Brittany Ferries history

Official logo of Brittany Ferries, used since 2002.
Brittany Ferries' logo since 2002. © Brittany Ferries

Brittany Ferries is a ship-operator established in 1972 which operates ferry services between France, Great Britain, Ireland and Spain with 13 ships.

The Headquarter of the company is located in Roscoff (France). Its chairman is Jean-Marc Roué, with Jean-François Jacob, chairman of the SICA as deputy chairman.

The supervisory board of the company is chaired by Christophe Mathieu, who replaced in early-2016 Martine Jourden. Inside the supervisory board, Corinne Vinter is Legal and Human Resources Director whereas Frédéric Pouget is Fleet, Maritime and Port operations director.

Cap Finistère, which operated the UK - Spain routes since 2010, casting off Portsmouth's harbour.
Cap Finistère casting off Portsmouth's harbour.

From farmers' claims, to the establishent of the B.A.I.

In the late-60s, the farmer's trade unions of the Leon (North-Finistere, France) were claiming help in order to preserve their farms and jobs. Indeed, they had difficulties to sell their products at a decent price. Then, the Société des Intérêts Collectifs Agricoles (SICA) proposed to French Government, looking forward to bring peace through the country after the May 1968 events, a list of policies to implement in order to support the farmers. Inside this list, featured the claim for the building of a deep water port in Roscoff, which would enable the farmers to export their products to the UK that was to join the common market in 1973. Works began in 1970. However, there wasn't any operator interested in creating a ferry service that would link Roscoff and Plymouth.

Therefore, captain Jean Hénaff proposed to create a new company that would operate such a ferry service. Alongside André Colin and the SICA (embodied by Alexis Gourvennec) they established Bretagne Angleterre Irlande S.A. in 1972 with a capital of 15.000 FF, and head offices located in St-Mathieu Street, in Quimper.

The first steps of Brittany Ferries

From the early stages of the freight service...

Kerisnel, the first ship purchased by Brittany Ferries. She was a Roll-On Roll-Off ferry operated on the Roscoff - Plymouth service.
Kerisnel, courtesy Brittany Ferries.

Once the company was created, it had to find a ship in order to operated its first route. Jean Hénaff found in Vigo (Spain) a former ship of the Israeli Navy that could do the job, at a cost of 15 millions of French Franc. Alexis Gourvennec achieved then to convince the members of the SICA to pay for 5 millions, the remaining 10 millions were borrowed. This ship was 100m long and had 12 cabins, and was renamed Kerisnel. She performed her berthing trials on 20th December 1972. She made her maiden crossing on 2nd January 1973, leaving Roscoff loaded with only 3 trucks and a few cars onboard. However, during her first year of service, she carried 6,000 lorries, more than in 2015 on the same route… the establishment of a passenger service

Penn Ar Bed, the first purpose-built RoPax ferry owned by Brittany Ferries.
Penn Ar Bed, courtesy Brittany Ferries

Very soon came a strong demand for passenger transportation ; however Kerisnel was not able to reach this demand owing to its small number of berths. Therefore, BAI SA ordered a new ship, entirely funded by the SICA, convinced by the new Chairman of the company, Alexis Gourvennec of the necessity to support the growing company. The new ship was launched in 1974 and called Penn ar Bed. She could carry 250 passengers. She replaced Kerisnel, sold to a new company created by Jean Henaff which was operating a ferry service between St-Nazaire and Vigo, mainly aimed to the transportations of new Citroën's cars.

In 1974, BAI carried 83,000 passengers alongside 8,000 cars and 6,000 lorries ; including the Publicity cars of the Tour de France. At the same time, the company adopted its new name, Brittany Ferries. However, the early years were not trouble free, with 2 ferries which grounded in Saint-Malo and 3 having huge troubles with their engines.

The creation of new routes

From the strengthening of the cross-Channel service...

Armorique 1 on the English Channel.
Armorique 1 in the English Channel, courtesy Brittany Ferries

Facing a huge success, Brittany Ferries decided to create a new route. It achieved an agreement with the port authorities of Saint-Malo for creating a new ferry service from St-Malo to Portsmouth. However, TT-Line was eventually chosen for operating such a service, and Alexis Gourvennec felt betrayed. Therefore, the Chairman and most of Brittany Ferries' shareholders decided to occupy Saint-Malo's docks during 3 days in order to prevent the vessel of the TT-Line (the Marry Popins) to make its maiden arrival in St-Malo. Brittany Ferries eventually won its fight, since the vessel from the TT-Line decided to go back to her home port, leaving Brittany Ferries able to create a new service from Saint-Malo.

