P&O Ferries has moved to allay fears that the Larne to Troon route may be in jeopardy, after it emerged the Express service is to be scrapped.
The company confirmed it is not renewing the hire of its Express ship, billed as the fastest way to cross the Irish Sea.
The owners of the vessel have been given notice that P&O will not extend the existing charter arrangements of the craft for 2016.
And the company has revealed it is now in the market for a replacement ship to take over from the 300ft, wave piercing catamaran, which has been chartered to P&O for the past 15 years.
A spokesperson said: “This is a ship decision, not a route decision. We are currently seeking an alternative vessel for the Larne to Troon route for 2016.
“As a business, P&O Ferries continually monitors and reviews its fleet to ensure it provides the best vessel for a given route. Since chartering the Express in 2000, the economics of operating this fast craft have changed and we are now looking for the best vessel to service the route.”
The Times asked P&O if there has been a decline in passenger numbers on the route in recent years, but the company insisted that demand for the fast craft service “remains good”.
The spokesperson added: “Carryings last year were virtually identical to the year before, but the economic climate remains challenging.
“We continue to strive to provide an outstanding service to our customers and to grow our business in what continues to be a very competitive market.”
When asked what type of craft the company would be seeking to replace the Express, P&O stated: “In a highly competitive market, this is commercially sensitive.
“P&O Ferries is in the process of evaluating alternative tonnage for 2016 and we will update our staff and in turn our customers when we are in a position to do so.”