The Montoir‒Vigo Ro-Ro Service is 50 Years Old!

The Montoir‒Vigo Ro-Ro Service is 50 Years Old!

17 October 2023

2023 marks the fiftieth year of existence of the ro-ro shipping link between Montoir de Bretagne and Vigo. Nantes ‒ Saint Nazaire Port’s oldest shipping service, it was originally created to support the development of flows of component parts between the Citroën plants in Rennes, in Brittany, and Vigo, in Spain.

On 25th September 1973, the German car ferry Saaletal docked at the Quai des Grands Puits facility in the Penhoët dock basin, in Saint Nazaire. This call marked the start of a scheduled roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) service to Vigo, at the rate of two trips per week. The vessel took on board some ten semi-trailer loads of auto parts produced at Citroën’s Rennes plant, a refrigerated truck carrying a consignment of peas from England, and two trucks containing industrial parts manufactured in Strasbourg and destined for Portugal.

The Sales Directorate of the Autonomous Port Authority of Nantes ‒ Saint Nazaire had been campaigning to launch this service since 1969. Citroën’s Executive Management was seeking to develop the flows between the automotive plants in Rennes and Vigo. The logistical aspects formed a major obstacle to that deployment. At the time, the road networks were not as developed, trucks were far less powerful, and it was necessary to cross two mountain ranges (the Cantabrian Mountains and the Pyrenees). Also, Spain was not yet part of the European Union, only joining in 1986, and the formalities at the Irun/Hendaye border point added significantly to the transit time by road.

Construction of a Ro-Ro Berth at Montoir 

Two years after the service came on stream, 400 crossings were made, and 10 000 trucks or semi-trailers transported. The arrival of Suardiaz on 6th October 1976 increased the operating capacity and gave the maritime service a whole new dimension.

The volumes passing between the two plants grew rapidly, and the Saint Nazaire facility soon became too small. As part of the French Government’s revitalization plan following the oil crisis, the decision was made to build a ro-ro berth at Montoir de Bretagne, to support the service and activity at the two plants, going forward. The new berth began operating in 1977.

The service developed progressively, and came to occupy a strategic position as a logistical support for the Peugeot Citroën Group. The traffic types diversified over the course of time. The service opened up to other sectors of activity, notably consignments of slate. At the start of the 1990s, the commercial success of the Xantia model in Spain drove the take-up rate and justified the commissioning of a second berth. That period also coincided with the effort to reinforce the presence of Gefco, the PSA Group’s transport subsidiary, at Montoir de Bretagne.

"Motorway of the Sea" Certification in 2015

Following an interruption lasting a few years, during which the service was operated by the CMHF shipping line, Suardiaz took over its operation in 2013. In the interim, Renault had incorporated the Montoir de Bretagne call in its logistics plan for the transportation of cars manufactured in Turkey. Two years later, in 2015, the Montoir-Vigo service was awarded "Motorway of the Sea" certification by the European Union, with a view to speeding up energy transition and to permitting the Montoir and Vigo ro-ro terminals to strengthen their port call reception capability.

In 2017, the Montoir-Vigo maritime motorway service opened a new connection to Tangiers, tying in with the location of factories operated by Renault and PSA (now known as Stellantis) within the free zone of the Port of Tangiers. This new call notably offered the Scania plant in Angers a direct maritime solution for exports to the Moroccan market. In 2023, a new solution offering an alternative to road haulage has been put in place for the exportation of vehicles produced at the Stellantis plant in Rennes. Somaloir and Nantes ‒ Saint Nazaire Port are helping to establish a scheduled link between Montoir de Bretagne and Turkey.

The success of the service over all these years is based primarily on the relationships of trust that exist between the different players (Gefco, Suardiaz, Somaloir, Manocéan and MSO, Somaloir subsidiary companies specializing in cargo handling), on the strength of the relationship with both Port Authorities, and on the quality of the facilities.