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About Brittany Ferries
Founded in 1972 by proud Breton Alexis Gourvennec and a group of fellow Breton farmers wanting to export their cauliflowers and artichokes to the UK, Brittany Ferries is now the leading maritime carrier on the western and central Channel.
The company, originally known as Armement Bretagne-Angleterre-Irelande, or B.A.I. for short, was officially born on a bleak New Year's Day in 1973, with French, British and Breton flags flying and a choir singing carols. With Britain's entry into the Common Market in 1973, Gourvennec saw his chance to end the geographical isolation of Brittany.
Realising the quickest route to this new market would be across the western Channel to Plymouth, he contacted several large shipping companies to see if they would be interested in operating the route. These efforts were to no avail so he and his fellow farmers purchased their own freighter and named it 'Kerisnel', after a small Breton village famous for its cauliflowers. The Breton farming groups who founded the company remain its main shareholders to this day.
The 1970s were not without their problems, with two vessels running aground in St Malo's harbour, three vessels being plagued with engine problems, and trade union strikes and fishermen's disputes causing the closure of Roscoff's port on Cornouaille's maiden voyage, forcing her to return to Plymouth where she was used as a hotel for three days.
However, the 1970s also saw Brittany Ferries offering its first ferry-inclusive holidays and creating a thriving business by bringing fresh produce north and taking tourists south. Our Plymouth-Santander route inaugurated in 1978 was launched as the fastest sea route to Northern Spain, 14 hours quicker than our competitors.
Brittany Ferries grew in the 1980s with the acquisition of two shipping companies. We joined forces with Jersey-based Huelin-Renouf and MMD Shipping to create British Channel Island Ferries (BCIF) and we also bought the cargo service, Truckline, with its two vessels.
Our first ship to be awarded the AA 5-star award set sail in 1989, the purpose-built Bretagne, and Normandie also gained this award shortly after in 1992. The presence of Bretagne signified our commitment to providing high-quality ferry travel and also allowed for the expansion of our Spanish service.
In 1986 we opened our Portsmouth-Caen route to overnight success and by the end of the decade our total passenger figures surpassed 1 million for the first time.
By the end of the 1990s, a decade which saw three new ships enter our fleet - the purpose-built ships Barfleur and Normandie, together with Val de Loire, the largest ship ever to set sail from Ireland on the new Cork - Roscoff route. By 1999, Brittany Ferries had grown to operate six routes with a fleet of seven ships carrying 2.65 million passengers and 173,000 freight units a year.
Despite the end of duty-free shopping and the so-called booze cruise, together with the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1994, our carryings continued to increase with a rise of 15 per cent in 1996 alone.
We also had several special sailings in this time including one for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day Landings on which Normandie carried the largest contingent of military vehicles since the invasion itself on 6th June 1944. Brittany Ferries was the official sea carrier for the 1994 Tour de France and a special sailing took the competitors from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. We also launched our popular annual Christmas and New Year mini-cruises.
Four purpose-built ships joined our fleet during this decade: Mont St Michel for the Portsmouth-Caen route, our flagship Pont-Aven for services to Spain and Ireland, the freighter Cotentin for the Poole-Cherbourg and Poole-Santander routes, and Armorique for the Plymouth-Roscoff route. In 2004 we chartered the fast-craft Normandie Express which was later purchased.
2007 saw the sad demise of our founder, Alexis Gourvennec, but the spirit of his venture lives on with fellow Breton farmer Jean-Marc Roué taking on the mantle as president of the company. We still operate under the French flag and form an integral part of the tourism infrastructure of Western France.
Brittany Ferries' Spanish services are expanded with the addition of a route from Portsmouth to Bilbao.
Brittany Ferries marks its 40th anniversary whilst sailing to France and Spain from the United Kingdom with eight different vessels (including the returning Barfleur to operate once again between Poole and Cherbourg).
We were named 'Best Small Tour Operator to Western Europe' and 'Best Small Camping and Mobile Tour Operator' in the British Travel Awards and 'Best Ferry Operator' in the prestigious Telegraph Travel Awards 2013. In May, Normandie Express inaugurated a new route from Portsmouth to the Norman port of Le Havre - the furthest east the company has ever operated.
In June, Brittany Ferries had the honour of transporting around 500 D-Day veterans as they returned to Normandy to take part in the commemorations marking the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings.
Brittany Ferries embarks on an ambitious £60 million investment programme to fit scrubbers to ships to remove sulphur dioxide from exhaust gases.
Exhaust gas cleaning systems ("scrubbers") fitted to 3 cruise-ferries at a cost of £30 million. Baie de Seine joined the fleet to provide additional économie (no frills service) capacity to Le Havre and Bilbao.
Brittany Ferries celebrates 30 years of operations between Portsmouth and Caen, its most popular route. As a consequence of growing demand, the freight-only vessel, Pelican, is chartered to operate services from Poole to Bilbao.
In 2016, the company completes its £65 million investment in emission-reducing scrubber technology, with new funnel systems installed on Mont St Michel, Pont-Aven and Armorique.