In 2003, former managing director Christian Michielini to France 3 that “I was coming from a respectable Swiss company, and I was not expecting to do port occupation. We blocked the harbour. We did a true maritime war. I've well adapted myself to Gourvennec's methods – I used to be in the commando units. Sometimes, the end justify the means, we should not confuse ourselves : it was essential. We would be dead if we hadn't go in Saint-Malo.

Indeed, the Penn Ar Bed made her maiden arrival in Saint-Malo in August 1975, operated from Plymouth. However, the current ferries terminal was only opened in 1976, whereas the Armorique I was opening the new St-Malo – Portsmouth route.

Otherwise, the Penn ar Bed appeared soon to be too small to cope with the growing traffic ; and thus the company chartered in the Bonanza and Olau West in 1976, waiting for the delivery of a new ship. Hence, Cornouailles was introduced in 1977, but she only had restricted passengers accommodations, since the company was still focusing on the freight market. Her introduction was troubled, since a strike from the fishermen in Roscoff prevented her from berthing for her maiden arrival. She had to go back to Plymouth, serving as an hotel for 3 days for affected customers.

However, Penn Ar Bed remained in the fleet until 1984. In 1978, the company chartered in the Prince of Brittany to replace Armorique 1, transferred to the new Spanish and Irish routes. Prince of Brittany was purchased by the company in 1980. Also in 1980, the company began chartering in Goelo, enabling the company to operate twice a day a ferry on the Saint-Malo - Portsmouth service.

....To the creation of the Irish and Spanish routes

Former Prince of Brittany, featured as Reine Mathilde in the Channel.
Reine Mathilde, former-Prince of Brittany. Courtesy Brittany Ferries

In 1978, Brittany Ferries decided to create two new passengers and freight services. The first of these services was the route linking Roscoff and Cork (using at this time the Tivoli port). Armorique launched the service on 17th March. However, weekly crossings only began on 27th May. Although it was scheduled that only Armorique was to serve this route, Penn Ar Bed went in Tivoli on 4th May. Penn Ar Bed has also operated the winter services. Moreover, a 1980-bought RoRo Ferry, Breizh Izel has also served the route alongside Armorique, in order to increase freight capacity.

In addition, Brittany Ferries owing to the will of its English manager, Paul Burns, has also decided to establish a new service between Plymouth and Santander, in Spain. The idea was to propose a service which would link both lands in less than 24 hours, whereas competitors which were leaving from Portsmouth needed at this time 37 hours. Again, Armorique eventually launched the service, mastered by Master Francis Gervin on 17th April, one month after the launch of the Irish service.

Eventually that year, Brittany Ferries decided to enhance its touristic activities and began also selling ferry-inclusive holidays. Therefore, the emphasis of the company for freight services became less important, whereas passenger service became more important.

In 1980, whereas the company was becoming more and more profitable, managing director Christian Michielini said in Thalassa “Some said that that this company was a foolish gamble managed by a band of idiots. Yet, I think that the figures we are making are demonstrating the contrary”.

A fast expansion

A local authorities-backed development

Quiberon, chartered by Brittany Ferries from 1982, featured in Santander.
Quiberon in Santander. Courtesy Brittany Ferries

It would be difficult to isolate the history of Brittany Ferries from the history of its former chairman, Alexis Gourvennec. Remember that he was strongly inspired by the free market. However, he has always accepted the idea of being backed by local authorities to develop his company. Therefore, he achieved in 1982 to convince several local authorities to take share in a new semi-public company alongside Brittany Ferries and the Bank Credit Agricole (of which Alexis Gourvennec was the director for the Finistere), whose aim was to fund Brittany Ferries. This company was named Société Anonyme Bretonne d’Économie Mixte d’Équipement Naval (SABEMEN).

The same year, the company chartered Quiberon in order to replace Armorique on the Irish and Spanish services, and Armorique was allocated back on the Saint-Malo service. However, the SABEMEN only became owner of Quiberon in 1996, when it purchased the ship from Brittany Ferries for FF 100 millions.

