The owners of Heysham Port are predicting an economic boost and new jobs for the area if and when the UK leaves the EU.
This comes as Heysham port based Seatruck Ferries announces a €100m investment into its Irish Sea fleet, which will increase capacity on the Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland, to Heysham route by 30 per cent.
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.
Port owners Peel Ports say that although many in the logistics industry are predicting that delays due to border checks will worsen the current shortage of HGV drivers after Brexit – with knock-on effects through the rest of the UK – more cargo owners will ship goods using unaccompanied lorry trailers, especially on Irish Sea routes.
Just over 50 per cent of the freight on the Irish Sea is currently unaccompanied, Peel Ports says, meaning that only the trailer is shipped.
The remaining volume is transported by more traditional means, accompanied by a cab and driver.
As travelling with the cargo uses up valuable driver time, Peel Ports believes that unaccompanied freight traffic will reduce potential border delays and will therefore increase post-Brexit, bringing an economic boost and new jobs to the Heysham area.
Stephen Carr, commercial director at Peel Ports, said: “Businesses simply can’t take a huge gamble on what that post-Brexit world might look like, especially those with ‘just-in-time’ processes or that are shipping perishable goods.
“We believe the unaccompanied market is likely to grow, as any delays waiting for clearances and border checks will tie up yet more valuable HGV driver time and cause delays to supply chains.
“Whether or not there is a land border in Ireland also remains to be seen, but Heysham’s existing services to north and south offer freight owners and hauliers the flexibility to adapt to either scenario.”
The Seatruck Ferries €100m investment will see the company’s 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.”
Alistair added: “There is currently a massive shortage of lorry drivers in the UK, Ireland and Europe.
“The method we use means that drivers aren’t having to spend time crossing the sea, and for businesses wishing to send cargo across to Ireland, it’s much more efficient for them to do it via Heysham where drivers only have to drop off or pick up a trailer.”