Freight News, Sea

Brittany Ferries plots recovery after worst year in decades

[ March 19, 2021   //   ]

Freight fared relatively well at Brittany Ferries in what was otherwise some of the most disappointing figures in its history it said following its annual general meeting in St Pol de Leon, France on 19 March. In a year dominated by the Covid crisis and amid on-going Brexit concerns, freight was down 20% while 2020 passenger numbers fell to less than a third of normal levels.

Despite a dreadful 2020, the company has embarked on a “robust” five-year recovery plan to bridge the immediate crisis and prepare for a return to normal service.

With ongoing support from banks and the French government – Brittany Ferries says it can therefore look beyond the current storm with optimism.

Brittany Ferries largely returned to its roots as a freight-only operation towards the end of last year. in total it carried 160,377 units in 2020 compared with the previous year’s tally of 201,554. Market distortions were caused by stockpiling at the end of the Brexit transition period and amid concerns about new border controls and import/export processes. The Covid crisis also impacted freight volumes, albeit not as significantly as it did for passenger traffic.

In an otherwise miserable year, notable highlights included winning the third in a series of Brexit-related ferry contracts with the UK. This guaranteed DfT space aboard vessels to ensure the supply of essential goods like medicines in the event of potential chaos at short-sea ports on the Channel. As well as supporting routes like Le Havre to Portsmouth, these contracts reinforced the strategic significance of Brittany Ferries’ route network to national governments, as well as to local regions.

Thanks to the flexibility of its fleet the company was also able to open direct routes connecting Ireland with France, thus avoiding the need to transport goods via the UK land-bridge.

The “ferroutage” multimodal project also progressed, reflecting a wider trend in the ferry sector to link ferry services with European rail routes. Work began on the SNCF rail network which will allow freight to be carried by train between Bayonne and Cherbourg.

Freighter MV Cotentin made a welcome return to the fleet, in preparation for the project launch in 2022. She adds capacity to the route network and started operations by supporting DfT contracts in early 2021.

In December 2020, the company welcomed its new ship Galicia to the fleet. This greener super-ferry, part of investment made before the Covid crisis struck, operates two weekly rotations between the UK and Spain and one from Cherbourg to Portsmouth.

Two further E-Flexer class vessels will join the fleet in 2022 and 2023, powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the infrastructure to support LNG bunkering will begin construction in Bilbao this year in preparation for their arrival.