Harwich: Sadness as historic ferry link to Esbjerg lost, with loss of eight jobs in Essex

Sirena Seaways, which served the DFDS route from Harwich to Esbjerg until the service ended on Septe

Sirena Seaways, which served the DFDS route from Harwich to Esbjerg until the service ended on September 29, 2014. The ferry will now be redeployed to its Estonia to Sweden route (Kapellskär to Paldiski) - Credit: Archant

A historic ferry link between Essex and Denmark has been cancelled due to dwindling passenger numbers.

Ferry operator DFDS closed its Harwich to Esbjerg link on Monday (September 29), with the loss of eight jobs on the Essex side and further redundancies at the onshore operations in Denmark.

There were 140 jobs connected to the Sirena Seaways ferry, which operated every other day on a crossing which took 18 hours and had existed for 139 years. The 110 employed on the ship have been deployed to other vessels by the Danish owners.

Gert Jakobsen, vice president of DFDS Seaways Group Communications, said there was deep sadness within the company and among passengers at the loss of the route, but it was inevitable.

A new European Union directive on sulphur emissions was the final straw, but other factors, including the loss of duty free in 1999 combined with fierce competition from budget airlines, which were offering tickets as cheap as £40 to £50 for two-hour flights, had made the route financially unviable.

“On Sunday it departed from Harwich for the very last time and arrived on Monday at Esbjerg,” Mr Jakobsen said of the final voyage. “It was a sad day for our company.”

He added: “We didn’t need an office in Harwich any more so unfortunately a few pepole were hit by it.”

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The Sirena Seaways, a freight and passenger vessel, will be redeployed to DFDS’s much shorter Sweden to Estonia link where it will not be hit by the sulphur directive, he said.

“To be fair, I have to say that the decline of this route started many years ago when duty free sales disappeared in 1999,” he said. “It was a very good reason to use this route, especially for many Danes. It meant the passenger numbers fell from 300,000 a year to less than 100,000 a year.”

DFDS decided there were not enough passengers to justify a passenger-only route and combined it with freight in 2002 with the introduction of the Sirena Seaways.

However, by 2014, passenger numbers had plummeted to less than 80,000 a year.

“It was quite a decline. The reason for the gradual erosion of passenger numbers was the competition with low cost airlines,” he said. “We were simply not able to compete with that.”

DFDS has adapted its route network to the new demands, he said, and it remained a strong shipping company.

“The sulphur rules speeded up what would probably come anyway,” he said.

However, the route was hugely popular among a loyal group, particularly of Danes keen to visit England to shop or visit relatives, he said. There had been an unprecedented outpouring of nostalgia at the loss of the link, and passengers had contacted the firm with their stories, including celebrating anniversaries and getting married on the route.

“I have never, ever experienced that,” he said.

“People have been kind. They have been friendly,” he added. “Actually, it has been quite touching to read all those messages from people who were very sad that route has been closed.”

DFDS has maintained its other UK passenger routes including between Newcastle and Amsterdam, Dover to Dunkirk and Calais, Newhaven to Dieppe and Portsmouth to Le Havre, and a freight route linking Esbjerg and Immingham. However, Mr Jakobsen said he could not see the Harwich to Esbjerg route being revived.

“It’s really difficult to predict the future, but as we see it now we don’t see that it would be possible to run a viable route,” he said. “It’s really a sad thing for many people and I can assure you it’s a really sad thing for all employees of DFDS.”

Another Danish ferry firm, the Regina Line, has reportedly said it will be starting up a new service from Harwich to Denmark next Easter.