DFDS wasted little time disposing of the Irish Sea routes it acquired in July 2010 as part of the purchase of Norfolkline. Services from Birkenhead and Heysham to Belfast went to Stena Line at the beginning of December 2010, along with terminal operations in all three ports and, on 13 January, DFDS announced closure of the Birkenhead and Heysham to Dublin routes from the end of the month.
With North Sea and English Channel routes clearly the big prize in a cash and shares buy-out of Maersk-owned Norfolkline, DFDS said: ‘The Irish Sea activities have in recent years made substantial losses due to considerable over-capacity on the market. This is a result of a sharp decline in demand since 2008 and a lack of adjustment of capacity. Against this background, it has not been possible to develop a business plan that in the short term is able to create a satisfactory return through more efficient operations.’
Stena’s £40 million investment also covers Heysham-Dublin freight sisterships Hibernia Seaways and Scotia Seaways, the 13,017gt former Maersk Exporter and Maersk Importer, together with 27,510gt ro-pax twins Lagan Seaways and Mersey Seaways running from Birkenhead’s Twelve Quays terminal. They first sailed on the route for Norse Merchant Ferries as Lagan Viking and Mersey Viking following delivery in 2005.
While Stena continued discussions with the UK Office of Fair Trading over the Belfast routes takeover, including creation of an operation independent of its other Irish Sea interests, the Irish Competition Authorities complained the deal had been announced before all aspects had been approved. Stena have also agreed not to dispose of the three ships from the closed Fleetwood-Larne route until the Belfast package is approved.
Heysham-Dublin freight services have been covered by Anglia Seaways (2000, ex-Maersk Anglia), which moved from the North Sea in 2009 with the 21,856gt Visentini-built ro-pax twins Liverpool Seaways and Mersey Seaways sailing from Birkenhead, with one of the latter likely to go to the Baltic.