Far from plane sailing for karate kids
IT'S good to touch the green, green grass of home. Jubilant but weary ferry travellers yesterday told of their delight at finally arriving on Irish soil as chaos continued to reign across Europe.
Thousands of desperate air passengers have flocked to ports around the country amid the deepening crisis caused by the plume of volcanic ash.
Docking into Dublin Port on the Irish Ferries Ulysses service from Hollyhead, the Kildare ILT Taekwon-Do club were in high spirits as they told of their ordeal to try and get home.
The group, comprising of more than 20 adults and children ranging in age from seven to 17, were supposed to fly on Friday, but the flight was cancelled.
"We said we would get the ferry when it was cancelled," Richard Drake said. "They won the team of the year at the European ILT Taekwon-Do Championships. We got a bus and then a train to Hollyhead. But we are finally here."
Mother-of-two Verona Smith had travelled for days with her family to get home from Nevada in America.
"We got a flight to London, but were then supposed to fly to Dublin on Thursday," she said.
"I'm wrecked, but delighted to be home. We have another bit to go though, we have to travel on to Tullamore now."
For Bettina Lehmeier, taking the ferry was the only option left to get home.
She has to get back to Munich to finish off her exams. If not they will be postponed until next year.
"I am waiting to see if I can get on the 9pm ferry. I hope I can get home," she said.
The crisis has prompted the busiest spell in the history of Irish Ferries, with more than 4,000 passengers sailing each day.
Last-minute bookings to and from France and England have increased five-fold, with an unprecedented demand for the firm's four scheduled sailings.
Stena Line has also reported a "phenomenal" demand from passengers and yesterday it revealed it had provided travel for more than 30,000 people in just four days.
However, despite the extra demand, Irish Ferries insisted that it would not amount to a huge boost in revenue.
It has four sailings between Ireland and the UK each day, with a service between Ireland and France every second day.
"We have never experienced such an intense demand," said Irish Ferries spokesman Don Hall.
"But its is not a windfall even if it looks like it. The vast majority of people are foot passengers and the typical fare is €20."
Mr Halls said the company would not be able to expand its capacity or put on additional services.
"We are only qualified to carry a certain number of passengers and we couldn't exceed that number if we wanted to," he said.
"Unfortunately we can't expand our capacity. Even if we had another boat we would have to get it certified."
Last night Stena Line insisted many sailings were being booked out the day before they were due to go.
The company provides more than 17 sailings each day -- including four round trips from Dublin, two from Dun Laoghaire, two from Rosslare and seven from Belfast.
All sailings from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead were booked out all weekend.
The full fleet can carry an estimated 13,000 people each day.
"There is a phenomenal demand for sailings at the moment. It is incredible," said communications manager Eamon Hewitt.