Weathering the storm
Stena Line is one of Europe’s most recognisable names in ferry services and its routes are spread throughout Northern Europe. Stena Line BV, headquartered in Hoek van Holland, is a subsidiary responsible for operating routes between two Dutch ports – Hoek van Holland and Europort in Rotterdam – and two UK ports, Harwich and Killingholme. Approximately 30 per cent of its revenue comes from foot and vehicle passengers whilst the remaining 70 per cent is down to freight, and particularly fruit and vegetables. Its ships have recently been replaced with newbuilds; Stena Line BV can therefore boast an incredibly young, cutting edge fleet.
The most recent additions to the fleet are two small freighters to the Europort-Harwich line at the beginning of September 2012. Managing director Pim de Lange discusses this development: “The vessels previously on the route, Stena Carrier and Stena Freighter, were far too big for the present market and thus too expensive. With their capacity of 2700 lane metres we had an occupancy rate of only 39 per cent. When we heard that Cobelfret was closing their service between Rotterdam and Ipswich we approached the company to see if it was possible to charter the two ships, Severine and Capucine. It was. The ships themselves are high quality vessels built in 2011 and 2012. They have a capacity of 1760 lane metres, meaning 35 per cent less capacity than the Stena Carrier/Stena Freighter, and they are subsequently cheaper to operate. We expect them to achieve an occupancy rate of 80 per cent.”
Previous to the addition of Severine and Capucine, Stena Line BV had received its own newbuilds from Samsung Heavy Industries in South Korea. Set to sail on the Hoek van Holland-Killingholme route, the Stena Transporter and Stena Transit began operating in March and November 2011 respectively. At 4050 lane metres each, these vessels are larger than their Europort-Harwich counterparts to meet higher volumes of traffic. Since delivery, both vessels have proved incredibly successful in their purpose and provide Stena Line BV with a good foundation for the future.
When designing the Stena Transporter and Stena Transit, Stena Line was designing for the future. Both utilise a hull shape engineered to minimise water resistance and therefore fuel consumption. Furthermore they are the first vessels in the port of Rotterdam to make use of shore-to-ship electrical power supply technologies, alongside the other Stena vessels Stena Britannica and Stena Hollandica. The electrical power supply was designed and installed at Hoek van Holland by ABB in conjunction with the Port of Rotterdam Authority. It represents the first step toward a sustainable future for Stena Line BV and the wider marine industry.
Stena Line BV has faced a tough market during the last 12 months, with a slow economy continuing to discourage many people from travelling. “The passenger business on Hoek van Holland-Harwich this summer has been quiet,” says Pim. “The passenger carryings from the UK to the continent were all right but the reverse journeys have been disappointing. More travellers were expected particularly due to the Olympic Games but in fact we carried less than in a normal summer. It seems many stayed away from the UK and London area because of all the news about possible chaos and increased prices. Overall, however, passenger volumes are the same as 2011 with no increase or decrease.”
Despite unchanged numbers for foot passengers, Stena Line BV has seen improved numbers across its two other core business areas. “On the car passenger side we increased by about one per cent, due mainly to the UK market which has performed though our continental markets didn’t. Meanwhile, looking at freight volumes, we have seen a respectable increase across all routes and that is promising for the future.”
Because much of Stena Line BV’s business relies on consumer economics, it is in a tough situation for as long as the effects of the recession last. Now four years after its initial impact, many people in the UK and mainland Europe remain cautious about spending; Stena Line BV, meanwhile, remains confident that numbers will pick up again soon. The UK in particular, as an island nation sustaining a large population, relies on the importation of food and other necessities, and the operator’s vessels play a small but important part in maintaining that. It’s recognition as a leading ferry service also guarantees that passengers will return to its international transits as the economy grows.
“We see many opportunities once the crisis is over and there is economic recovery,” Pim says. “Once the public gains confidence then so will our customers, and supermarkets and other retails across the country will provide a boom in traffic. With our fleet of new vessels that offer good quality and capacity, we are absolutely ready for future.There are definitely plans in the making, plans I can’t discuss, but I can say there are prospects for expansion into new areas. In the meantime, however, we will continue handling the stormy weather because we are not going away. Stena Line is here to stay.”