When Brittany exports itself to Normandie

Duc de Normandie, a ship purchased in late-1985 for service between Ouistreham and Portsmouth.
Duc de Normandie. Courtesy Brittany Ferries.

Alongside Jersey-inhabitant Huelin Renouf and company MMD Shipping, Brittany Ferries created a new subsidiary in 1984, Channel Island Ferries. This company was established to compete with Sealink’s passengers and freight services to the Channel Islands from Portsmouth and Weymouth. The new company launched its services in March 1985 using Beauport, former Brittany Ferries’s Benodet. However, the company quickly declined when it moved its services from Weymouth and Portsmouth to Poole in 1988, and was eventually purchased by Commodore in 1994.

In 1985, Brittany Ferries decided to export its growth to the rest of Western-France. Therefore, it took over the company Truckline, which was operating at this time passenger services between Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Poole with two RoRo sisterships ferries, Coutances and Purbeck. As soon as the following year, Truckline’s fleet was widen with the purchase of Cornouailles.

Moreover, the Company decided to create a new service from Ouistreham (North of Caen) to Portsmouth in 1986. Therefore, a new ferry terminal was built instead of a camping in Ouistreham in late-1985. Cornouailles launched the service in January 1986, yet it was only available for Freight. She was replaced by Armorique in May, whilst the company was waiting for the delivery of a purpose-bought ship purchased in October 1985 to the company S.M.Z., the former Prinses Beatrix. The ship was fully owned by a new semi-public society, the Société d’Économie Mixte d’Armement Naval du Calvados. The ship, which was later renamed Duc de Normandie, was sent before entering service with Brittany Ferries, in Rotterdam for a complete refurbishment. She eventually launched the passenger and freight service on 5th June 1988. However, the history recalls the date of the 6th of June, since it was he anniversary of the D-Day.

As soon as 1988, a second ship was chartered to operate the service alongside Duc de Normandie; Gotland, due to a demand that kept growing on this route. The next year, Brittany Ferries decided to operate the service using former-Truckline Ferries Normandie Shipper and former-Prince of Brittany, renamed Reine Mathilde for this service.

The replenishment of the fleet

New purchases

Duchesse Anne, a ship bought in 1988 by Brittany Ferries, fetaured laid up in Saint-Malo, alongside Armorique.
Duchesse Anne laid up in Saint-Malo alongside Armorique 1. Courtesy Brittany Ferries.

Seeing that Armorique and Prince of Brittany were not big enough to cope with the growing demand on the Saint-Malo service, Brittany Ferries decided to purchase a bigger ship on the purpose of carrying more passengers. Therefore, it purchased a bigger ship, which was previously operated by B+I Lines: the Connacht. Although she was not the biggest ship of the fleet, she could carry 1,500 passengers and 337 cars, 400 more passengers than Quiberon. She was purchased by the SABEMEN in June 1988, before being sent to the Meyer Werft shipyard in order to refurbish her, her introduction was only scheduled for 1989. However, it has been noticed she was in a much poorer condition than expected and twice more money than expected was spent to renew her. Renamed Duchesse Anne, she was eventually introduced in early-1989, being the second ship of the fleet to be registered in Saint-Malo.

In 1989, Truckline has also chartered in Normandie Shipper, to provide additional freight capacity on the popular Ouistreham - Portsmouth route.

The introduction of a landmark ship

Bretagne, a purpose-built ship introduced in 1989 by Brittany Ferries.
Bretagne. Courtesy Brittany Ferries.

Whilst Brittany Ferries was purchasing Duchesse Anne, it also decided to order a new ship, that would be bigger than Quiberon in order to replace her on the Irish and Spanish services. Built in 1975, she was 129m long, 21.06m wide with a draught of 4.92m, able to accommodate 1,100 passengers and 252 cars, she was the biggest ship of the fleet. However, she was to small to accommodate the growing demand, and it appeared to be necessary to purchase a new ship. Moreover, the company was wanting to provide more luxurious services, with a much more comfortable ship than the others it had in its fleet. Thus, the SABEMEN ordered for Brittany Ferries in June 1987 to the Chantier de l’Atlantique (France) a new ship, that was to be impressive. Indeed, she was to be 152.8m long, 26m wide with a draught of 6.2m. She would be able to carry 2,056 passengers and 570 cars, almost twice as many as Quiberon. Her design was more luxurious than the one of all of her predecessors. She was part of a new trend, the one of the Super Ferries, that were to be the biggest ever built. Brittany Ferries has not been the first company to purchase such ships since other as TT-Lines and Stena Lines had already ordered and introduced ships of this size. Eventually, the name of this ship was to be very symbolic, since she took the name of the French County were Brittany Ferries began its services: Bretagne. She cost £55 millions, and when she was introduced on 16th July 1989 on the Plymouth - Santander service, she became quickly the most popular ship of the company.

