Freight volumes on Stena Line ferries from Ireland to the UK fell 49% compared to the same week last year
Nearly two months after the UK left the EU single market and customs union, the volume of freight being shipped across the Irish Sea from the Ireland to the UK is still down significantly, raising further concerns about government claims that trading volumes are returning to normal.
Companies trying to avoid red tape and potential Brexit-related delays are sending freight on much longer sea routes, rather than using the traditional ‘land bridge’ route across Britain.
The number of weekly ferry crossings from Irish ports to France has risen sharply, which is likely to increase further.
In the week to 22 February, freight volumes on Stena Line ferries from Ireland to the UK fell 49% compared to the same week last year, while volumes going directly to France rose 102%.
The direct sea routes to France are more expensive than crossing the Irish Sea and then driving south through Wales and England to cross the Channel between Dover and Calais.
But going direct avoids the new post-Brexit checks and paperwork associated with the Dover-Calais route, and the Stena Line figures are reflected across the industry. It means lorries never leave the single market, and they avoid new customs formalities.
Stena has started a new route from Dublin to Cherbourg alongside its existing route from Rosslare to Cherbourg. It now has 14 weekly crossings between Ireland and the continent compared to six last year.
Another new route is run by DFDS Seaways from Rosslare to Dunkirk, close to Calais. It provides easy access into the heart of Europe.
DFDS says the service, which runs six times a week and takes just under 24 hours, is almost always oversubscribed. An announcement of additional sailings is expected shortly.
The new routes are booming, says Glenn Carr, the general manager of Rosslare Europort, for both accompanied (by a driver) and unaccompanied units. At one stage in January freight trade to the UK was down 70%. It’s picked up since then, but now the week-on-week increase is only incremental.
Overall, there are currently 36 sailings per week from Ireland to Northern France, compared to 12 a year ago. And Rosslare’s freight traffic with mainland Europe increased by a remarkable 446% in January, compared to 2020.
Businesses have just made strategic decisions to move their trade, Mr Carr says.
About 160 new jobs have already been created at Rosslare by government agencies, shipping lines and the port authority itself, and extra business has been generated for local garages and cafes.