Posts tagged: rosalia

Mediterranean Massacre – Part Two

After the recent cull of Southern Europe’s elderly ferry fleet, which ships will be next? There remain plenty of veterans out there, and the list below is a bit of idle speculation. Quite a few vessels are now laid up mainly because they have recently finished seasonal service rather than anything more sinister. A couple, like the little Don Peppino in the Bay of Naples (ex-Malmø, 1964) and Jadrolinija’s Porozina (ex-Esefjord, 1971) have seen service this year after previous bouts of inactivity left them looking doomed, so nothing is certain. Particularly for the Croatian ships, domestic service under local, less strict, safety rules might be a solution once a vessel can no longer be used on international services – this may prove a valuable factor for Jadrolinija’s little Liburnija. Sadly however, it is likely that several of the ships listed below may be gone within the next twelve months.

The Ancona and Split 1700 at Split.

The Ancona and Split 1700 at Split.

Two ships which have been sold for scrap since the original instalment are the Ancona and the Split 1700. Between them they helped to make Blue Line the dominant operator from Split to Ancona, in the process seeing off the Italian state operator Adriatica whilst the Croatian equivalent, Jadrolinija, operating their Dubrovnik, are outclassed. However it was always clear that 2010 would be the end for the 1966-built pair – indeed, the Split 1700 had been laid up throughout the Summer since the company acquired better and larger tonnage. The only question was whether anyone would be able to preserve the Ancona but, perhaps not surprisingly, the answer was no and the pair have been sold to Indian breakers.

The Ancona.

The Ancona.

Boughaz and Banasa at Algeciras.

Boughaz and Banasa at Algeciras.

Starting in the West, on the routes to Morocco the situation is fairly critical in terms purely of age with a whole host of ships nearing or over 30 years in age – the Al Mansour (ex-Stena Nordica, Reine Astrid), Atlas (ex-Gelting Syd), Banasa (ex-Mette Mols), Berkane (ex-Napoleon), Biladi (ex-Liberté), Bni Nsar (ex-Ferry Akashi, Dame M), Boughaz (ex-Viking 5), Ibn Batouta (ex-St Christopher), Le Rif (ex-Galloway Princess), Mistral Express (ex-Esterel) and Wisteria (ex-Prinses Beatrix, Duc de Normandie). TransEuropa Ferries’ Eurovoyager is also presently in the area.

Quite what to expect here is difficult to say – other than the Eurovoyager most of the above named are in regular service. There have been a couple of casualties from the area in 2010 already in the Sara 1 and Euroferrys Atlantica but with a reportedly disappointing Summer perhaps there is scope for some further cutbacks. The most likely vessel perhaps, other than the Eurovoyager, might be the oldest – COMANAV’s Bni Nsar has created a notably negative public reputation but has, however, remained in service beyond 30 September.

The Habib.

The Habib.

Tunisia’s 1970s ship of state, the Habib, is a lovely 1970s veteran – sort of an Africanised, originally two-class-version of TT Lines’ Peter Pan and Nils Holgersson of 1974/75. With the new Hanibal due for delivery in 2012, if the Habib is compliant with the safety requirements of the so-called ‘Stockholm Agreement’ one would expect her to return for one final fling in 2011 – but crew members were adamant 2010 was her final season when we sailed on the ship in June.

Sardinia Regina and Moby Vincent at Bastia.

Sardinia Regina and Moby Vincent at Bastia.

Both Sardinia Ferries and Moby on their longer passenger routes have a collection of 1970s-built ships matched with vessels from the past decade – and not too much in between. Moby’s Drea, Otta, Vincent, Fantasy and Corse are all vital parts of the network and one cannot imagine them being replaced in the near future – the Fantasy continually punches above her weight on the Olbia-Civitavecchia route and is perhaps the weakest of the classic ferries. The Moby Vincent (ex-Stena Normandica, St Brendan) is the oldest but both Moby and their yellow-hulled rivals seem content to each employ one of these Rickmers-built ferries as their regular ships on the Livorno-Bastia route. If one or other was replaced with something new I can imagine the rival operator would respond pretty quickly – but who will blink first?

