Stena Line has launched the biggest ever ferry to sail on the Belfast to Liverpool route as the Stena Edda embarked on its maiden voyage to Belfast.
The Stena Edda is part of an investment of over £200m by Stena Line in three new vessels and port upgrades, also involving Peel Ports, which runs Port of Liverpool and Belfast Harbour.
It comes as Northern Ireland loses a crucial part of its air connectivity, with around a dozen flights into Britain from Belfast lost as a result of the administration of regional airline Flybe.
Edda, which arrived in Belfast from Merseyside for the first time on Monday night, is the first of two new ferries on the Belfast to Liverpool route.
It can carry up to 1,000 passengers and 120 cars, with 3,100 lane metres of freight.
While the new vessel is 215 metres long, Stena Line said that new infrastructure in Belfast and Birkenhead will make it easier to load and unload passengers.
Mary Jo McCanny, Visit Belfast's director of visitor servicing, welcomed the investment by Stena Line.
"Increased connectivity has been a key factor in Belfast's recent tourism renaissance. Sea travel provides well over half of our passenger capacity from our main market in Great Britain, so we welcome Stena Line's commitment to Belfast and their continued investment in their routes," she said.
"We're delighted to be here to welcome the first of what we hope will be many passengers from Liverpool."
Paul Grant, Stena Line trade director for Irish Sea North, said: "As Europe's largest ferry company, this is a very exciting time for Stena Line. The Irish Sea is very important to our company and we are committed to enhancing and developing our services on these routes to continue offering the very best freight and travel experience for customers.
"With vessels which are the most spacious and comfortable ever to sail on the Irish Sea, Stena Line is proud to be shaping the ferry industry for the next generation of freight and travel customers.
"The Liverpool to Belfast route has been growing consistently since Stena Line acquired it almost 10 years ago."
The Stena Edda arrived following a four-week voyage from ship builders in China, followed by trials in Liverpool and Birkenhead.