Shipping companies will respond to "unanswered demand" for more direct ferry services to mainland Europe if Brexit congests the key UK "landbridge" route, the State's maritime development agency said.
Hauliers have said the increased frequency of sailings between Ireland and Cherbourg in France to a daily service from January was welcome but that it would not serve as a substitute to the speed and ease of transit currently, before Brexit comes into effect, over the landbridge.
Liam Lacey, director of the Irish Maritime Development Office, urged importers and exporters shipping goods to and from Europe to "trial" direct routes between now and January when Brexit border checks begin to see if they work as alternatives for their supply chain.
EU-UK border checks from January mean that transport companies and hauliers face delays at British ports on the Irish Sea and English Channel, potentially disrupting the fastest and cheapest transit route currently between Ireland and mainland Europe.
Mr Lacey acknowledged that Brexit-related delays on the landbridge, jeopardising time-sensitive cargos, could force companies to change their business models and supply chains.
“I don’t underestimate the difficulty about that,” he said. “People need to understand that they will have to consider changing the way they operate. It might be a short-lived thing until the landbridge settles down but we just don’t know that.”
Some distance from ports
Direct roll-on, roll-off – "ro-ro" – ferry services to Cherbourg on 18-hour journeys will still leave hauliers some distance from ports such as Calais and Dunkirk that can be reached quickly over the landbridge that puts traders closer to key markets in the Benelux countries and Germany.
Shipping lines between Dublin and ports in northern Europe such as Zeebrugge, Antwerp and Rotterdam only transport lift-on, lift-off – "lo-lo" – containers or unaccompanied trailers, leaving Cherbourg the closest port for "ro-ro" hauliers if the landbridge becomes congested and unusable.
“If you have a need to use direct services that require you to change the business model, it is important that those alternatives are tested now,” said Mr Lacey.
Among the “lines of defence” for Irish companies against Brexit congestion on the landbridge was surplus capacity on existing direct services and the capacity of shipping companies to adjust schedules, redeploy vessels and add extra capacity if there is demand for new routes, he said.
He encouraged importers and exporters to talk to shipping companies about how Brexit might force a change in their supply chains requiring new services with mainland Europe.
Aidan Flynn, general manager of Freight Transport Association Ireland, said there needed to be more direct "ro-ro" routes to ports in northern France to protect against landbridge delays.
“It will become more unviable because of the uncertainty around delays,” he said.
Eugene Drennan, president of the Irish Road Haulage Association, called for more shipping companies and "ro-ro" direct routes to avoid becoming reliant on a small number of operators.