Both Moby and Corsica Ferries have been able to add capacity seemingly at will in recent years, and the latter’s elderly ladies seem equally secure – for now. The Sardinia Vera and sister Corsica Marina Seconda, the Sardinia Regina and sister Corsica Victoria plus the Corsica Serena Seconda all appear in the Summer 2011 timetables.

The Moby Baby at Portoferraio.

The Moby Baby at Portoferraio.

Moby’s five Babies on the Elban routes have an average age of 37 years and recently the company made statements about ordering six new ships to replace them, together with the Bastia on the Santa Teresa-Bonifacio run. Nothing firm has happened on that front yet – so these classics look set to continue for some time to come. The 1966-built Moby Baby (ex-Svea Drott, Earl Godwin) is the now surely the oldest ship operating for anything like a mainstream multi-route operator in the EU (save maybe for Balearia’s Arlequin Rojo) but the even smaller Moby Ale (ex-Mikkel Mols, 1969) would seem likely to be the first to go if Moby were to have a cull. For now that doesn’t seem likely as all five ships are hard-pressed on the busy Summer Saturdays.

The Primrose at Piombino.

The Primrose at Piombino.

Upstarts Blunavy made an entry onto the Piombino-Portoferraio route in 2010 and, after an apparently relatively successful season, claim they are looking for a different ship to the Primrose (ex-Princesse Marie Christine). Something with a better air conditioning system might be a good idea. The sweaty, beaten-up old Primrose has to be high on the list of likely ships to head straight for scrap from here.

The Don Peppino at Pozzuoli.

The Don Peppino at Pozzuoli.

One elderly ex-Moby ship which has thus far evaded the scrappers is the Don Peppino of Gestur. Originally the Malmø of 1964, she spent 24 years with Moby as the Citta di Piombino but was subsequently laid up for a period in Naples. Reactivated in 2008 she is a sweet little thing but can’t have too many years left now. There remain several other interesting ships laid up in Naples but the largest two – the Medmar overnight pair Donatella D’Abundo and Giulia D’Abundo – have now both gone for scrap.

The SNAV Sicilia at Palermo.

The SNAV Sicilia at Palermo.

The most disappointing departures from Italian domestic service after 30 September were SNAV’s ex-North Sea Ferries pair SNAV Campania and Sicilia (ex-Norland and Norstar). Originally rumoured to have been sold for scrap, they are now both at anchor off Jeddah awaiting use, presumably as pilgrim ships for the Hajj in November, after which their futures remain unclear.

The Iginia and Rosalia at Messina.

The Iginia and Rosalia at Messina.

After the Sibari (1970) went for scrap last year, question marks hung over the remaining two classic train ferries on BluVia’s Messina-Villa San Giovanni route, the Iginia (1969) and Rosalia (1973). I travelled with the Rosalia in early September and she has clearly had a little bit of cash spent on her recently (although still retaining the faded glory look of all the ships on this route). Meanwhile the Iginia was to be found having some attention in dry dock in Messina so on this basis they seem secure for now. However the Logudoro, half-sister to the route’s more modern pair, the Villa and Scilla, remains laid up in Naples – if BluVia ever get around to instating her in Sicilian traffic, the lovely Iginia could be doomed.

The Domiziana off Naples.

The Domiziana off Naples.

Just as the future of Tirrenia is unclear, so it is for their oldest ship, the Domiziana. A (relatively) unrebuilt member of the Strade Romana class she has been moved to the Southern Italian port of Crotone for disposal – scrap must be a real option although I would still bet on her being acquired by another operator looking for replacement tonnage.

