A €100 million investment by Seatruck Ferries will increase capacity on the Warrenpoint to Heysham route by 30%.
Seatruck will deploy two larger freight ferries on the route later this summer, in direct response to growing demand for unaccompanied trailer space and enabling the firm to carry 30,000 additional trailers annually on the key crossing.
The move will see the four-deck Seatruck Precision and Seatruck Performance replace the current three-deck vessels and operate a twice daily service between the ports.
Alistair Eagles, Chief Executive of Seatruck Ferries said:
"Whatever the outcome of the Brexit land border negotiations, Warrenpoint Port will continue to be a cornerstone of the Seatruck operation.
"I clearly remember watching the very first Seatruck sailing from Warrenpoint in 1996. Even back then we had a very strong belief in our business model, our service and our future strategy.
"Adding larger ships to the Warrenpoint route is the next logical step for Seatruck and I have no doubt that it will be very popular providing more unaccompanied trailer space to our growing customer base, as the industry seeks solutions to the ongoing driver shortage."
The larger vessels underline the need for the Southern Relief Road which will connect Warrenpoint Port directly to the main Belfast-Dublin motorway. Seatruck fully support this key piece of infrastructure."
In welcoming the announcement, Clare Guinness, Chief Executive of Warrenpoint Port said:
"This is a significant investment by Seatruck Ferries and is a clear commitment to Warrenpoint Port and the wider Newry, Mourne and Down district, which will directly benefit from the increase in trade.
"We have a strong relationship with Seatruck and the Port is supporting the company with the provision of additional terminal areas.
"Our recently launched Masterplan outlined our vision for the development of the Port for the benefit of the wider economy and community. Part of that strategy is to grow freight ferry volumes and this welcome announcement will assist the Port in realising that vision."
The vessel switch follows exponential growth for Seatruck in recent years with unaccompanied trailer volumes rising by more than 250% since 2007.
Seatruck now operates 76 departures per week across three Irish Sea routes, moving around 20% of the total Irish Sea Roll on Roll off freight volumes.
In Heysham, Peel Ports has recently invested £10m in a new loading ramp to accommodate and improve the Seatruck Ferries operation.
The deployment of the two larger Flensburger-Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG) series vessels which were built in Germany in 2012, will free up the current two ‘P’ series vessel built in 2008.
Warrenpoint Port is the second largest port in Northern Ireland and the fifth biggest on the island of Ireland. In 2017, the value of goods moving through Warrenpoint Port was £6.2billion, £164 million of which was direct international trade. The Port handled 3.48 million tonnes of cargo in 2016 increasing to 3.56 million tonnes in 2017. In addition to serving the markets in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland, the Port deals with imports and exports from countries and regions across the world including to Spain, Italy, Sweden, Belgium, Germany, Ukraine and the Americas.