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Largest Irish Sea ferry operator cuts sailings due to supply chain problems

The largest Irish Sea ferry operator has cancelled 12 sailings over the coming five days due to travel restrictions, a post-Brexit decline in freight volumes and problems in supply chains.

Stena Line has reduced its Dublin-Holyhead and Rosslare-Fishguard schedules saying that problems caused by new customs and regulatory checks have significantly reduced freight traffic.

Trade volumes have fallen significantly since the UK’s departure from the EU came into effect on January 1st as importers struggle with the customs, regulatory and agricultural border controls applied to all goods arriving into Irish ports from Britain in the past week.

Eight sailings between Rosslare and Fishguard and four sailings between Dublin and Holyhead have been cancelled between Friday night and Tuesday morning.

These mostly off-peak sailings, including late-night departures, are not regarded as viable currently given the low freight volumes and the restrictions on passengers who must produce a negative Covid-19 test on their arrival into Irish ports from Saturday.

The Dublin-Holyhead route is the busiest on the Irish Sea, but transport volumes have dropped dramatically in the week since Brexit came into effect due to a combination of businesses stockpiling in the run-up to Christmas to avoid new border controls on goods from Britain and delays as firms try to manage new barriers to EU-UK trade.

Traders and hauliers have said that volumes have fallen dramatically as importers have been unable to move goods because they have struggled to have the correct information and paperwork in place to secure sign-off from the Revenue Commissioners to ship goods.

Multiple loads

Multiple loads of products on single consignments requiring multiple customs declarations and health certificates for plant and animal products have left companies grappling with red tape to secure movement reference numbers (MRNs) to ship goods that are in turn required to secure pre-boarding notification (PBN) numbers to board Irish-bound ferries at Holyhead and Fishguard.

Paul Grant, Stena’s Irish Sea trade director, said that the company was reviewing sailings and schedules on its Irish Sea routes as a result of the Covid-19 travel restrictions and the decline in freight volumes during the first week of Brexit.

“Problems in the supply chain have resulted in a significant fall in freight numbers this week at our Holyhead and Fishguard ports,” said Mr Grant.

“Our business model is predominantly based on the freight and passenger combination – to have the two parts restricted at the same time is putting pressure on our ability to maintain the normal level of frequency on certain routes.”

Mr Grant said that the sailings are being reduced on a temporary basis.

“Capacity can be reinstated quickly as demand picks up. In the meantime, we need to be efficient in how we manage our schedules,” he said.

Businesses were warned to prepare for post-Brexit border controls with a 12-fold increase in customs declarations to 20 million a year forecast on trade between Ireland and Britain.

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