Big, Bigger, Biggest

An artist view of Normandie, showing how much she shares with Bretagne.
An artist view of Normandie. Courtesy Brittany Ferries.

The Introduction of Bretagne has been a very important landmark of the company’s history, however the company decided soon to purchase other purpose-built super-ferries. As soon as May 1992, the company introduced the bigger Normandie on the Ouistreham service. She could carry 2,160 passengers and 680 cars, respectively twice and three times as many as Reine Mathilde, the ship she replaced. As luxurious as Bretagne (although she was designed as a day ferries, whereas Bretagne is an overnight one), for a cost of $88 million pound.

Truckline also introduced a new super-ferry in April 1992, Barfleur. This ship was a little less comfortable than Bretagne and Normandie, in order to fit the requirements of this subsidiary, whose aim was to provide cheaper services. However, she was still much bigger than her predecessors and important works were made in Poole in order to accommodate her.

Eventually, Brittany Ferries purchased in January 1993 a second-hand ship, that was coming from Northern Europe, Nils Holgersson. She was previously a ship of SweFerry, a company which faced bankruptcy in late-1992, and it was forced to sell the ship. Once purchase, she was sent to the Italian shipyard I.N.M.A., in order to refurbish her accommodation decks and to rebuilt her bow, seen as ugly with also a more convenient bow door. Renamed Val de Loire, she replaced the smaller Bretagne on 09th June 1993 on the Irish and Spanish services, whilst Bretagne was sent on the Saint-Malo – Portsmouth service, replacing Armorique and Duchesse Anne. Armorique was sold whilst Duchesse Anne launched a summer-only service between Saint-Malo and Cork, that did not last after the 1994 summer season.

From the troubles of the late-90s to the mid-00s

The financial troubles of the 90s

Quiberon seen whilst she was operating the Roscoff - Plymouth service.
Quiberon. Courtesy Brittany Ferries.

On 17th June 1992, a fire took in Quiberon’s engine room, killing one crew. A distress signal was sent, therefore British and French coastguards were sent to save the 1,034 passengers which were on board at this time. However, crew achieved to extinguish the fire before the arrival of the coastguards.

Moreover, the introduction of four new ship in the early-90s put the company into trouble in the late-90s. Hence, Duchesse Anne was sold in 1996, putting an end to the  Saint-Malo - Poole service, whilst the Saint-Malo - Cork service had already been closed two years before. Armorique and Purbeck had already been sold when the difficulties began. However, Purbeck was later chartered in from time to time.

The oppening of the Channel Tunnel In 1993 has also been a difficulty for Brittany Ferries. It enabled actually a more affordable and faster way to cross the Channel, and therefore the company decided to compete with more comfortable services.

The second phase of the replenishment of the fleet

Mont St Michel seen from Normandie on a sailing from Ouistreham to Portsmouth.
Mont St Michel. Picture Antoine H.

In 2001, Brittany Ferries began a partnership with Condor Ferries to operate a summer-only high speed service between Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Poole, using Condor Vitesse, known as Normandie Vitesse for Brittany Ferries marketing.

In 1999, the company ordered a new purpose-built ship to replace Duc de Normandie on the Ouistreham service, and designed to operate alongside Normandie on this route. The aim of the company was to operate two almost sister-ships on the route to ease the operation, whilst proposing more capacity to cope with the growing traffic. Thus, a new ship, which was to be the bigger serving on the Channel was ordered to the Van Der Giessen de Noord shipyard for delivery in June 2002. However, the new ship, named Mont St Michel, was delivered months behind scheduled, in December. She had therefore to be replaced during the summer by both Quiberon and Purbeck on the Ouistreham - Portsmouth route.

