Page last updated at 06:50 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Ferry prepares for Irish Sea link

The Julia
The Julia previously sailed routes in the Scandinavian Peninsula

The new Swansea to Cork ferry has arrived in Wales for refitting work before it carries its first passengers on the reinstated service on 1 March.

The Julia, which can carry more than 1,800 passengers and 400 cars, was previously sailing in the Baltic Sea.

But after being bought by a co-operative for £6.9m in 2009, it has been brought to Swansea Docks for work.

The Swansea to Cork service, which started in 1987, has not run since late 2006 when the previous vessel was sold.

It is hoped the reinstated trade and tourism link between Wales and Ireland will be worth £50m to the economies of both sides of the Irish Sea.

The 154m ferry, which will operate under the Fastnet Line brand, has 10 decks and can also accommodate 40 trucks and trailers.

It has an array of restaurants and bars, shops, a children's play area, a cinema and a casino and also has over 300 passenger cabins, which operators say make her particularly suited to the night crossing.

There's obviously changes because in the Baltic there's different regulations. The seas are rougher
Captain Pat Grace

Operations manager Owen Barry said bookings for the new service were going "very, very well", adding: "There's strong demand so far."

Built in 1982, the Julia has previously sailed routes in the Scandinavian Peninsula.

Although she is 28 years old, Pat Grace, her new captain, said older ferries were often better.

"She's old but I think when you see the condition of the fittings and everything, it's good and sturdy," he said.

"Some people said the older the ship the better the build."

He said adjustments had to be made because the Irish Sea was different to the Baltic Sea.

"Because the route is different and because the seas are a little bit different, we have had to make some modifications which is basically what we're bringing her over here for," he said.

"There's obviously changes because in the Baltic there's different regulations, the seas are rougher."

'Funded by the people'

A campaign had been led by businesses in both Wales and Ireland to reinstate the service, with local people donating around £3m towards the new ferry. The rest of the money was obtained by a mortgage.

Mr Barry said: "It was funded mainly by the people for the people of all regions of Wales and the west of Ireland."

Previously, Transport Minister Ieuan Wyn Jones said: "The resumption of the ferry service will reinstate an important link between Wales and Ireland which has the potential to bring economic benefits to both countries.

"Its value to Swansea, in particular and to Wales in general, is recognised from a trade and tourism perspective and will also enhance our international links with Ireland."

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