25 October 2020
By Bryan Smyth
Which businesses are BENEFITTING from COVID19? Answer: Freight
It may have been a season to forget for passenger traffic, but Brittany Ferries says that freight has kept on rolling this year. The company which serves France, Spain, Ireland and the UK has had a steady 2020 and is looking forward to 2021, with positive signs from the marketplace.
Several major customers have indicated their intention to increase business next year. This could amount to an additional 15% of freight traffic on routes connecting the UK with Spain and 15% on its Ireland to Spain link. In total the company carries around 210,000 units across its 12-route network each year.
“The Brittany Ferries freight team has worked tirelessly throughout the Covid-19 crisis to guarantee the supply of essential products like food and medicine,” said Simon Wagstaff, group freight director for the company. “It’s an important part of our portfolio because freight comprises around a quarter of the company’s annual turnover and our customers rely on us to maintain essential cross-border links. Based on the reaction of the marketplace – and the support of our loyal freight customers – we are looking forward to a positive 2021.”
Brittany Ferries opened a sea route connecting Ireland with Spain for the first time in 2018. Originally operating from Cork to Santander, the operation moved to Rosslare-Bilbao earlier this year in response to demand from freight customers. That decision may have been bad for the Port of Cork, but for the shipping company it has borne fruit and demand is expected to continue to grow as more companies in Ireland and the Iberian peninsula look for a Brexit by-pass to escape the UK land-bridge.
Cork meanwhile continues to serve passenger traffic, with the company’s flagship cruise ferry ‘Pont-Aven’ due to return in 2021 for the holiday season, although the COVID situation means that decision may be reviewed closer to the proposed start date. The service has now connected with company headquarters in Roscoff, Brittany for more than 40 years.
More positive news for freight concerns routes connecting the UK with Spain. The company’s newest vessel, ‘Galicia’ will enter service in December with a vast garage hosting more than 3km of lanes, accommodating up to 155 trailers.
In addition to serving UK to Spain, Galicia will make one weekly rotation between Portsmouth and Cherbourg. Of course, this cross-channel service will be just one of many to serve the freight market next year, the most popular being its Caen-Portsmouth workhorse – a route which carries nearly 50% of all freight traffic for the company.
Those with long memories may remember that the company’s very foundations were built on transporting goods. In 1967 a farmer from Finistère in Brittany, Alexis Gourvennec, succeeded in bringing together a variety of organisations from the region to embark on an ambitious project: the aim was to open up the region, to improve its infrastructure and to enrich its people by turning to traditional trading partners such as Ireland and the UK.
In 1972 BAI (Brittany-England-Ireland) was born. The first cross-Channel link was inaugurated in January 1973, when a converted Israeli tank-carrier called Kerisnel left the port of Roscoff for Plymouth carrying trucks loaded with Breton vegetables such as cauliflowers and artichokes. The Brittany Ferries story therefore began with freight, on 2 January 1973, 24 hours after Great Britain’s entry into the Common Market (EEC).
From those humble beginnings as a transporter of market garden produce, Brittany Ferries as the company was re-named quickly opened up to passenger transport, then became a tour operator.