The company also decided in 2002 to replace Coutances, a RoRo ferry operating alongside Barfleur the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin to Poole service. Eventually, that new ship replaced on the Spanish and Irish services Val de Loire, transferred on the Saint-Malo service and on a new route linking Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Portsmouth in order to accommodate traffic from the Poole service. This ship was ordered to the Meyer-Werft shipyard, and was supposed to be 185m long, and 31m wide, offering services that had never been proposed on a ferry. Whilst she was still a project, she was called Bretagne 2, and some part of her accommodation decks recalls the actual Bretagne. Eventually, the ship was christened under the name Pont-Aven. During her sea trials, she achieved speed record of 28 kn, achieved thanks to her record power of 47,000 kW, enabling to cut by a forth the crossing times.

Although she was supposed to replace Coutances, she finally replaced Duc de Normandie in the fleet, since the new Cherbourg-en-Cotentin to Portsmouth service operated with Bretagne and Val de Loire hadn’t been the success hoped and therefore Bretagne replaced Duc de Normandie on the Roscoff - Plymouth service the following year. However, Pont-Aven known a lot of technical issues during her first year of service, the bigger was the flooding of an auxiliary engine room, forcing the ship to stay to days berthed.

In 2005, it was eventually decided to replace the 1978-built Coutances by a purpose-built RoRo ferry, Cotentin, launched in 2007. On the other hand, Brittany Ferries has confirmed only in mid-2007 that the new ship would be operated on the Poole - Cherbourg-en-Cotentin service, alongside a new weekly freight-only service to Santander from Poole. This service was created in order to enable the lorries to go to Great-Britain to Spain at week-ends, when they are not allowed to roll on French roads. The service was later reviewed to two weekly crossings.

A new strategy and the loss of a key-person

As the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin – Portsmouth service launched in 2004 hadn’t been a success, it was decided to scrap the service and Bretagne was sent to the Roscoff service.

However, in 2004, P&O announced that it was to scrap its Portsmouth’s operations, including the closure of the Ouistreham and Cherbourg-en-Cotentin services it was operating with Pride of Cherbourg (3) and two High Speed Crafts, Portsmouth Express and Caen Express. It also decided to scrap the Le Havre service, operated with two sister-ships of Val de Loire and at this time, P&O’s aim was to sold the ships and the route to Brittany Ferries. However, the deal hadn’t been reached since competition authorities decided to put the deal under scrutiny.

However, Brittany Ferries decided to launch its own high speed services from Portsmouth to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Ouistreham, and therefore Normandie Express was chartered in by the company. Registered in Nassau, her engineering team was provided by Northern Marine. But due to strikes from French crews, the company decided to registered the ship in Caen for the following season, with a French crew.

Brittany Ferries lost its emblematic founder in February 2007, who also head the company for its first 35 years, with the death of Alexis Gourvennec. However, he had already prepared his succession, putting at key jobs close persons. He created a Supervisory Board whose head was given to Martine Jourden, who entered the company 20 years before as an accountant. The shareholders are represented by a farmer from Plougoulm (a city close to Roscoff), Jean-Marc Roué.

From the late-00s to the 2012 crisis

From the sale of Val de Loire to the introduction of Armorique (2)

Val de Loire entering Portsmouth's harbour.
Val de Loire. Courtesy Gary Davies (Maritime Photographic)

In late-2005, Brittany Ferries decided suddenly to sell Val de Loire to Danish company DFDS Seaways, which allocate her on its Newcastle – Ijmuiden service. Brittany Ferries replaced her by chartering-in the ship that was formally operating this service, Duke of Scandinavia, renaming her Pont l’Abbé. She was refurbished before entering service with the company but little was made regarding her accommodations, and thus she wasn’t up to the standards of the company. She was to be chartered only until 2008, waiting for the delivery of a purpose-built. This purpose-built ferry was to share its hull with Cotentin. However, due to delivery expected much behind scheduled, the company eventually purchased Pont l’Abbé during 2006. Eventually, the new ship was delivered in early-2009, and she was christened as Armorique (2). She was built to serve the historic route of Brittany Ferries: Roscoff – Plymouth. However, she was designed as a day-time ferry and therefore she doesn’t propose a À la Carte restaurant and her design isn’t as gracious as the one of the other ships of the company. She was then laid-up the following winter, showing the company’s aim to operate the Roscoff service as a winter-only one.

