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Navigating Change: European RoRo Sector Adapts to Brexit, Crises and Decarbonization

In an era marked by Brexit, the Ukraine crisis, and the push for long-term decarbonization solutions, the European RoRo cargo vessel sector finds itself grappling with the challenges of fluctuating costs, trade disruptions, BREXIT, and changing shipping routes. 

The Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO) reports that the number of weekly sailings between Irish and mainland Europe ports increased from 30 to over 60 sailings at different points during the year. “There are now six shipping companies offering 13 different direct ro-ro services to mainland EU ports, increasing capacity in what is a dynamic and competitive market,” the IMDO said.

The Northern Ireland Protocol/Windsor Framework, a key aspect of the Brexit agreement, addresses Northern Ireland’s unique position by avoiding a hard border with the Republic of Ireland and ensuring smooth trade flows. Under this arrangement, goods shipped from Northern Ireland to Great Britain via the Republic of Ireland face post-Brexit controls, prompting some haulers to shift their shipping routes to Northern Ireland ports.

CLdN RoRo, the world’s second-largest operator of shortsea ro-ro cargo ships, has adapted to the changing landscape by expanding its services and acquiring Clipper Group’s Seatruck Ferries. The pandemic and the UK’s departure from the EU have resulted in increased demand for unaccompanied freight and a decline in overall freight volumes between the UK and Europe. This shift has been exacerbated by a shortage of truck drivers and a push for more sustainable transport options.

CLdN RoRo anticipates growth in cargo volumes in 2023, launching new services and increasing capacity on core routes. These developments are partially driven by the transition from accompanied trailers on passenger ferries to unaccompanied trailers on ro-ro cargo vessels, bypassing congested ports like Dover.

Meanwhile, major operators like CLdN RoRo and DFDS are exploring alternative fuels and decarbonization efforts to comply with new regulations, such as the International Maritime Organization’s Carbon Intensity Indicator and the EU’s Emissions Trading System. Companies are considering options like biofuels, methanol, and ammonia to power their fleets.

Asia is closely observing these developments. In a noteworthy development, China Merchants Energy Shipping (CMES) recently firmed up a deal to build 2+4 methanol-powered RoRo vessels. The contract for the two firm 9,3000 CEU RoRo vessels includes options for an additional four ships of the same size, totaling a potential price of $384 million. The methanol-powered RoRo pair is planned for delivery in the first half of 2026, with the rest set to follow by the end of 2026. This order is placed in response to the growing demand for car transport vessels, particularly in China, where automobile exports are expanding rapidly.

In adapting to the shifting landscape, the European RoRo cargo vessel sector has demonstrated its resilience and ability to innovate. Operators are not only navigating the challenges of Brexit and the Ukraine crisis but are also proactively seeking alternative fuels and decarbonization measures to ensure a more sustainable future for the industry.

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