Brittany Ferries is the trading name of Bretagne Angleterre Irlande SA (BAI), a French passenger shipping company that operates a fleet of ferries and cruise ferries between France, the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Spain, and directly between the United Kingdom and Spain. Brittany Ferries is the leading maritime carrier across the Bay of Biscay, Western Channel and Central Channel and remains the leading employer of French sailors.
Bretagne Angleterre Irlande SA (BAI) was founded in 1972 by Alexis Gourvennec and a group of his fellow Breton farmers. The company’s primary aim at that time was to exploit business opportunities by exporting their cauliflowers and artichokes directly to markets in the United Kingdom following its entry into the Common Market (forerunner to the EU).
Alexis Gourvennec lobbied for improvements to Brittany’s infrastructure, including better roads, telephone networks, education and port access. By 1972 he had successfully secured funding and work to develop a deep-water port at Roscoff. Monsieur Gourvennec initially had no desire to run a ferry service himself, but all existing shipping operators who were approached showed little appetite to develop the opportunity, therefore he and his fellow farmers purchased their own RoRo freighter and named it ‘Kerisnel‘, after a small Breton village famous for its cauliflowers. It’s worth mentioning that the Breton farming groups who founded the company remain as the main shareholders to this very day.
The company began freight sailings on the 2nd January 1973 between Roscoff in Brittany and Plymouth in the South West of England. The company name of Brittany Ferries was adopted in 1974 with the start of passenger sailings between Roscoff and Plymouth. In 1976 the company opened a second route between St Malo and Portsmouth. The expansion of the business continued in 1978 by the opening of two new routes. These were between Cork in Ireland and Roscoff and a new direct route from Plymouth to the Spanish port of Santander. In 2018 the company celebrated 40 years of Brittany Ferries sailings to Spain.
In 1985 Brittany Ferries joined up with Jersey-based Huelin-Renouf and Mainland Market Deliveries (MMD) to create British Channel Island Ferries (BCIF) with a 27% shareholding. The company operated routes from Poole, Weymouth, Portsmouth to the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. In January 1994 it was announced that British Channel Island Ferries had been purchased by Commodore Shipping.
In 1985 Brittany Ferries purchased 100% of the shareholding in Truckline and acquired two vessels plus the freight only route between Cherbourg and Poole. The Truckline brand was retained for the groups freight operations until it was absorbed into the main Brittany Ferries brand in 1998.
On the 6th June 1986 the company launched a new route between Caen (Ouistreham) and Portsmouth. The launch date of the new service was a deliberate choice, coinciding with the anniversary of the D-Day landings in 1944. Forty-two years after the landings the legendary D-Day veteran Bill Millin was onboard the “Duc de Normandie” as it made the crossing to Caen. The piper, who had played his bagpipes on Sword Beach during the early stages of the crucial invasion, was first to step off the ferry on the new service from Portsmouth.
The route was an overnight success and since 1986 the route from Portsmouth to Caen has become the most popular service offered by Brittany Ferries. It regularly carries more than a million passengers every year between the two cities, which represents 38% of all those who travel with the ferry company each year on all of its routes. In June 2016 the route celebrated 30 years of continuous operations.
On the 9th March 2020 it was announced that Condor Ferries had been sold to a consortium. Columbia Threadneedle European Sustainable Infrastructure Fund (ESIF) and Brittany Ferries (BAI) reached an agreement with Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA) for the acquisition of 100 percent of Condor Ferries. Condor Ferries is an operator of lifeline freight and passenger ferry services. Each year, Condor Ferries carries approximately 1 million passengers, 200,000 passenger vehicles, and over 900,000 freight lane meters between Guernsey, Jersey, the United Kingdom, and the Port of St Malo in France.
From late March 2020, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the company was forced to cancel all passenger sailings until the 15 May 2020 after government advice was issued against all non essential travel. The company confirmed a limited return to scheduled passenger services during the summer in June 2020. However, in August 2020, the British government announced quarantine restrictions on British citizens returning from France which effectively scuppered the Summer season. The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the suspension of the Portsmouth – Le Havre, Portsmouth – St Malo and Poole-Cherbourg routes until Spring of 2021 at the earliest.