Disruption to Irish Ferries schedules due to “technical issues” cost parent company Irish Continental Group €12.6 million last year.

The late delivery of new ferry W B Yeats also affected schedules in what was described as a “challenging year” compounded by rising fuel costs.

Overall group operating profits fell by €29 million or 32% to €60 million as passenger numbers fell by 8.9% to 1.5 million and car carryings by 7.4% to 392,700.

Group earnings [ebitda] dropped by 15.6% to €68.4 million, mainly attributed to technical difficulties with the ferry Ulysses, increased fuel prices and the delayed delivery of W B Yeats, which finally entered service on January 22.

However, the company contracted a second new cruise ferry at a cost of €165.2 million from the same German shipyard.

Scheduled for delivery in late 2020, the latest new-build is planned to replace Ulysses on peak sailings between Dublin and Holyhead.

Ferry division revenue dropped 7.5% year-on-year to €196.2 million with earnings down by 20.4% to €53.6 million.

The result came against the backdrop of an estimated fall in the total sea passenger market to and from Ireland of 2.9% to 3.04 million while the all-island market fell by 2.2%.

Addressing Brexit, the company said: “It remains unclear what the timing and manner of the proposed exit of the United Kingdom from the EU will be.

“In as much as is feasible we have engaged with our port operators and regulatory authorities to minimise the possibility of any port disruptions.

“It is the group’s view that over the longer term trade between Ireland and the United Kingdom will remain strong underpinned by cultural and commercial linkages.

“The group’s investment in vessels is designed to provide route planning flexibility to adapt its schedules to customer demand over the short and long term.”

Commenting on the annual results, chairman John McGuckian said: “2018 was a challenging year operationally but one in which significant progress was made in the strategic development of the group.

“Schedule disruptions due to technical issues on our vessel Ulysses and the late delivery of the W B Yeats combined to lower our profit performance over the prior year.

“Nevertheless, despite these operational difficulties during 2018 the markets in which we operate remained robust and our long term strategic plans for the future of our fleet remain intact, progressing well with the delivery of the W B Yeats.

“Whilst mindful of the uncertainty created by the proposed exit of the UK from the EU, trading in the year to date is encouraging.”