Brittany Ferries. Strong performances and thwarted projects

M/V Bretagne performing a U-Turn in Saint-Malo, before berthing in the harbour.
Bretagne was to be replaced by 2019 by a new built. It is now very unlikely. Picture Antoine H.

Two weeks ago, Brittany Ferries has ended its 2015-2016 financial year (which goes from 1st October to 30th September), and has announced very good performances for this year despite the Brexit has been eventually chosen by British voters as a future for their country a few days before the crucial Summer period.

On the other hand, although Brittany Ferries is now in much greater condition than a few years ago, the company remains unable to order news ships, although it has been announced earlier this year that at least two ships were to be ordered in late-2016.

Even stronger performances

M/V Baie de Seine in her first days of service with Brittany Ferries.
Baie de Seine helped providing additionnal capacity for freight on the Spain - Portsmouth routes. Picture Fabien MONTREUIL.

For the fourth consecutive year, Brittany Ferries records in 2016 an important increase of its traffics, by 4%. Passengers numbers have increased by 13% on the cross channel routes, and by 16% on the Great Britain - Spain service. This means that Brittany Ferries has carried 107,000 more passengers this year than the previous year, so 2,674,000 passengers (rather than 2,567,000 last year).

The most important increases have been reported on the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin - Portsmouth route (+21%) which has been Normandie Express's only route this year, resulting in the operation of four extra weekly crossings ; and on the Le Havre - Portsmouth route (+27%). A small increase has also been reported on the Caen - Portsmouth route, with an extra 10,000 passengers. Therefore, Brittany Ferries' main route has carried more than a million passenger this year, something unprecedented.

On the other hand, Brittany Ferries has explained that it has just achieved maintaining its record figures from last Summer. Therefore, most of the noted increases (apart from the Cherbourg-en-Cotentin - Portsmouth route) are likely to have occurred through winter, before the Brexit has been voted. This could explain the increase reported on the Le Havre - Portsmouth, where no passenger services have been operated during winter 2014 - 2015. Moreover, Brittany Ferries says it could have recorded even better figures if Normandie and Pont-Aven have not failed in April and May respectively, especially on the Irish route whose passengers figures are believed to have decreased by 3,000 passengers.

Passenger figures, which are already twice more important as on the Le Havre and Cherbourg-en-Cotentin - Portsmouth routes, contributing to a smaller variation rate ; have also increased by 5% on the Great Britain - Spain routes, on which seven weekly sailings have been operated since last year.

Regarding freight, the figures have increased by 10% on the cross-channel services ; and by 22% on the Spain - Great Britain service. This increase on the Spanish route is explained to be due to the introduction of MN Pelican earlier this year.

Moreover, Portsmouth has been this summer once again confirmed as Brittany Ferries's main hub. Indeed, between June and August, 70% of Brittany Ferries's passengers have traveled to and from Portsmouth, representing 828 492 persons. Moreover, the number of vehicle that have traveled to and from Portsmouth has increased by 4,4%.

Eventually, Brittany Ferries' chairman, Jean-Marc Roué, is saying that "Brittany Ferries has known adapting itself and get out strengthened from the difficult years. [...] Despite the difficulties and doubts linked to the Brexit, I do not doubt that the common sense will prevail in both sides of the Channel, and I look confidently at the future".

Thanks to these increases, Brittany Ferries have taken extra market shares on the cross channel services, taken from the Dover straight operators. Indeed, they keep being faced with security issues, that may deter passengers and freight from using their services, benefiting to Brittany Ferries' ones.


This success is ascribed by Brittany Ferries to its marketing policies of its destinations, worthing each year €10 millions. Moreover, Mike Bevens, Brittany Ferries's commercial director recalls that "we are the most attractive alternative to no-frills airlines and the most convenient choice when travelling to continental Europe by car".

Concerns about Brittany Ferries' future

An artist view of the aborted project Pegasis, a LNG-powered ship that was to be introduced next year, replacing Pont-Aven.
Brittany Ferries still wants building a vessel of Pegasis' size for its Great Britain - Spain links. Courtesy STX.

On the other hand, Brittany Ferries had announced in March the company was very likely to order two, perhaps three ships for delivery by 2019 at the end of this year. Therefore, the company began looking for shipyards able of building these ships; and for banks that would fund the project.

However, in an interview given to Le Telegramme on 9th October, both Jean-Marc Roué and Christophe Mathieu, head of the supervisory board, have announced that the Brexit "has blurred our future". Indeed, it has induced serious concerns about Brittany Ferries's future, in so far as, depending on the treaty that will be signed, it could cause serious impediments to freedom of movement to and from the European Union, especially if visas were re-established. This would arm dramatically Brittany Ferries's future whose 85% of its customers are British.

Moreover, the fall of the exchange rate of the pound could also generate losses to Brittany Ferries, without ensuring extra-traffics for its services from European customers, since they only represent 15% of its customers. Therefore, a very important increase which is unlikely to happen would be required to counterbalance a potential fall of revenues in pound or of British passengers.

Therefore, the replacement of the old Bretagne and Normandie is postponed. Moreover, the company is not able to find a second-hand ship that would fit its requirements, which are a vessel allowed to sail in the Biscay Bay, and that would be bigger than Pont-Aven in terms of garage, with an equivalent number of cabins. Actually, the company is still considering building a vessel of Pegasis' size.

Last but not least, Brittany Ferries has also said in this interview that a program of replenishment of the Hotels and Holiday Cottages it proposes through Europe will have to be undertaken ; to ensure the attractiveness of the countries it serves will be perpetuated in the coming years, despite the Brexit. On the other hand, British holidays maker will go to other destinations for their holidays.