To the East of Italy the number of elderly ships under threat grows exponentially, first but not least with Jadrolinija. The Croatian national operator has, since the disposal of the Ivan Zajc in 2009, been reduced to four ships capable of realistic use on the coastal and international services. This has meant the Zadar operating Zadar-Ancona, the Dubrovnik on Split-Ancona, the Marko Polo the coastal service, Rijaka-Split-Stari Grad-Korcula-Dubrovnik and on to Bari in Italy, with the little Liburnija operating Korcula-Dubrovnik-Bari.

The Marko Polo will be upgraded over the Winter to meet the new safety requirements but it seems inevitable that the Liburnija will henceforth be restricted to domestic use – if anything. She was Jadrolinija’s first car ferry of any real size and ever since her introduction in 1965 has been lovingly looked after. Now quite antiquated one can only wonder if she will return in 2011 and, if so, what route a ship with cabin accommodation would be suitable for if not the coastal/international lines.

The Liburnija at Korcula.

The Liburnija at Korcula.

The Vis leaving Vela Luca.

The Vis leaving Vela Luca.

Of the other Jadrolinija ships in service in 2010 the most interesting threatened vessel is the 1965-built Vis, originally the Sydfyn. She has been with Jadrolinija for 34 years now but the feeling amongst her crew was that this was her final year. Aliaga awaits.

Jadrolinija's reserve fleet - Cres 2008.

Jadrolinija's reserve fleet - Cres 2008.

Whereas a couple of Jadrolinija ships have headed for scrap the majority of the coastal fleet, once no longer wanted, appear to be sent to lay up in various parts of the country. For example the onetime Red Funnel pair Lovrjenac (ex-Norris Castle) and Nehaj (ex-Cowes Castle) have been mouldering in Cres and Mali Losinj respectively for several years now. The picture above shows Cres in August 2008 with the Nehaj, Porozina (ex-Esefjord) and Bozava visible and, beyond, the Ero, Ozalj and Zigljen. The Porozina has since seen further service but the future of the remainder looks bleak, with the Bozava reportedly already gone.

The Postira arriving at Dubrovnik, with the Thomson Spirit beyond.

The Postira arriving at Dubrovnik, with the Thomson Spirit beyond.

If the fate of many of Jadrolinija’s old car ferries is uncertain, what then of the four remaining classic passenger ships? The Postira, Premuda, Ozalj and Tijat all still had niche roles in various parts of the country in 2010 but there are grumblings in some areas about the service offered. Many of these ship’s sisters and contemporaries have found their way into static use so one would expect the same might apply when the service careers of these veterans finally come to an end.

The Sveti Stefan and Sveti Stefan II at Bar.

The Sveti Stefan and Sveti Stefan II at Bar.

The Montenegro Lines fleet is in varying states of disrepair. To all intents and purposes they are the only passenger sea line into the country so doubtless will carry on – but it would be nice if they could do something about the state of their ships, the Sveti Stefan II in particular. After seemingly disappearing for all of October, the latter ship returns to service at the start of November and is timetabled through to the end of the year. But what about her little red-hulled counterpart?

The Azzurra at Bari.

The Azzurra at Bari.

One doesn’t know what the Azzurra of Azzurra Line is up to at the best of times so perhaps the most recent AIS signal from the 1964-built ex-Grenaa shouldn’t be a surprise – she is not laid up near her normal Bari-based Adriatic home but is instead at Tasucu in Turkey, having previously paid a call into in Northern Cyprus. Has she entered service on the Tasucu-Gazimagusa route?!

The Arberia at Bari.

The Arberia at Bari.

With her fleetmates all gone for scrap, the Arberia (ex-Bore Star, Orient Express, Wasa Queen) of Halkydon Shipping, for now, ploughs on alone between Bari and Durres in Albania. If Halkydon do complete their withdrawal from the passenger shipping business, this ferry will have to find new owners – going for scrap seems unlikely but in the current climate anything is possible. Perhaps Mr Munk of Sunlink Ferries will finally get his ship?

