UK domestic ferries have performed best in 2015 when compared with Irish and Continental companies.
Ferry routes, including some traditional freight routes, to domestic destinations like the Scottish Islands, Isle of Man, Isle of Wight, Isles of Scilly, and the Channel Isles were the top performing areas in 2015. Passenger numbers are up nearly 0.4% to 16m - the best domestic passenger figure for 4 years. The recession in 2007 damaged official figures for several years, but since 2011 recovery is evident by these latest figures.
Wightlink, the Isle of Wight operator and Scottish operator Cal Mac both report a significant increase of 6.9% in car carryings, to 1.17m, offering both lifeline and visitor services to their multiple western isles destinations.
UK-Continental ferry crossings also prove strong
P&O Ferries and DFDS Seaways report that passenger numbers are still high for Dover-Dunkirk but there was a drop in 2015 of 2.2% on the previous year. However, passengers and of course freight customers including couriers and hauliers have been keen to chose alternative ferry routes to the continent in an attempt to avoid Calais resulting in positive growth of 3.4% on the Western channel routes to France mainly served by Brittany Ferries.
North Sea ferry routes operated by P&O Ferries, StenaLine, and DFDS all report that passenger numbers did not decrease in 2015 but remained the same as 2014 levels.
The British media report that the UK ferry market is proving strong and resilient to cultural change and political issues, including the crisis at the Port of Calais. Undoubtedly there has been a lot of disruption in 2015 especially during the summer months when Kent Police enforced OpStack upon everyone in order to manage the build up of freight traffic in Kent. The period of mass confusion and chaos was not just about migrant storming Eurotunnel at Calais but more about French strikers blockading the port over the closure of MyFerryLink. Yet, the ferry operators organised themselves accordingly and muddied through the chaos.
2015 started with a measure of uncertainly for the UK ferry industry after new EU legislation was introduced at the beginning of the year to target companies failing to reduce carbon emissions. In 2014 several ferry operators had taken steps to upgrade their ferries in lines with MARPOL (Marine Pollution, see our best practice infographic) in an attempt to mitigate and pre-empt MARPOL's directive - which upon reflection was not as impactful to the ferry industry as was expected.
As we approach Q2 of 2016 no doubt more challenges will be revealed - whether these are more serious issues surrounding the war in Syria, migrant increases, Britain's exit from the EU, or countries increasing border checks and applying pressure to the Schengen area, customer interest will continue for passenger and freight.
*2015 “Ferrystat” passenger figures compiled by IRN Research