The growing importance of the Spanish services

Cap Finistere entering Portsmouth's harbour from Santander.
Cap Finistere. Picture Antoine H.

In 2009, Brittany Ferries noticed a little growth of the Spanish traffic, and was wanting to provide an other way for the lorries to travel from the UK to Spain. Therefore, it was decided to launch a new service linking Portsmouth and Santander, operated by Pont-Aven. For the 2010-season, the company also purchased a second-hand ship for a cost of €81.5 millions to Greek company Attica to provide more services each week on the Spanish route. Therefore, the company welcomed Cap Finistère in its fleet, which also operated three weekly crossings to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin.

Following the closure in early-2011 of P&O’s Portsmouth-Bilbao service, the company decided to take over the route, served by Cap Finistère twice a week. Once a week, she serves Roscoff in order to enable a crew changing.

Crisis and Reorganisation

The beginning of the storm, the closure of the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin - Poole service

Barfleur as Deal Seaways. Courtesy Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferries Photos)
Barfleur as Deal Seaways. Courtesy Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferries Photos)

In early-2010, Brittany Ferries announced the closure of the conventional service on the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin – Poole route, that has not been profitable since 2003. Barfleur was immediately laid-up, whilst Armorique (2) resumed service sooner than schedule to replace Barfleur on the last services scheduled with Barfleur. Barfleur was then available for charter or sell whilst being laid-up in Caen. During the 2010 season, only Cotentin and Normandie Vitesse operated the route. Service with Barfleur resumed as a trial for Summer 2011 yet it had not been successful and the service was scrapped again. In 2012, New Channel Compagny A.S. (a subsidiary of both DFDS Seaways and LD Lines) announced that it was to chartered in Barfleur from April to November for service from Calais, renaming her Deal Seaways. At the end of the charter, Brittany Ferries decided to resume conventional service using Barfleur from Poole, scrapping the high speed service operated with Condor Ferries. Barfleur was refurbished in order to reduce the number of crew required to operate her, enabling Brittany Ferries to make the service profitable.

Brittany Ferries at the middle of the storm

Pont Aven entering Saint-Malo' harbour in 2014.
Pont Aven. Picture Antoine H.

The closure of the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin – Poole service illustrated the difficulties Brittany Ferries was facing, however it only illustrates a small part of it. Therefore, from 2012, the difficulties kept growing, explicated as a consequence of the 2008 crisis, causing a traffic drop whilst the weak exchange rate of the sterling (most of Brittany Ferries’ incomes are in sterling) worsened the difficulties. Brittany Ferries was in danger on a short term view. On 3 years, the company had lost €70 millions. Therefore, Brittany Ferries announced in June 2012 that it was to enforce a return to competitiveness plan in order to enable the company to be competitive compared to its competitors such as Irish Ferries, whose ships are registered in Cyprus and in the Bahamas or P&O whose ships are registered in Great Britain; therefore they do not have to cope with the same operating costs. Consequently, Brittany Ferries had to curve down its costs, scrapping the loss-making services. For instance, Brittany Ferries announced that Cotentin would stop her services to Cherbourg-en-Cotentin and Bilbao from Poole by late-2013, offering her for charter. Crossings on winter that are loss-making were also scrapped, with for instance those on the Roscoff – Plymouth service. Crews also lost come of their advantages. However the scheme made unhappy Brittany Ferries’ crew, which decided to put in place random blockades and making delays without prior notice.

On 21st September 2012, Brittany Ferries’ top management decided to suspend all of its services to force the crew to accept the deal. This blockade last until 1st October, when crew decided to accept the scheme proposed by the company. Although this management-decided blockade enabled the company to solve the problem, it has been disastrous for the company, impacting 50,000 passengers, whereas Brittany Ferries’ tickets were accepted by competitors operating from Dover. Eventually, the company was close form loosing its backing from the SICA, its main shareholder.

The mid-10s

Underlying tensions remain

Mont Saint Michel arriving in Portsmouth from Ouistreham, before the installation of exhaust scrubbers in late-2015.
Mont Saint Michel entering Portsmouth before her 2015 refit. Picture Benjamin H.

