It’s been heralded as great news – but there are unanswered questions

By Carole Dennett Jul 7, 2024
Computer generated image of the proposed new ferry pic: Artemis/Red Funnel

The announcement by Red Funnel last week that it is entering into “partnership” with Belfast-based Artemis Technologies to introduce a new all-electric ferry on its Southampton to West Cowes route, may not be quite all it seems.

The cross-Solent operator issued a press release on Tuesday with the exciting news that the new zero-emission e-foiling Artemis EF-24 passenger ferry will come into service in “late 2025”. The missive was abuzz with details of how the new ferry will be powered by renewable sources and give a quieter, smoother and more comfortable ride, all while delivering huge emission savings and cutting pollution.

What the press release didn’t mention is that the only vessel that Artemis is operating so far using its ‘ground-breaking’ new technology is Pioneer of Belfast, a single-hulled 6-seater workboat – a far cry from the impressive computer-generated graphics of the very different vessel included in Red Funnel’s announcement. Bringing the 150-passenger vessel into service is likely to be challenging, as Condor Ferries are finding out. An announcement in April 2022 that Artemis would be introducing an EF-24 ferry in July 2024 to the Belfast – Bangor route, looks to have been hugely optimistic. We could find no recent update on when this project will become reality, although the company did provide an update on the EF-24 in May, along with a photo that seems to show that despite claims that construction is “rapidly progressing” it is far from finished.

So, if Red Funnel’s brand-new ferry, with a “revolutionary” propulsion system will essentially be a test vessel, there must be fears that reliability may be an issue – but then why worry? Red Funnel’s passengers are used to that!

So, what could the benefit of this new ‘partnership’ be? One very prominent claim that appears repeatedly on the Artemis website is that the e-foiling technology is far cheaper to run and maintain, but not a word of that appears in Red Funnel’s press release. Could it be that Red Funnel are not planning to share the cost-cutting benefits with their passengers? And is there another possible financial incentive behind the plans? Insiders say the two companies have entered into an agreement that comes with minimal risk for Red Funnel, as Artemis are underwriting most of the costs to enable them to use the new vessel as proof of concept.

There are also capacity issues. At 150 passenger seats, the new vessel would see a cut of almost 45 per cent in passenger numbers as the Red Jets carry 277 passengers according to Red Funnel’s own website.

On Tuesday we asked Red Funnel three questions: 1 – Do you plan to reduce ticket prices when technology cuts your own costs? 2 – Is the introduction of smaller ferries the direction of travel for the company, and if so, will that mean an overall reduction in capacity or more frequent crossings? And 3 – how much is Red Funnel paying for your new ferry?. We have not received any answers – we will update you when we do!

Sadly for the Island’s economy , this also appears to signal an end to Red Funnel’s relationship with Wight Shipyard for their new high-speed vessel builds.

While we all wish Red Funnel and Artemis well in their plans, they could be a little more forthcoming on what they will mean for the Island’s lifeline services.