The Santa Maria I and Rigel at Bari.

The Santa Maria I and Rigel at Bari.

G Lines’ Santa Maria I (ex-Sansovino) seems to have found little success since first being tried on the competitive Bari-Durres service in 2008. Beset by machinery problems in her inital seasons, she has now retired once again to Drapetsona – will she ever see proper service again?

Alongside her in the picture above is Ventouris Ferries’ Rigel (ex-Bore I). This ship and her three quite elderly Adriatic fleetmates (average age – 35) seem set to continue to operate – the Polaris is presently having a not insignificant refit with her place, for now, being taken by Agoudimos’ Ionian King.

The Veronica Line and Red Star I together at Brindisi.

The Veronica Line and Red Star I together at Brindisi.

Brindisi and the Southern Albanian port of Vlore have been the last operational ports of call for a number of notable ferries, from Thoresen’s Viking I, through SNCF’s Transcontainer I to Sessan’s 1965-built Prinsessan Desirée. The route has in recent years been home to three further veterans, the Viking I’s sister, the Viking III of 1965 (now Red Star I), her ex-Townsend Thoresen fleetmate Free Enterprise V (1970, now Veronica Line) and Agoudimos’s sprightly youngster the Ionian Spirit (ex-Viking 3, Roslagen (1972)).

The Veronica Line has again gone into hibernation for the Winter but the Red Star I and Ionian Spirit continue to sail. Whilst this route has a history of sudden disappearances the latter two seem quite secure for now. The Veronica Line may be a casualty of the Stockholm Agreement but there is every chance we won’t know about it until she fails to reappear for 2011.

The Penelope at Igoumenitsa.

The Penelope at Igoumenitsa.

Now laid up in Igoumenitsa the Penelope (ex-European Gateway) appears simply to be bedding down for the Winter rather than anything else and there seems every likelihood this unusual ship will return for 2011.

The Theofilos in white NEL livery at Piraeus, 2007.

The Theofilos in white NEL livery at Piraeus, 2007.

One of the most popular Greek ferries is the evergreen Theofilos of NEL Lines, which has sailed through the September SOLAS deadline and continues on an interesting Northern Aegean itinerary. The future is, however, cloudy for the former Nils Holgersson (1975) and one can only hope she will live to see another Greek Summer.

The Ierapetra L approaching Piraeus.

The Ierapetra L approaching Piraeus.

ANEK Lines have a series of ex-Japanese overnight ferries which are more than 30 years old deployed in domestic service: the Ierapetra L, Kriti I, Kriti II, Lissos, Lato and Prevelis. Although the Lissos is engaged in heavy competition with NEL on the route up to Chios and Mytilene, far from ANEK’s usual base, the remainder are in use on core or subsidised services and there is no imminent prospect of replacement. For now the elderly ANEKs seem safe.

The Rodanthi and Romilda laid up in Piraeus (with the Lissos visible beyond)

The Rodanthi and Romilda laid up in Piraeus (with the Lissos visible beyond)

Not such a happy future awaits the laid-up fleets of GA Ferries and SAOS. GA’s abandoned ships still dominate the Great Harbour in Piraeus whilst SAOS’s, including ex-British pair the Samothraki (Viking Voyager) and Panagia Soumela (Lady of Mann), are concentrated in Alexandropoulis in an increasingly decrepit state. It seems likely that the majority of these will head straight for scrap once the financial wrangling is finally concluded.

The Samothraki leaving Chios in 2007.

The Samothraki leaving Chios in 2007.

The Duchess M at Bari in August 2008.

The Duchess M at Bari in August 2008.

There are also dozens of ships laid up in the shipyards around Piraeus – many of which will never see service again. One such is the Duchess M of Marlines, originally the Wanaka and later Brittany Ferries’ Breizh-Izel. The final season of the final ship of the once glorious Marlines was 2008 and she has been laid up in Elefsis ever since. A one-way journey to the scrapyard is the only realistic result for this ship and so many of the others, including the Okeanis (ex-Free Enterprise) and the Alkyon (ex-Gotlandia).

