Ferry services in and from the UK see 4.2 per cent passenger rise this year

Stena has seen a huge increase on its business between Belfast and the three ports it serves in Britain

DEMAND for domestic and Irish ferry travel has grown by 4.2 per cent this year, new figures show.

Some 5.69 million people travelled on ferries serving UK islands, the Isle of Man and Ireland in the first half of the year compared with 5.46 million in the same period in 2016, according to industry body Discover Ferries.

The number of cars taken on ferries has also increased - up 4.7 per cent on domestic routes and 3 per cent on services between Britain and Ireland.

New analysis also revealed more than 15,000 beds are available every night on ships sailing from Britain to France, Spain, Holland, Belgium and across the Irish Sea. This includes:

:: Over 9,000 beds from Harwich, Hull and Newcastle to Holland and Belgium

:: Nearly 4,000 beds on routes from Portsmouth and Plymouth to France

:: Some 1,000 beds on overnight Irish Sea routes from Liverpool to Belfast and Dublin

:: An average of more than 1,000 beds from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Spain

Stena Line said it recorded strong volumes on its Belfast services (they serve Cairnryan, Liverpool and Heysham) in the period, as freight volumes increased 5 per cent while passengers and cars grew 4 per cent. The fastest growing sector was coaches recording a record 19 per cent increase.

Paul Grant, Stena's trade director on the north Irish Sea routes, said: “Despite operating in a highly competitive environment, we've delivered a strong set of volume increases across all of our three Belfast services.

"Our freight volumes have increased, with demand particularly high on our Belfast-Liverpool service. The rise in coach volumes has been assisted significantly by the increasing demand for day visits and from Chinese tour parties.”

He added: “Stena Line continues to invested heavily in its Belfast hub. Earlier this month our parent company made a significant capital investment in acquiring the Superfast VII and VIII vessels which currently operate on our Belfast-Cairnryan service under charter agreement. We take full ownership of the vessels in December, which will be another important milestone in our future development."

Discover Ferries director Bill Gibbons said: "2016 was our fifth successive year of growth in the number of people taking their car on holiday by sea.

"The latest data indicates that 2017 could be set to continue that great record."

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