Irish freight finds new routes

Dublin, Ireland: The volume of freight shipped across the Irish Sea from the Republic of Ireland to Britain is down significantly despite government claims that trading volumes are returning to normal.

Companies trying to avoid red tape and potential delays associated with Brexit are sending freight on much longer sea routes directly to the continent, rather than using the traditional ‘land bridge’ route across Britain.

For hauliers who want to continue using the land bridge, things are about to get more complicated. At the moment, they only have to face new export bureaucracy when they leave Britain and arrive in France. In April and then more widely in July they will be facing similar import measures when they arrive in Britain from Ireland, making the post-Brexit border procedures on the land bridge even more cumbersome.

In the week to 22 February, freight volumes on Stena Line ferries from the Republic of Ireland to Britain were down 49% compared to the same week last year, while volumes going directly to France were up 102%. The direct sea routes to France are slightly slower and more expensive than travel via Dover and Calais But going direct avoids the new post-Brexit checks and paperwork.

Stena has started a new route from Dublin to Cherbourg to go alongside its existing route from Rosslare to Cherbourg. It now has 14 weekly crossings between Ireland and the continent compared to six last year. DFDS Seaways has added Rosslare to Dunkirk to 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. Additional sailings are expected shortly.

“The new routes are booming,” says Glenn Carr, the general manager of Rosslare Europort, “for both accompanied 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, up from 12 a year ago. And Rosslare’s freight traffic with mainland Europe rose by 446% in January, compared to 2020.

“Businesses have just made strategic decisions to move their trade,” Carr says. “We’re exporting about 150 to 200 loads to France every week,” says Chris Smyth, the commercial director of Perennial Freight in Wexford, just up the coast from Rosslare. “Last year, it was about 100 a week.”
“It’s what our customers want. Big businesses in particular like the certainty and the lack of hassle.”

Smyth says a lot of companies in Northern Ireland (the only part of the UK which is continuing to follow the rules of the EU single market) are now sending freight south to export directly from Dublin and Rosslare.
Last year more than 150,000 lorries used the UK land bridge to reach continental Europe from Ireland. More lorries are coming back empty on the direct sea route, because Ireland is a relatively small market.

“There’s been a seismic shift to the direct routes. Not all of it will stick, but a lot of it will.” Smyth says.

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