The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company has confirmed that it has carried out berthing tests at Larne Harbour, leading to speculation that the company is about to move its Northern Ireland base to the port.
The company vessel Ben-my-Chree sailed into the harbour to conduct the trials at the Chaine and Curran Quay in the early hours of 30 July 2017.
The move follows earlier berthing tests involving the Steam Packet Company catamaran Manannan at the end of March.
There are currently four regular passenger crossings between Douglas and Belfast each week, and Manx Radio in the Isle of Man reported last week that a new ferry route to Northern Ireland could begin in the near future if the berthing tests were successful.
The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company said that the berthing trial had been conducted to provide an alternative option in the event of operational difficulties in Belfast.
The company also said that there was no reason they could not operate alternate sailings from both ports.
However, sources within shipping circles are suggesting that it would make logistical sense to move all sailings given the small number each week.
There is speculation that the route might change to Larne by next year if the company is content with the potential arrangements and can reach an agreement with Larne Harbour.
Brendan O’Friel from passenger watchdog TravelWatch said in an interview on Manx Radio that while there might be a disadvantage to passengers if the journey was made longer by any new berthing arrangements, factors which would be significant would include the facilities at any new terminal.
“If the terminal is well marked, if it has good facilities, if this perhaps improves either the length of the journey or the reliability of the journey, passengers by and large would probably go with that,” he said.
The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company was founded in 1830 and is the oldest continuously operating passenger shipping company in the world.
The route from Douglas to Belfast currently takes an average of 2 hours and 45 minutes, something which could be reduced if the berth was at Larne.