Revenue at Irish Ferries owner up 6.1% but Brexit bites

Irish Continental Group said UK bookings fell in run-up to March 29th withdrawal date

The WB Yeats delivered in December 2018 commenced sailings on January 22nd.

The WB Yeats delivered in December 2018 commenced sailings on January 22nd.

 

Brexit worries continue to hit Irish-UK tourist traffic despite the two countries’ pledge to preserve free travel, according to Eamonn Rothwell, chief executive of Irish Ferries’ owner.

Revenue in the first four months of the year at the ferry company’s owner, Irish Continental Group (ICG), rose 6.1 per cent over the same period in 2018 to €102.3 million.

However, British passenger bookings fell before March 29th, the date the UK was originally scheduled to leave the EU before a postponement.

Speaking after ICG’s annual general meeting (agm) in Dublin on Friday, Mr Rothwell, acknowledged that Brexit had created uncertainty for travellers on both sides of the Irish Sea.

Irish Ferries carried 95,0000 cars between January 1st and May 11th, 8.5 per cent fewer than during the same period last year. Mr Rothwell noted that this was mainly tourists.

“I think there’s a bit of concern around Brexit on the passenger side, people just don’t know, so there’s a reluctance to travel,” he said.

He added that the recent Irish-British government deal to maintain a common travel area allowing free movement between the two jurisdictions had not allayed passengers’ worries.

An ICG update issued before the agm described the governments’ pledge to maintain the common travel area, irrespective of UK-EU withdrawal negotiations’ outcome, as a positive development.

Around 22 per cent of shareholders who voted opposed ICG’s remuneration report, detailing the €2.16 million it paid to Mr Rothwell and chief financial officer, David Ledwidge’s €446,000 package.

Opposition

Mr Rothwell argued that the opposition to the report was not high by today’s standards. More than 99 per cent of shareholders voted for most resolutions.

ICG stopped sailing from Rosslare, Co Wexford, to France, blaming a National Transport Authority (NTA) ruling that offering alternative routes to the continent via Britain as compensation for cancelled Irish Ferry sailings broke EU regulations.

That ruling stemmed from the group cancelling scheduled services last year when a delay by shipbuilders meant that its new craft, the WB Yeats, was not delivered on time.

One compensation option offered by ICG was to pay for passengers to travel via Britain to France. The group believes the authority misinterpreted the EU regulations and is challenging its ruling in the European Court of Justice.

Mr Rothwell explained that ICG had to stop services from Rosslare to France as it did not have the craft based at the Wexford port to offer an alternative direct trip to the continent should it be forced to cancel sailings. It does however have sufficient craft in Dublin.

“Rosslare is closed because of the NTA,” he said.

ICG’s update covered shipping operations for the year to May 11th and financial information for the first four months of 2019.

Ferry division revenues fell 1.1 per cent to €51.7 million. ICG sells a more significant share of tickets during the traditional summer tourist season.

Its container and terminal division grew revenues by 13.7 per cent to €53.2 million.

Planned suspension

Along with Brexit, the group said the planned suspension of fastcraft services on the Dublin-to-Holyhead route in the period up to March 14th, cut the number of tourists it carried.

Net debt rose in the first four months of 2019 to €88.4 million from €80.3 million on December 31st. Higher oil prices drove fuel costs up in the opening weeks of this year.

Freight partly offset the fall in ferry passengers. ICG shipped 109,500 roll on/roll off units, an increase of 6.6 per cent compared with 2018.