The Port of Cork is to seek financial support from the EU for the first ferry service between Ireland and the north of Spain.
The Ro-Pax (freight and passenger) ferry service, with a journey time of 24 hours, would run between Cork and the northern Spanish city of Gijón around three times a week.
It would put Alicante and other resorts on Spain's Mediterranean coast within a day's drive of the port.
The Port of Cork is already in talks with several major ferry operators, including P&O Ferries
, Brittany Ferries
and Transfennica, about supplying such a service, which could be up and running by next March.
A joint submission from both ports will be sent later this month to the Irish Maritime Development Office (IMDO), the semi-state agency that advises the Department of Transport on ferry policy.
The Port of Cork commercial manager Michael McCarthy told Go that the proposed service is a "no-brainer" as far as the public are concerned and that it has attracted a great deal of interest from tourism concerns in both Ireland and Spain, along with the support of Cork Chamber of Commerce.
"It is further south, so we would have a nine-month holiday season. It would allow people who own homes in Spain or Portugal to pack up their cars and drive there," he said.
"There is huge demand from tourists for this. If you look at the specifics we have done on our Brittany Ferries
route between Cork and Roscoff, 70 per cent of them are going down to the Bordeaux area for good weather. They are travelling six to 10 hours in their cars and often with children."
However, he conceded that financial inducements will be needed to attract ferry companies, which are traditionally reluctant to commit to new routes because of the financial risks involved.
Both ports will hope to receive funding through the EU's Motorways of the Seas initiative, which was set up four years ago to get freight traffic off the roads and on to the seas, lessening road congestion and significantly reducing CO2 emissions.
He said the demand is also there from exporters. Trade between Ireland and Spain was worth E4 billion last year, most of it going by road via France and the UK.
"It needs a certain bedding-in period and it needs the confidence of the trucking and the export business that it is going to be there long-term.
"Our job is to convince the shipping lines to come on board. What they all say is that they want to do it, but they are not just ready yet. We're now ready to move it along," he said.
IMDO director Glenn Murphy said his organisation is, in principle, supportive of the proposal.
He says ferry-passenger traffic was up 10 per cent in the first quarter of the year on all routes out of Ireland, confirming a trend that began last year.
"It is indicating that people are looking to change how they make their transport choices," he said.
He also said that the rising cost of fuel, congestion on European roads and penal levels of tolls in France made the proposition more economically viable than it has been in the past.