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A couple of weeks ago Ventouris Ferries’ Seatrade departed for scrapping, under the name Sea Project. The ship, originally delivered in 1973, had operated for the Greek company on the Igoumenitsa-Bari route for the past three years, before which she enjoyed a 35-year north European career. For the first 16 years she traded on Sweden-Germany routes, initially as a train ferry, before a sale to Stena Line in 1989 preceded nearly two decades of UK service, as a freighter on the North and Irish Seas.
Shortly before the end I joined the Seatrade for a heavily-laden crossing to Italy. Ventouris Ferries are a peculiar operation who for several years had operated a pair of former DFDS ro-paxes on the Bari route in the Siren (ex-Dana Gloria, 1976) and her lengthened sister Polaris (ex-Dana Futura, 1975). The arrival of the Seatrade for 2009 displaced the Siren, which went for scrap in 2010; the Polaris followed in early 2011. This left the Seatrade, the eldest and, from a passenger perspective, by some distance the least agreeable of the trio and for the summer of 2011 she was paired with the chartered Olympus (ex-Ropax 2).
The realities of the Ventouris Ferries business on the Igoumenitsa route are clear from these moves – this is a company which is predominantly focussed on freight and the passenger market they most enjoy is “camping on board” in which passengers drive their camper vans aboard and, for the most part, stay there. Freight drivers are, of course, welcome but there doesn’t seem to be much desire to cater for motorists, less still foot passengers, and the company website reflects this, barely mentioning the Bari-Igoumenitsa route and instead being almost totally dedicated to the more mainstream Bari-Durres (Albania) operation.
At peak season, and with the limited space aboard the Seatrade, it proved rather difficult to find tickets for her on our crossing but we managed to secure a pair of places on deck. Having observed the ship’s arrival at Igoumenitsa from Bari in the morning we sailed over to Corfu for the day, returning to embark a couple of hours before the scheduled departure time at which point the loading of freight was already in full swing. The difficulties of squeezing a near-full load of freight and camper vans onto the ship were demonstrated by the prolonged period over which this process took – having commenced at around 5pm the ship did not depart until past 10pm, over an hour late.
Below are some pictures from one of the more memorable crossings of 2011.
Link: Stena Seatrader, 1995 profile deckplan
The Seatrade, arriving from Bari in the morning, reverses onto her berth in Igoumenitsa.
The offices of Milano Travel, Ventouris Ferries' local agents, where they display a fine selection of images of scrapped Ventouris ships in the Polaris, Athens and Siren.
Boarding the Seatrade over the main vehicle deck with the base of the railway lines still clearly visible. Until very late in the ship's Stena ownership the rails remained intact, with wooden boarding surrounding them - they were removed in 2007.
Embarking foot passengers ascended all the way to the top freight deck to the former aft docking bridge...
... latterly in use as a reclining seat lounge.
Seen from the Seatrade is Igoumenitsa's international ferry terminal.
Some lorries were also squeezed in up here...
In a bid to increase the ship's passenger capacity, a pair of charming 'lounges' were added on former open deck space, just aft of the bridge wings - here is the starboard side version.
The recesses beneath the lifeboats provided a small area of traditional outside deck space.
Aft of the saloons on decks 7 and 8 were a variety of cabins, many of which had been spruced up by Stena in the ship's 2007 refit.
At some stage the ship lost her small sauna, which is seen here in late 2006, before both the final Stena and Ventouris refits.
Forward on Deck 8 was the former cafeteria, complete to the end with its Stena 'Truckers Lounge' identity.
Truckers Lounge bar counter; out of picture to the right is the small, enclosed, cafeteria servery area.
Another view, looking across from the starboard side.
The deck below, Deck 7, featured this lower lounge.
Ventouris installed this small additional lounge, complete with bar and reception desk, aft of the forward saloon on Deck 7.
Time to head below decks...
The cabins on Deck 2 were used until very near the end in the Stena days but, with Ventouris, they were abandoned and derelict.
Moving back up a deck, Deck 3 was the main freight deck.
This still bore many clear signs that the ship had once been a train ferry.
Deck 3 - looking aft from adjacent to the centre casing.
On board the ship during the Stena days, before the railway lines were properly removed.
Later in the crossing, this view shows the stern door closed with some of the tourist traffic collected in Corfu just in front.
The second freight deck, Deck 5.
In one part of this deck the charred deckhead appeared to indicate that, at some stage, there had been a lorry fire.
Returning to the top freight deck via the funnel casing.
Some interesting gas cylinders could be found here...
... test stamped March 1972.
Back on the top vehicle deck, with loading still progressing slowly.
Other, more mainstream, competitors came and went as we slowly squeezed our heavy load of freight on board.
Night fell and the bolted-on plastic seating areas turned a lovely shade of blue, a lighting choice more commonly associated with landlords trying to drive away drug addicts.
The engines are ramped up for departure and a huge plume of acrid smoke comes out of the old ship's funnel.
The ship's bell.
Sunrise the following morning - it comes as no surprise to learn we are running four hours late.
Those passengers who have spent the night wrapped up against the cold on the aft docking bridge wing wake to the first signs of another beautiful day.
Down on Deck 5 the difficulties in loading the ship are shown in just how tightly packed together the lorries are.
Time to get the camping stove out and cook breakfast...
Finally the great port of Bari is in sight; we are headed for the modern terminal used by the Greek ferries and cruise ships but on the berths at the older terminal are vessels on routes to Albania, Croatia and Montenegro. From left to right: Bari (ex-St Anselm), Riviera Adriatica (ex-Daedalus), Ionian Sky, Ankara and Sveti Stefan (ex-Cornouailles).
The Superfast II, deployed on the Patras-Igoumenitsa-Bari route, overtook us shortly after sunrise and is already fully unloaded by the time we approach our berth.
Embarkation of the Bari pilot.
Safely on the berth - four hours, forty minutes late.