a UK consortium called PIHL. Tenders will be submitted in July but Stena will wait until autumn to make a decision.

A planning application has been submitted for the new facility, and four major objections have been received.

The terminal, which will replace the existing Stena facility in Stranraer, will be located at Old House Point, one mile north of the P&O terminal at Cairnryan.

Stena has already moved downstream in the Port of Belfast, where the new £37m Victoria Terminal Three opened in June last year.

The objective is to provide modern facilities and to reduce the crossing time, thereby saving fuel.

If the planning application proceeds without major delay, the new port could be operational by summer 2011.

But Stena acknowledges that there are still planning hurdles to be overcome.

Key to the proocess are a Harbour Empowerment Order, which has to be granted by the Scottish Government, and an Environmental Impact Assessment, which is part of the planning process.

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.