The Express Santorini (ex-Chartres) and the Scotia Prince (ex-Stena Olympica, top picture) have also arrived in the area recently – they are both now at Drapetsona. The former ship is scheduled to carry out relief sailings through the Winter and a further Summer on charter in the Azores apparently awaits in 2011. For the Scotia Prince the future has to be less certain – she had a heavy refit before the 2010 season which she spent on charter to Marmara Lines for service between Italy and Turkey. It would be great news if this was repeated, but will Marmara Lines be back for 2011?

The Superferry II off Andros.

The Superferry II off Andros.

Although Blue Star Ferries have spent the money to repair her following her coming together with a pier in Tinos, the Superferry II is under threat from the new ships, Blue Star Delos and Blue Star Patmos, currently being built in Korea. The subsequent reshuffle of ships upon their delivery in will almost certainly see the end of the former Prince Laurent.

The Agios Georgios at Sifnos.

The Agios Georgios at Sifnos.

Lastly, are Ventouris Sea Lines’ Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist) and Agoudimos Lines’ Penelope A (ex-Horsa) under threat? Not just yet it seems and both have a Winter of Greek domestic sailing ahead of them.

Last of the classic train ferries: A round trip with the Rosalia

The Rosalia at Messina

The Rosalia at Messina

In Northern Europe the train ferry is under threat. The scene surveyed by P. Ransome-Wallis in his masterful book Train Ferries of Western Europe at the end of the 1960s has been decimated by apathy and fixed links. Several remain, but even the best of these, the Puttgarden-Rødby link, is threatened by the proposed Fehmarn Belt bridge.

Whilst freight and day trains served as the bread and butter for most train ferries, the real glamour came with the overnight trains which were shunted on board. The most famed of these was perhaps the London-Paris Night Ferry (terminated 1980, well before the opening Channel Tunnel) but there were several others, including sections of the ‘Nord Express’ which allowed passengers to go from Paris as far as Oslo, and the Stockholm-Rome ‘Skandinavien-Italien Express’ which used the Malmo-Copenhagen (Frihavn) and Korsør-Nyborg ferries. Today, few glimpses of these former glories remain, as cheaper air travel and faster trains have undermined demand for such services; however remnants can be seen in, for example, the Malmö-Berlin ‘Berlin Night Express’ which travels via the Scandlines service between Sassnitz and Trelleborg.

The London-Paris/Brussels 'Night Ferry' being loaded onto the Vortigern in Dover

The London-Paris/Brussels 'Night Ferry' being loaded onto the Vortigern in Dover

In Southern Europe, the train ferry scene has always been rather more limited. Some of the Spanish Trasmed’s early car ferries also had capacity for rail traffic, but that has been pretty much the extent of operations outside Italy. Within the latter country however, the train ferry remains and forms a part of everyday life across the Straits of Messina. Lengthy overnight trains, such as the Venice-Palermo/Syracuse ‘Freccia della Laguna’ or the Rome-Palermo/Syracuse ‘Il Gattopardo’ continue to use the Villa San Giovanni-Messina train ferries as do plenty of other passenger trains through the course of the day.

Transport across the Strait of Messina is provided by one of a fleet of five train ferries, all run by Bluvia, the ferry division of the Ferrovie dello Stato (FS), the Italian State railway. Three of the ships are absolute classics dating from the late 1960s/early 1970s in the Iginia, Sibari and Rosalia, and they run together with the more recent (1980s), and rather less well resolved Scilla and Villa. The train ferries are also available to foot passengers (at a cost of 1 Euro per crossing) and have a dedicated car deck above the train deck; that said, most vehicles and their passengers travel with the conventional ferries provided by both Bluvia and their compeititors, principally the long-established Caronte & Tourist.

