Irish Continental Group (ICG) is to add the largest and fastest cruise ferry to the Irish Sea route starting in June.
The addition of the ropax ‘Star’, which will be on a long-term charter from Tallink Grupp, reflects the strong rebound in passenger demand and profitability for the company in 2022, it said.
‘Star’ will begin a bareboat charter from Tallink on 5th May, 2023, which had been replaced on its current between Helsinki and Tallinn by newer ships. The initial charter period is for 20 months and can be extended by two two-year periods. ICG also has a purchase option for the vessel.
Built in Finland, the 36,249 gt ropax was introduced in April, 2007. She operated consistently on the route between Finland and Estonia and her final trip is scheduled for 1st May. ICG plans to introduce her in June as the ’Oscar Wilde’.
ICG said that the cruise ferry offers several advantages, including a top speed of 27.5 knots, which will allow her to make trips in around two hours and which the company cites as one of the benefits of adding the new ship to Irish Ferries’ Rosslare in southeast Ireland and Pembroke in Wales route.
She will also have the largest duty-free shopping area (more than 17,000 sq ft) on the Irish Sea.
“We have been looking for alternative work for our vessel ’Star’ for some time now, and the search became more focused as the arrival of our new shuttle ’MyStar’ drew closer last year,” said Tallink Grupp’s CEO, Paavo Nõgene. “There has been great interest in chartering her over the years and I am pleased we have secured a good agreement for her now with Irish Continental Group.”
“We are delighted to announce the addition of the ’Oscar Wilde’ to our fleet,” added Andrew Sheen, Managing Director of Irish Ferries. “This new ship will be a fantastic addition to our service, offering passengers and freight drivers the very best in terms of comfort, speed, and amenities.”
She has 131 cabins with beds for 520 pax and a total capacity of 2,080 pax. She will replace the smaller ’Blue Star 1’ (29,858 gt), which Irish Ferries has been operating on charter since 2021 from Greek Attica Group’s Blue Star ferries.
‘Star’ provides the opportunity to expand both passenger and freight service during the busy summer season. She has over 2,380 lane meters for cars, buses, and freight. On board amenities include freight drivers’ facilities, self-service and à la carte restaurants, a bar, gaming areas, pet facilities, and a children’s play area.
Irish Ferries reported that its total passengers carried rose nearly 100% in 2022, as the business rebounded with especially strong growth on its routes to France. Car volumes were still nearly a 25% behind 2019, but was up nearly 150% to over 4.1 mill vehicles in 2022.
ICG’s ferry division produced about $400 mill in revenues or more than two-thirds of the company’s sales, as both the ferries and the overall company returned to operating profits for the first time after the pandemic.
The company expected strong continued growth for the ferry operations, it said.