Route to success

During 2010, Stena Line transported 15.1 million passengers, as well as 3.2 million vehicles and 1.6 million freight units. Clearly the company’s reputation as one of the world’s largest ferry operators is well gained. Based in Sweden, Stena Line operates internationally through Europe’s most comprehensive route network, which offers connections between eight countries, and 19 routes around Scandinavia and the UK.

Although the Stena brand was established in 1939, its activities in the shipping sector did not begin until 1946 before taking off in 1962 with the acquisition of the route between Gothenburg and Skagen, Denmark. The strategic purchase of Sealink British Ferries in 1990 was just one milestone in its ongoing growth, today culminating in a route-based organisation with three core geographical markets – Scandinavia, the Irish Sea and the North Sea.

On the Irish Sea, one of the most recent significant improvements to the route network came in December 2010 when Stena Line announced it was to acquire DFDS’ Liverpool to Belfast, and Heysham to Belfast routes for approximately £40 million. This purchase enabled Stena Line to dramatically progress its Irish Sea service by offering several different transportation alternatives between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and marks a key part of its ongoing investment into this market over the last ten years.

A year on and Stena Line has been working hard to integrate these routes into its current portfolio having gained the approval of the Competition Commission in June. This has brought the number of Stena Line routes on the Irish Sea to six. On November 25th, the company officially opened its new route between Belfast and Cairnryan, Scotland, which has been supported through a £200 million investment package, including new port and terminal facilities, and the replacement of three existing vessels with two superfast ferries. Known as the Stena Superfast VII and Stena Superfast VIII, the vessels have undergone major upgrade and refurbishment works in order to become the largest and most luxurious ferries operating in the Irish Sea.

Running exclusively between Belfast and Cairnryan, both vessels boast a crossing time of just two hours and 15 minutes, with 12 sailings per day. Paul Grant, route director Cairnryan-Belfast, describes the features of the new vessels: “The new vessels, which offer free Wi-Fi, have been designed to offer a unique range of facilities for the leisure and freight market. Both ships have been reconfigured to provide over five-metres deck height to ensure that freight vehicles of all sizes can be accommodated, and a dedicated truckers lounge provides drivers with a range of facilities including reclining chairs – a first on the Irish Sea.

“Leisure passengers can choose from a wide variety of onboard facilities including The Living Room – a dedicated TV and magazine relaxing lounge with Barista Coffee House serving fresh coffee, hot and cold snacks; The POD – a multi-sensory interactive experiences with iPads, Xboxes and surf stations; Taste – an all new food experience; and The Nordic Spa – with onboard Jacuzzi and sauna, which is another first for the Irish Sea,” he adds.

Offered as part of Stena Line’s Premium fare package, Stena Plus is an exclusive lounge for 150 premier guests offering a series of comfortable leather seating, including sofas and sofa chairs, across two levels to suit all requirements. Guests are invited to help themselves to a selection of complimentary coffees, speciality teas, soft drinks, juices, wines and snacks throughout their journey, with magazines and newspapers available. There is also an in-lounge waiter service with a premium menu choice of speciality seafood dishes and traditional favourites, enabling guests to order at their leisure.

As one end of this route, in 2010 Stena Line announced its intention to invest approximately £80 million into a new ferry port facility at Loch Ryan, just two miles north of Cairnryan. Paul elaborates on the impact of this investment: “Stena Line successfully opened its new 27 acre Loch Ryan Port on November 25th when the First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond joined the Chairman of Stena Line Dan Sten Olsson to perform the opening ceremony to over 350 invited guests and media. The new port, one of the most modern in the UK, heralds the opening of Stena Line’s new Cairnryan-Belfast route which also welcomed its two new Superfast ships.

“The project to build a port in Scotland has been on the agenda for a considerable period of time. During that time a number of options were looked at in a bid to help take the route forward. Loch Ryan Port was chosen because of its deeper water and its location at the mouth of the loch, which helped to reduce the journey time to just two hours 15 minutes. Building a new port is never an easy task but the support of a highly experienced Stena Line project team ensured that the project was completed on time,” he continues. This follows a £37 million investment into a new port facility in Belfast in 2008. With freight and tourism volumes both seeing growth between Northern Ireland and Scotland in recent years, these investments offers numerous benefits for both countries.

These investments have continued to be made in the midst of a very challenging economic environment. Coupled with this is the rising price of fuel, which is not only a major cost to Stena Line’s business, but also to its customers across the freight and leisure markets. Whilst it may not be plain sailing ahead, with the recent completion of this £200 million investment into the Irish Sea routes the company remains optimistic about the future and the potential to grow its business in the year ahead. “In particular the introduction of our two new Superfast vessels gives us greater opportunities in the freight market as we are capable of carrying all types of freight vehicles,” begins Paul.

“We have increased our capacity on the route ukand are confident that the market will respond positively to the investments we have made. We believe that the combination of a new port, new ships and a new route will give us the competitive edge in 2012 and beyond. On a wider level Stena Line is currently deploying a three-year strategic plan under the banner Actions for Growth. The company has a clear strategy, and as has been demonstrated on the Irish Sea, we’re leading the way in ferry travel,” he concludes.

Most extensive route network in northern Europe
Invested over £200 million into the Irish Sea network
Includes a new route between Belfast-Cairnryan on the Irish Sea, and new Superfast ferries