If the deal reached in October 2012 enabled the company to calm down the trade unions and to recover from its difficulties, the company kept asking its crew some concessions, whilst the trade unions kept being protest.

In early-2015, the crew of Mont St Michel and Normandie stroke, leaving the ships berthed in order to get extra-staff. Yet the most important crisis took place in May 2015, when Ouistreham Dochers’ trade unions decided to blockade the harbour in order to get extra-staff and extra-wages. In order to put the company under pressure, they took Mont St Michel and her crew hostage in Ouistreham, preventing them from sailing. The shareholders of the company condemned this blockade and during the Night of the 09th to the 10th of May 2015, they decided to put an end to one week of blockade by freeing themselves the ship, cutting its mooring. Because this had been successful, the dockers of every Western France ports served by Brittany Ferries refused to welcome the ship, which was forced to anchor in Roscoff. Normandie had also to be diverted to Roscoff the following day, since the dockers of the other ports refusing to enable her to berth. However, it enabled a resuming of the dialogue between the two parties, whilst thousand of customers were impacted by the conflict.

Eventually, the trade unions refused to sign a deal about the labour organisation at the end of 2015. Therefore, the company announced that Normandie Express would be registered in Great Britain for the 2016 season, leaving 80 person unemployed. However, due to the action of a senior captain of the company, Jean-Pascal Richard, the trade unions eventually accepted to organise a vote of the staffs to let them say if they agree the plan. Eventually, they all agreed the deal that was later signed, and Normandie Express kept being registered in France.

Energy transition

Normandie operating the Ouistrham - Portsmoth route after the 2015 refit, when she was equipped with exhaust scrubbers.
Normandie with her scrubbers. Picture Benjamin H.

The 10s will be marked by the implementation on 1st January 2015 of new regulations concerning the rate of Sulphur accepted in ship’s exhausts, leaving the companies unable to use Fuel without works on their ships. Hence, Brittany Ferries announced in December 2013 that the company would equipped its oldest ships (Barfleur, Cap Finistère and Normandie) of exhaust scrubbers (devices purposed for sulphur-reduction in exhausts), whilst the newest (Armorique, Mont St Michel and Pont Aven) would be equipped with LNG engines. Eventually, Bretagne was to be replaced by 2017 by a new built, which would be operated on the Spanish and Irish services. This project, known as Pegasis, was to be conducted with STX France for a cost of €270 millions, and would have also enabled the company to increase its capacity on the Spanish routes, regarding passengers and freight.

However, in October 2014, Brittany Ferries announced that the extra-cost induced by the refusal of the European Union to grant companies that would have a scheme to make their ships cleaner a temporary exemption of complying with this new rule, forced her to scrap her LNG-plan. Therefore, the three ships that were to be converted to LNG were equipped with scrubbers instead in late-2015-early-2016 with scrubbers, whilst Bretagne’s replacement was canceled, and therefore she went to Gdansk in January 2015 in order to make her able to work with the new fuel.

Eventually, the company chartered in for 5 years former DFDS Seaways’ Sirena Seaways, renamed Baie de Seine for service between Le Havre | Bilbao and Portsmouth. This ship was equipped before entering service with Brittany Ferries with scrubbers.

Brittany Ferries back in the race

The continuons launch of new services

Étretat seen berthed in Le Havre in mid-2016.
Étretat berthed in Le Havre. Picture Antoine H.

Two years after the 2012 crises, the company reached again profitability, enabling it to think of her future. Therefore, it decided to open a new seasonal service for the Summer 2013, linking Portsmouth and Le Havre and operated with Normandie Express. This season was successful, with 50,000 passengers carried, whilst the company only hoped to carry 40,000 with four services a week. In order to increase capacity and also to provide a freight service, Brittany Ferries chartered in for the 2014 season Etretat to Stena RoRo, which also operated a weekly service to Santander. The following season, the company chartered in Baie de Seine to provide extra-capacity and more departures operated by conventional ferries on the line whilst the high speed service was scrapped for the 2016 season with Baie de Seine being mainly redeployed on the UK - Spain services.

The service, currently operated under the "Economie" brand of Brittany Ferries, will be taken over by Normandie after the launch of Honfleur, shortly before summer 2019 with Baie de Seine being sent back to DFDS Seaways.

