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Brittany Ferries reports better year after 'ghastly' Covid period

The firm is assessing demand and profitability before reinstating certain services such as Portsmouth-Le Havre passenger services

The ferry Bretagne returned in April after being laid up in 2020 Pic: Brittany Ferries

Brittany Fer­ries, which is 50 years old next year, reports a much better year in 2021-2022 after accumulated losses of €220million in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

Impacted by France’s later lifting of Covid restrictions

The Roscoff-based firm, which has mostly British passengers, is almost back to its pre-Covid frequency and routes, although adjustments are still being made to ensure it operates as efficiently as it can.

Portsmouth-Le Havre is still freight-only while it assesses passenger demand.

Spokesman Nigel Wonnacott said that while 2021-22 was much better than the year before (its accounting year runs November 1 to October 31), there was a drop in activity on the UK-France routes of above 20% compared to 2018-19, partly due to France’s relatively late lifting of Covid restrictions, perhaps also due to some ongoing 'travel anxiety' from some customers, unsure if Covid and new restrictions would come back.

This had been balanced by a boost on its UK-Spain routes which had "performed extrremely well," he said. Brittany Ferries also recently reported an increase in France-Ireland activity compared to pre-Covid years.

Read more: UK-France ferries, plane veers off Paris runway: Eight travel updates

Took time to ‘future-proof’ business

The firm also had a new €10mil­lion injection from shareholders and hopes to have paid off its debts in five to 10 years. 

On the whole, he said, the year had been “extremely encouraging”. 

It has also worked on its website and booking systems and hopes “the ghastly Covid years will be a time when we took steps so if we are faced with something as awful again, we are better protected”.

The firm is not, for the moment, resuming Christmas and New Year cruises, which were not profitable. It has also not yet brought back a summer fast service (Portsmouth-Cherbourg) with its own 'dedicated craft' or with the same frequency as in the past, however it did offer about 20 crossings on a ship chartered in a partnership with Condor Ferries using Condor's ship Liberation.

A new project, LiveLocal, to link holidaymakers to local Breton hosts is to continue. 

Further plans for the future include two new liquefied natural gas / electric ‘hybrid’ ships to replace the oldest serving vessels, Bretagne (Portsmouth-Saint-Malo) and Normandy (Caen-Portsmouth) in 2024 and 2025.

Working with unions

There were some French strikes over pay this year which, Mr Won­nacott said, were linked to rising living costs. 

He said the firm is working closely with unions and hopes to be able to “offer good news” if business continues to go well.

DFDS said Channel passengers were also up compared to last year but below 2019 levels. 

P&O and Irish Ferries have not replied to our queries on their post-Covid situation.

Preparing for new EU Entry/Exit system

A new EU Entry/Exit system will be a challenge in May 2023 but DFDS’s Nicole Seroff said it handled the first phases of Brexit well and, in collaboration with authorities, is “well prepared for the coming final phases”. 

Mr Wonnacott said Brittany Ferries is working with ports and governments to deal with “another potential threat to fluidity of traffic” and hopes practical solutions will be found.

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