There have been some significant new ships for Cross-Channel operators in the past decade, most notably the Seafrance Rodin and Berlioz on the short sea and the Mont St Michel and Pont-Aven in the Western Channel. Taking their place alongside these vessels, for established operators, came the three ships of the Maersk â€˜Dâ€™ class. Entering service in 2005/2006, the Maersks Dunkerque, Delft and Dover are remarkable partly because they were delivered to what was still in many peopleâ€™s minds an â€˜upstartâ€™ operator and partly because they were such a momentous upgrade from the existing ships.
Built by Samsung at Geoje in Korea with interiors by Steen Friis Hansen, the ships have generated significant extra traffic for Norfolkline, building on the success of the earlier Racehorse class. Certainly Norfolkline came into the market at the right time â€“ the Dover-Dunkerque operation was inaugurated with just one ship in March 2000 and with low expectations â€“ externally at least. A second ship was added in October of that year and the deployment of â€˜Dâ€™ class has enabled the expansion to continue apace. The fast growth of freight traffic through Dover in the late 1990s and past the turn of the century enabled a start-up with the right backing to gain a share of the market which, if small enough initially perhaps not to overly concern the established competition at a time of plenty, soon became a major rival. Aided by the new ships, Norfolkline’s passenger traffic has quadrupled since 2003, and freight has increased by over 75% from a base that was already fairly strong. Indeed, the growth of the market and of ship size generally in recent years is demonstrated by Norfolkline, with a tenth of the sailings, in 2008 carrying over 75% of the total freight traffic that P&O and Sealink between them carried to Calais in 1995.
The Samsung yard offered a very competitive quote to Maersk as part of their continuing efforts to gain entry into the ferry market following a tentative and somewhat uncertain start with Minoan Lineâ€™s three â€˜Prometheusâ€™ class fast ro-paxes, which never entirely proved satisfactory for their owners and were all fairly speedily disposed of. The Norfolkline ships were more carefully thought out at a concept level however (Minoan almost seemed to feel obliged to order just to keep up with their rivals) and have proven rather more successful, although question marks remain over the shipyardâ€™s ferry division which has not delivered a further ship since the Maersk Dover. A pair of large ro-ro vessels for Stena are on order however and the results of dealing with this particularly demanding buyer remain to be seen; as with Maersk however Stena has previous experience having worked with Samsung on non-ferry projects.
It is now nearly four years since the introduction of the Maersk Dunkerque and in the first of a series of fascinating pictures from behind the scenes at the shipyard in South Korea, reproduced here with grateful thanks to Stephen Mackenzie at Norfolkline, show the three ships under construction, from pre-fabricated blocks to recognisable ferries.
The second in the series of photographs, coming shortly, will cover the completion and handover of the Maersk Dunkerque.
With grateful thanks to Stephen Mackenzie at Norfolkline.