Stena FleetThe ferry industry has come through a huge period of change over the past two decades, nowhere more so than the North Channel and, especially at Stena Line. Back in November 1995, the company left Larne and moved to a modern purposebuilt terminal facility at Albert Quay close to Belfast City Centre. At that time the Sealink name was still around and the route to Stranraer was the company’s only one, served by three well-proven multi-purpose sister ships. The move was the start of a process of change which was precipitated by the advent of high-speed ferries. Stena’s own contribution to fast craft was, perhaps, the most significant and the second huge HSS catamaran, Stena Voyager, was due to arrive in Belfast in time for the 1996 summer season. Northern Ireland was also emerging from a period of conflict and these were exciting times.

SISTER SHIPS
Various ships have served the link during the past 20 years, with the HSS, undoubtedly, being the most significant. Until the arrival of Stena Voyager in July 1996, the route was operated by three of the four H&W-built sisters, Stena Galloway, Stena Antrim and Stena Caledonia, (Stena Cambria also spent some time on the route, covering for refits and maintenance). Stena Antrim was retained for back-up following the HSS starting service until she was dispensed to the English Channel in Autumn 1996. This left the two remaining sisters as back-up to the fast craft. Stena Galloway left the North Channel after 22 years in 2002 for a new career in the Gibraltar Straits. The route maintained something of the status-quo for more than six more years with the HSS and backup from Stena Caledonia until...

INVESTMENT 2008-2012
The first stage in four years of major change and investment came in May 2008. A new 32-acre base for the Scottish route was completed by Belfast Harbour Comissioners for Stena Line at Victoria Terminal 4. The state-ofthe- art facility was built on reclaimed land at the seaward end of the Harbour Estate, close to the motorway network and would allow improved access, shorter crossing times and, ultimately, the operation of larger ships. This was quickly followed by the introduction of Stena Navigator to the Stranraer route alongside Stena Caledonia, thus allowing a reduction in sailings by the HSS.

Stena GallowaySecondly, in 2010 it was announced that Stena Line had purchased the services to Birkenhead and Heysham, hereto operated by DFDS and before that Norfolkline, Norse Merchant Ferries and Norse Irish Ferries. The deal included four ships that became Stena Lagan, Stena Mersey, Stena Hibernia and Stena Scotia. Final clearance was given for full integration with the rest of the business in 2011.Scotia. Final clearance was given for full integration with the rest of the business in 2011.

Later in 2011, the third phase in four years of major change saw the new Belfast-Cairnryan route inaugurated by twin sisterships, Stena Superfast VII and Stena Superfast VIII. The HSS was retired after more than 15 years service, 17 million passengers and over 45,000 crossings between Belfast and Stranraer. The Stena Caledonia was also sold to Indonesia after 30 years’ service in UK waters and Stena Navigator headed for a new life in Spain.

The final element in the process of investment was the charter, in September 2012, of two brand new RoRo vessels from Seatruck for the Heysham route. These ships became Stena Precison and Stena Performer. In November 2013, Stena Hibernia was added to the Birkenhead route, providing shoulder services for unaccompanied freight. In September 2015, the Stena Performer was swapped with the Stena Hibernia to provide more capacity on this key route to and from the Mersey.

20 YEARS ON
From a situation, in November 1995, with three ships and one route to November 2015 where Stena Line operates three routes and seven ships to and from three terminals within Belfast Harbour. The company has developed the largest hub for freight services in the entire Stena Line network through Victoria Terminal’s 1, 2 and 4, ideally located close to the motorway network and serving three easily accessible ports on the mainland.

Stena Line’s presence in Belfast has changed beyond recognition since the company arrived from Larne two decades ago. There have been significant challenges, notably the increase in fuel prices and the advent of low-cost airlines. Despite, this Stena Line has carried more than 26 million passengers, over 5.5 million cars and 4 million units of freight into and out of the port of Belfast over the past two decades.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - March 2016 Issue
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