Following 14 months of development and an investment of £10 million, Red Funnel has officially welcomed its new vessel, Red Kestrel, to its fleet today (Thursday).
A naming ceremony was held in Southampton this afternoon where the Minister of State for Employement, Alok Sharma, was joined by the Bishop of Winchester, Red Funnel’s CEO Fran Collins and a number of VIP guests.
Red Kestrel marks the debut of Red Funnel’s first dedicated RoRo freight ship since the company’s inception almost 160 years ago. The vessel will transfer lorries from Southampton to East Cowes, allowing for more vehicles to be carried across the Solent on the normal vehicle passenger ferries.
The new freight ferry – which will be operated by 6 crew at a time – provides a snug but comfortable lounge for up to 12 drivers, with reclining seats and even an onboard eatery serving up hot meals and drinks.
Although concerns have been raised by customers about the increase in capacity on the normal passenger ferries, Red Funnel say that the layout and offering of each deck is to be looked at to see if additional seating can be provided.
Furthermore, it is said that the introduction of a layby berth at East Cowes could, in the future, lead to a second linkspan being installed to increase the number of passenger ferries crossing the Solent and the reliability of that service.
Opting for the build of the ship to be based within the UK, Red Funnel awarded the build contract to the famous British shipbuilding company Cammel Laird, based on the River Mersey at Birkenhead.
Fran Collins, CEO of Red Funnel, sat down with Island Echo in Southampton this morning to answer our questions about Red Kestrel…
Q: What led to the decision for a freight only ferry on Red Funnel’s East Cowes-Southampton route?
A: Over the past few years we’ve seen quite a growth in freight to the Island. We are carrying around about 53% of all freight across the Solent now.
What we have found is at peak times and throughout the summer we are running out of capacity. It impacts on both the freight customers and also at core traffic – that has a knock on effect to the Island and the Island economy.
When we looked at the business case we looked at what our customers needed and we also looked at how much growth there may be. The decision for a 4th passenger ship… it’s not the right time for that.
Q: Will the freight ferry be able to assist in moving emergency vehicles across the Solent?
A: We have an amount of flexibility. Of course there is a level of crewing we need, but if, god forbid, we had to transfer a large number of fire engines to the Island we can do that.
Q: At peak times there are not enough seats, but removing freight from the normal ferries will mean more people in cars. How will you balance that?
A: That is part of the bigger picture.
We are aware at peak times that seating is difficult. It will also be difficult for a vessel as you have a limited amount of time. We are looking at changing the layout which could potentially give us more seats.
Another thing we are very aware of is the queue for food can be quite challenging. We have been looking at redoing the menu, catering better for vegans and those with allergies. The whole range is currently under review.
Q: Red Kestrel has been built in the UK like Red Jet 6 and 7. How important is it to Red Funnel that UK manufacturing is utilised?
A: It’s really important to us. We have been around for a long time and shipbuilding is an absolutely integral part of British history and I think it is right the two brands – Red Funnel and British shipping – are aligned to one another for that. It’s great to support British shipping in that way.
We went out to an international tender process and found the best one on our doorstep. There is a perception that you can go and buy cheaper, better ships elsewhere but actually the UK was competitive, it’s extremely high quality and it has delivered us a fantastic vessel.
Q: How will Red Kestrel’s introduction affect the timetable for ordinary customers?
A: The latest timetables have been published with the freight ferry incorporated. We have built a layby berth in East Cowes and that gives us the capability to pull alongside whilst the passenger ferry leaves and then shift across, which will save time.
I think it is going to be potentially challenging to do whilst we settle into things, but we’ve got a period of 2-3 weeks of trialing now where we test every aspect in slow time, with some of the crossings carrying freight but there’s no pressure to keep the freight timeteable at this point. I think if we get that right then it will work very well.
Red Kestrel will enter service in May.