Fears for future of ferry service

THE LOSS of a high-speed ferry service at the region's busiest passenger port would have a devastating effect on the local economy, it was warned yesterday.

THE LOSS of a high-speed ferry service at the region's busiest passenger port would have a devastating effect on the local economy, it was warned yesterday.

The EADT can reveal ferry company Stena Line, which operates from Harwich, is considering the future of its HSS Discovery route to the Hook of Holland.

Falling passenger numbers, high fuel prices and the growth of budget air travel have all combined to put pressure on the ferry services at the Essex port.

Yesterday, the Swedish firm confirmed its current commitment to the route but warned its high-speed HSS service could be withdrawn if business does not pick up in 2006.

The company runs its flagship operation twice daily, with passengers able to reach Holland in less than four hours, although it is cut to one service during the winter months.

Yesterday Pim de Lange, Stena Line's area director for North Sea routes, said: “At the moment there is no decision to withdraw the HSS Discovery but, of course it is true when you are looking at the passenger market, there has been an increase in fuel costs so we have to look if it is economically viable in the longer term.

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“If you look at the passenger ferry market, there has been a big fall for all ferry operators - it is a difficult market.

“There has been no decision whatsoever, but we are monitoring the situation and if passenger numbers in 2006 are not coming back to acceptable levels and fuel prices stay high, we have to look at our business.

“If we have to take a possible decision in the future to withdraw the HSS then we will find another way to transport passengers.”

Mr de Lange confirmed the company would be running its usual winter schedule from January to the beginning of March and said all bookings are continuing as normal.

Les Double, a town, district and county councillor, said if the service was cut Harwich would suffer.

He said: “If the service was lost it would be devastating to Harwich because a lot of people rely on their income from the three major ferries.

“The shore-side staff would feel the effects if sailings were cut but there are also the effects on the town itself because there are a lot of Dutch day visitors who visit during the day and go back in the evening.”

He said he hoped demand would pick up after the winter period but said ultimately it would be a commercial decision.

The town's MP, Douglas Carswell, said: “I very much hope that Stena Line, which has had a long and welcome connection with Harwich, will continue its service, but you can't blame a private company if it feels costs and lack of demand mean it can't continue.

“But I hope they will continue because they are very much welcome in our town.”

n If the HSS service is withdrawn, it would be the second service that Harwich has lost in recent months.

In October this year, Danish-based ferry company DFDS announced it would be closing the service between Harwich and Cuxhaven in north Germany.

The reason for the decision, which took affect last month , was put down to the loss of duty free sales and competition from low-cost airlines. The route had been in operation since 1981.

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