Irish Ferries owner Irish Continental Group has reported higher revenues and earnings for 2021 after what it called another challenging year for the group, with a continuation of travel restrictions due to Covid-19.

ICG said its revenues for the year to December rose by 20.7% to €334.5m from €277.1m in 2020.

It also reported a loss before tax of €4.1m, which marked an improvement on the loss of €18m reported in 2020.

The company's EBITDA rose by 24.2% to €52.3m from €42.1m in 2020 mainly due to increased revenues and a continued focus on cost optimisation.

ICG said the number of cars it carried on its ferries last year jumped by 48.5%, while passenger numbers rose by 28.7% and RoRo freight units decreased by 13.6%.

During the year, ICG started the new Irish Ferries' services on the Dover-Calais route. The new route started in June with the deployment of the Isle of Inishmore.

ICG said the route was further boosted with the introduction of the Isle of Innisfree onto the route on the 16 December 2021.

It also bought a third ship for the route to be named the Isle of Inisheer, which is expected to enter service onto the route in the first half of 2022.

"The introduction of a third ship onto the route for Irish Ferries will strengthen our position on the route and ensure we are a viable alternative to the incumbent operators," it said.

ICG said that revenue in its ferries division rose by 24.1% to €175.5m from €141.4m in 2020.

It noted that revenue in the first half of the year increased by 2.1% to €62.9m, while in the second half it increased by 41.1% to €112.6m.

Fuel costs were €43m, an increase of €10.2m on the previous year.

Irish Ferries operated a total of 6,331 sailings last year, up from 4,501 in 2020, with the increase due to the reintroduction of the fastcraft Dublin Swift and sailings on the new Irish Ferries' Dover-Calais service.

But ICG noted that the RoRo freight market between the Republic of Ireland, and the UK and France, fell last year.

The total number of trucks and trailers was down 10.1%, to approximately 926,200 units, mainly due to the non-implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol, which resulted in reduced checks on goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Britain.

On an all-island basis, ICG said the market decreased by about 0.9% to 1.83 million units, which it said clearly showed the distortion in the level playing field between goods arriving into Northern Ireland versus the Republic.

Irish Ferries said its carryings - including Dover-Calais - amounted to 290,000 freight units, a decrease of 13.6% in the year with volumes down 15.2% in the first half and down 12.3% in the second half.

Meanwhile, revenues its ICG's Container and Terminal Division grew by 18.8% to €174m from €146.5m in 2020.

Containers handled at its terminals in Dublin Ferryport Terminals (DFT) and Belfast Container Terminal (BCT) were up 14.7% at 335,500 lifts.

DFT's volumes were up 15%, while BCT's lifts were up 14% during the year.

The company said it was seeing a strong increase in volumes across the entire customer base, but the resultant increased revenues were partially offset by increased energy and labour costs.

Chairman John B McGuckian said that despite the challenges of Covid, 2021 was a year of significant progress for the group in particular with the commencement of Irish Ferries' services on the strategic Britain-Continental Europe short sea route between Dover and Calais.

"It has been a long-term objective of the Group to expand into this route and its commencement in 2021 is all the more impressive given the current difficulties in our market caused by the pandemic related travel restrictions," the ICG Chairman said.