Brittany Ferries suffers worst year in decades
Brittany Ferries has published some of the most disappointing figures in its history. In a year dominated by Covid-19 and amid ongoing Brexit concerns, 2020 passenger numbers fell to less than a third of normal levels. Freight fared slightly better, with figures down by 20 percent. Company turnover halved, as lockdown measures and restrictions on travel in all markets forced passengers to stay at home.
Around 85 percent of Brittany Ferries passengers are British and around 80 percent of company income is generated through passenger traffic: the effect that travel restrictions had on turnover was therefore devastating. In 2020 the company turned €202.4m, compared with €469m in 2019, a 57% decline.
Despite a dreadful 2020, the company is plotting a course towards a brighter future. It says it has embarked on a robust five-year recovery plan to bridge the immediate crisis and prepare for a return to normal service.
“In the last few years Brittany Ferries faced a double strike, firstly as a consequence of Brexit challenges and then as a result of Covid,” says Jean Marc Roué, company president. “On Brexit, the unfavourable Sterling-Euro exchange rate hit our bottom line. The value of Sterling plummeted directly after the 2016 vote and, since then, the company lost €115m in potential income as the majority of revenue is generated in Sterling and costs come in Euros.
“Brexit concerns also affected demand. Three potential dates for the UK’s departure from the EU in 2019 created uncertainty and anxiety in the marketplace and passenger numbers fell by 5 per cent. Despite these challenges, we remained profitable.
“However, last year, the Covid crisis brought our company to its knees. It struck a blow for the regions we serve and enrich, and the French seafarers we are proud to employ.
“Despite this, we are determined to remain part of the fabric of life in the north west of France as well as in the UK, Ireland and Spain and we must thank the regions of Normandy and Brittany, the banks and French state for their ongoing support throughout this dark period. With a collective will to return stronger, I believe Brittany Ferries will overcome the greatest challenge in its history.”
Brittany Ferries says it largely returned to its roots as a freight-only operation towards the end of last year. In total it carried 160,377 units in 2020, down around 20 percent on the previous year’s tally of 201,554. Market distortions were caused by stockpiling at the end of the Brexit transition period and amid concerns about new border controls and import/export processes. The Covid crisis also impacted freight volumes, albeit not as significantly as it did for passenger traffic.
In an otherwise miserable year, the company says there were some notable highlights.
It won the third in a series of Brexit-related ferry contracts with the Department for Transport (DfT). This guaranteed DfT space onboard vessels to ensure the supply of essential goods like medicines in the event of potential chaos at short-sea ports on the Channel. As well as supporting routes like Le Havre to Portsmouth, these contracts reinforced the strategic significance of Brittany Ferries’ route network to national governments, as well as to local regions.
Thanks to the flexibility of its fleet the company says it was also able to meet demand from Irish and French hauliers to open direct routes connecting Ireland with France, thus avoiding the need to transport goods via the UK land-bridge.
In December 2020, the company welcomed its new ship Galicia to the fleet. This greener super-ferry, part of investment made before the Covid crisis struck, operates two weekly rotations between the UK and Spain and one from Cherbourg to Portsmouth. Galicia’s launch illustrates the company’s commitment to more environmentally friendly modes of transport and a drive towards energy transition.
Greener vessels are essential for the company’s future, both from the perspective of anticipated regulatory requirements and the expectations of its customers. Two further E-Flexer class vessels will join sister-ship Galicia in 2022 and 2023. Salamanca and Santoña will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) and the infrastructure to support LNG bunkering will begin construction in Bilbao this year in preparation for their arrival.