New ferry service will link Cork and Europe
IRISH Continental Group and Stena Line face competition from a foreign operator that is set to open two new routes between Ireland and the continent, sources say.
The new ferry operator will be based out of Cork and offer freight and passenger services between the country's second city and Spain and France.
"Negotiations are at an advanced state and although not yet certain, a decision will be made within the next three weeks," Port of Cork spokesman Michael McCarthy said. "A positive decision should mean a start-up in May." He declined to say which ferry operator would provide the service or give any further details.
A single ferry will offer businesses, especially pharmaceutical companies based in Ringaskiddy in Cork, and farmers, a direct route to markets on the continent. It will also offer fruit and vegetable importers here a link between the main growing countries.
Irish exports to France were worth €4.6bn last year, while exports to Spain were worth €3.7bn, most of it going by road via France and the UK.
The routes, which are expected to be announced later this month, will augment a new link between Cork and Swansea in Wales.
Rumours of a link between Ireland and Spain have been circulating since 2008, when the Port of Cork said it would look for EU grants to create a freight and passenger ferry service, with a journey time of 24 hours, between Cork and the northern Spanish city of Gijon.
The new route would also be good news for holidaymakers and would put many major tourist destinations in France and Spain within a day's drive.