The 2015 season was exceptional for the company. Indeed, Migrant crisis and strike of MyFerryLink’s staff in Calais had a bad knock-on-effect on the services actually provided on this route, and passengers & lorries were diverted to Brittany Ferries’ services. This produced an unforcasted growth by 37% of freight traffic carried on the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin - Poole service.

On 19th January 2016, Brittany Ferries announced it has chartered a RoRo ferry to Compagnie Maritime Nantaise, the MN Pelican, for service between Poole and Bilbao. Her aim is mainly to provide additional capacity for unaccompanied freight, with Pont-Aven car deck being left for passenger traffic. Similar satisfying figures as during 2015 season were also reached in 2016, although the Brexit was voted shortly summer, which could harm the company's future.

On 16th January 2018, the company announced it is to extend its route network, with the establishment of a new Cork - Santander route as long as an additional mid-week Cork - Roscoff sailings. These services are operated with a new chartered ship, Connemara. However, in order to limit the risk taking linked to the launch of this new service, the company decided to registered for a two year test period her under the Cyprus flag. This was to limit the costs of the new services until profitability under French flag can be reached.



The long-negociated renewal of the fleet

Bretagne operating a Saint-Malo - Portsmouth service, seen in early-2015.
Bretagne in early-2016. Picture Antoine H.

After having successfully crossed a period of instability, Brittany Ferries faced in the early-2010 a new challenge, with its fleet ageing. In just a few year-long time period, four of its ships were to exceed their planned-operating life of circa. 25 years. Therefore, the company had to consider the commissioning of new-built to replace these ships. Therefore, in June 2015, Jean-Marc Roué unveiled the company would "likely" commission a new ship that would replace Pont-Aven on the Irish and Spanish routes, which would in turn replace Bretagne on the Saint-Malo route.

On 1st April 2016, whilst Brittany Ferries’ chairman Martine Jourden retired, the company also announced that it would eventually purchase three ships for delivery between 2019 and 2021, in order to replace BretagneCap Finistère and Normandie ; with also rumours of Normandie Express also being replaced. However, the company has already chosen not to built a LNG-powered ship since it would be too expensive, as the current market value of oil is at its lowest point.

With these ships still not being commissioned, the Brexit voted in June 2016 put on Brittany Ferries' future a dark shadow, with the banks not being ready to lend any money to a company whose business plan was clearly challenged. Indeed, on 08th October 2016. Jean-Marc Roué and Christophe Mathieu made clear that despite the satisfactory summer 2016, the company was unable to fund the building of new ships, postponing their projects.

Eventually, financial year 2016-2017 ended with a decrease of 5% of passengers carried between France and England, whereas the French - Ireland and Great Britain - Spain services achieved increasing the numer of passengers they carry by 5%. Besides, volume of freight carried by Brittany Ferries increased of 4% on that year.

A bunch of new eco-friendly ships eventually commissionned

An artist impression of Honfleur, Brittany Ferries' future flag ship.
An artist impression of Honfleur. Courtesy Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft

After months of negociations, Brittany Ferries eventually announced on 19th June 2017 it has ordered a new 185m-long car ferry to replace Normandie between Ouistreham and Portsmouth. The new ferry, soon named Honfleur, was soon described as one of the most comfortable Brittany Ferries has ever built. Honfleur will be a more connected vessel, and will be the cleaner in service on the channel thanks to her LNG-powered engines. Honfleur is expected to begin service in 2019, enabling Normandie to be transferred to the less-taxing Le Havre - Portsmouth service.

Then, on 28th August 2017, Brittany Ferries announced they have reached with Swedish company Stena Line an agreement for a 5 year-long bare boat charter of one of their future E-Flexer class vessel, with an option of purchase. The giant vessel, who provides a 3 000 lanemeters-long garage, will replace Etretat (transferred from the Le Havre service) on the Spain to Great Britain routes in 2021.

On 25th May 2018, Brittany Ferries surprisingly announced it has ordered a second E-Flexer class vessel for its UK - Spain services. However, the company also stated that both E-Flexer would have their own personality, with the latter also being LNG-powered. Eventually, it has also been rumoured since the company would order by early-2019 a fourth new ship, which would replace the longest-serving vessel of the company since it was founded, Bretagne. The announcement is expected to come as soon as the company has secured a shipyard for the building of this state-of-the-art ferry.


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