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Brexit delivers record freight for Rosslare on ferries to mainland EU

Southeast port boosted by fivefold increase in freight in January on continental sailings

An unaccompanied freight truck is loaded on to the Brittany Ferries ferry Cap Finistere, before departing for Cherbourg from Rosslare Europort, which has ramped up direct routes to mainland Europe since Brexit. Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP via Getty Images

Rosslare Europort recorded a record increase in European freight volumes in January as more businesses chose direct ferries with mainland Europe to avoid Brexit checks with Britain.

New and existing ferry services between Rosslare and the ports of Cherbourg and Dunkirk in France and Bilbao in Spain have proved popular with hauliers, logistics firms and international traders as they avoid new border controls on trade with Britain since December 31st.

New figures from the Iarnród Éireann-owned port, the closest to continental Europe, show that there was a 446 per cent increase in freight volumes on the direct routes in January compared with the same month last year. At the same time, UK freight volumes moving through the port fell by half.

Overall freight volumes were 45 per cent higher than a year ago as a result of “unprecedented demand” for the new direct services operating between Rosslare and mainland Europe, as transport companies navigate the twin challenges posted by Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are now 30 sailings a week between Rosslare and mainland Europe, with Stena Line offering six direct services to Cherbourg, Danish firm DFDS offering six a week and Brittany Ferries offering a twice weekly service to Bilbao and a weekly service to Cherbourg.

This compares with just 10 sailings per week a year ago as the southeastern port took advantage of the opportunities created by Brexit to open more routes to avoid Britain.

Prior to Brexit, between 150,000 and 170,000 lorries travelled across the Irish Sea, the UK “landbridge” and the English Channel as the cheapest and quickest route to mainland Europe.

Border controls

Since the UK’s exit from the EU single market and customs union took effect at the end of last year, transport companies are bypassing this route because of delays from new border controls.

“We knew there was going to be a shift and we saw the demand. What is unexpected is the scale of that demand,” said Rosslare Europort general manager Glenn Carr.

“It normally takes a while for these new services to get up and running but the services have hit the ground running. It is an exceptional set of results. There are challenges with UK trade and I am not sure how much of that may migrate back over time.”

Mr Carr said the port had capacity to operate “at least three more services” and could accommodate further routes if it opened up berths for through-the-night arrivals and departures.

There is speculation that Brittany Ferries may add more sailings between Ireland and the French ports of St Malo and Roscoff due to demand for the transport of fish and meat products to and from northern France, but the Irish ports for any new services have yet to be confirmed.

Rosslare’s success comes as the spiralling cost of shipping goods from Asia is causing a shortage of consumer goods in Europe for importers of everything from home furnishings, bicycles and sports kit to children’s toys and dried fruits.

Covid tests

Mr Carr said a number of French-bound lorry drivers arrived at the port without evidence of negative Covid-19 tests on Friday and Saturday, a mandatory requirement introduced by the French government to prevent the spread of the more infectious UK strain circulating in Ireland.

“Three drivers who appeared on Friday hadn’t got their test and one driver who appeared yesterday,” he said. “These are quite small numbers given the speed at which it was introduced. It has appeared to be running quite well.”

Lorry drivers can, from this week, stop at a second testing site closer to the Rosslare port this week, at Holmestown, in addition to the site off the M11 near Gorey, he said.

There were additional drive-through testing sites for drivers at Shannon and Cork Airports if hauliers require and lorry drivers can produce evidence of their own tests, he added. – Additional reporting, The Financial Times Limited 2021

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