Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Container Shipping Preferable to RoRo Ferries Say Some as Across the World a New Service Opens

The Woes and Successes of the World's Ferry Services Continue
Shipping News Feature

NEW ZEALAND – AUSTRALIA – IRELAND – FRANCE – Freight ferry stories continue to come in this month and, as we have said often before, virtually nothing is as contentious as when interisland Ro/Ro services go awry, as the current situation in the Southern hemisphere demonstrates. The recent breakdown of the Cook Strait vessel Aratere which plies between the North and South Islands of New Zealand has generated a fierce debate over the future of the service with container shipping cited as a panacea for many of the current difficulties endured by exporters and importers alike.

According to a recent article by Rod Grout, the Managing Director of Marine and Transport Consultancy in Christchurch, the services across the strait are out of date with a transfer of cargo to container ships, as opposed to the rail-capable vessels proposed by KiwiRail who fund the current system to a large extent, offering the possibility of a cheaper and more efficient service. Mr Grout conveniently forgets to mention in the bye line to the article that he is also the Managing Director of Southern Cross Containers. 

Grout blames ‘state-funded backing and obsolete thinking’ for a solution to an outdated problem which has been solved elsewhere and he points out that whilst rail is the obvious solution for bulk freight, just 7%, equivalent to 1.2 million tonnes, of the interisland traffic, is general freight which he believes would be better served by a reliable containerised service capable of shifting around 60,000 TEU per annum.

In Tasmania one company faces an entirely different problem and one which highlights the recent, ever louder complaints that the island’s finances and trade are being hindered for lack of any direct international shipping services. To be truthful, the situation which currently faces the Bridestow Lavender Estate is one which many exporters would kill for. A small enterprise which ships regular quantities of lavender oil to various Asian destinations, the farm also supplies a cute, lavender stuffed toy, Bobbie the Bear which suddenly, thanks to the internet, has become a viral sensation.

The bear is microwaveable, effectively becoming a fragrant hot water bottle so when one of Asia’s leading actress and models, Zhang Xinyu endorsed the bear and said he was her favourite sleeping companion, thousands of fans flooded Bridestow with online orders, all 45,000 of them in fact, with more arriving every day in person. Although the quantity involved has caused the firm to reject any further sales whilst it attempts to deal with the backlog, boss Robert Ravens has reportedly used the experience to illustrate the urgent need for both direct international shipping services and improved postal and Customs facilities, at yesterday’s state government sponsored inaugural Asia-Tasmania forum in Hobart.

In the northern hemisphere Irish Ferries has announced that it is introducing a new service from Saturday 18 January 2014 serving Dublin and Cherbourg. Primarily aimed at the passenger market, the once a week sailing will also be taking freight bookings aboard the Epsilon, recently secured under a charter arrangement. Irish Ferries says that the new route reinforces its existing portfolio of long-established services from Rosslare to Cherbourg and Rosslare to Roscoff. Built in 2011, the Epsilon has capacity for 500 passengers. Economy style facilities on board include a bar, cafeteria, self-service restaurant, two and four berth cabins, free wi-fi service and 2,860 lane metres of vehicle deck parking space.

Photo: Bobbie the Bear, oblivious to the fuss he’s caused.