Dubbed the “people’s ship”, the 154-metre MV Julia will revive the Cork to Swansea route from next March – injecting up to €50 million into the south-eastern economy and supporting an estimated 1,000 jobs.
Longer than Croke Park, she steamed past Roche’s Point just before 8am, sounded her horn as she passed Cobh and sailed up the River Lee to berth at Horgan’s Quay in the heart of the city just after 9am.
It was the high point of a year-long campaign by the West Cork Tourism Co-operative (WCTC) to restore the ferry route under the brand, Fastnet Line Ltd.
It was all done without a shred of state support.
WCTC chairman Conor Buckley said everyone involved is elated. “We’ve put so much hard work into this,” he said.
“There were many days and nights when people thought this wouldn’t happen.
“There were setbacks and it is a difficult time to raise the level of funding required to complete a deal of this complexity. But looking at this vessel this morning, we can all be proud.
“This is a morning for the people. It is not about me or the committee, it is about the individual shareholders – the dock worker who took a share, the guy with the post office in Castletownbere who took a share, the three shareholders on Cape Clear.
“Those are the people I am proud of this morning. It’s the people’s ship. That’s why she’s going to be a success.
“People feel ownership and everybody’s going to want a part of this.”
The co-op sold 260 shares at €10,000 each across Cork and Kerry and raised €2.6 million.
Several shares were also sold in Wales.
A further €400,000 has been pledged.
Bord Fáilte and Cork County Council will provide a €500,000 marketing budget over the next three years.
The co-op then went looking for a ship.
The vessel was sailing between Helsinki and St Petersburg when its owners, Stella Line, collapsed.
The vessel then became available as part of a liquidation process.
The co-op agreed last September to buy the ship – valued two years ago at €15 million – for a bargain €7.8m but several months of delicate and complex negotiations followed. The co-op finally closed the deal last week acquiring a €6.3m mortgage from Aktia Bank in Finland which cleared the way for the ship to sail from the Finnish port of Kotka to Cork.
Under Captain Hans Soderholm, it departed Kotka and stopped off at Swansea for berthing trials, before sailing in to the city yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Fastnet Line announced former Choice Hotels executive, Tom Barrett, 42, as its new chief executive officer.
He will spearhead a new investment drive targeting the corporate sector, to acquire a further €2.5m in secured bonds.
“There is a pent up demand from people in the UK to holiday in Ireland, and to get here in a relaxing and efficient way,” he said.
“The Fastnet Line can do that again. This is a huge opportunity.
“It will benefit the whole south-west at a particularly difficult time for the economy and tourist industry. This ship can benefit everyone because the money spent by its passengers will trickle down.”
Recruitment for the ship’s crew is set to begin in the coming months.
The Julia will remain docked at Horgan’s Quay until next March.