In July 2008, with the cloud of the on/off Straits of Messina bridge hanging over the service, we paid a return visit to sail once again on the three classic train ferries, perhaps for the final time. Although the bridge project had been abandoned in 2006, Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi had since announced his commitment to re-starting work on the link. Starting in Palermo, fresh from an overnight crossing from Naples on the SNAV Campania (ex-Norstar) we set out on the Palermo-Rome ‘Peloritano’. Taking no less than twelve hours to make the complete journey (and, with accumulated delays, frequently more) this is no longer the appealing prospect it may have been in earlier years. Palermo to Messina across Sicily alone takes over three hours and at Messina Centrale we were shunted together with the half of the train coming from the Southern Sicilian city of Syracuse. A hold up to either part, of course, delays the whole but on this occasion all went well and it was the inbound train which seemed to hinder us slightly. We watched as the ‘Freccia della Laguna’ was hauled past us off our still unidentified ferry before, finally, our voyage resumed and we were hauled out of Messina Centrale, through, without stopping, at Messina Marittima station, and onto the ferry.

At Messina Centrale, waiting to be loaded onto the ferry

At Messina Centrale, waiting to be loaded onto the ferry

The late running 'Freccia della Laguna' from Venice

The late running 'Freccia della Laguna' from Venice

Once on board, passengers are free to disembark the train and head above decks

Once on board, passengers are free to disembark the train and head above decks

The ship turned out to be the Rosalia, the last-built of the classic ships (dating from 1973) and a good indication of the state of the Bluevia train ferry fleet. Truth be told, whether due to inertia caused by the threatened fixed link or lack of will at a central level, the ships are slightly down at heel. In one sense, this has helped preserve them – lack of investment has meant they have simply never received a thorough refit. However it also casts a shadow over everything and local workers have in recent times gone out on strike at the neglect they feel their service gets from the centralised bureaucracy.

The Rosalia’s ‘upstairs’ accommodation matches those of her two sisters: at the level of the car deck, side seating lounges could be found port and starboard (the latter has now been taken out of use for storage). On the main deck above there was originally a First Class lounge forward, two Second Class saloons aft, with catering facilities shared between the two amidships. Today, the First Class section and the cafeteria area are generally closed off and passengers have use of the former Second Class areas and the extensive outside deck space. Throughout, the ship has the pegboard ceilings which are so distinctive of classic Italian shipboard design, from the Michelangelo and Raffaello down.

Stairwell leading up to the main passenger accommodation.

Stairwell leading up to the main passenger accommodation.

The car deck - on either side are the side lounges, of which only the port side remains in use

The car deck - on either side are the side lounges, of which only the port side remains in use

Side lounge, complete with classic railway-style luggage racks

Side lounge, complete with classic railway-style luggage racks

The former First Class lounge

The former First Class lounge

The former First Class lounge

The former First Class lounge

The former First Class lounge

The former First Class lounge

The cafeteria seating area amidships is now almost always closed off

The cafeteria seating area amidships is now almost always closed off

The cafeteria servery

The cafeteria servery

Aft of the cafeteria seating is this bar area

Aft of the cafeteria seating is this bar area


Aft again is the first of the former Second Class saloons

Aft again is the first of the former Second Class saloons

Looking forward from the aft saloon

Looking forward from the aft saloon

The aft former Second Class lounge

The aft former Second Class lounge

The aft former Second Class lounge

The aft former Second Class lounge

The aft former Second Class lounge

The aft former Second Class lounge


Out on deck - the port side promenade

Out on deck - the port side promenade

The forward outside deck with bench seating

The forward outside deck with bench seating

Overlooking the bow at the Messina terminal

Overlooking the bow at the Messina terminal

The entrance to the former First Class lounge, unusually open on this crossing

The entrance to the former First Class lounge, unusually open on this crossing

The starboard promenade deck

The starboard promenade deck

The top deck

The top deck


Corsica Ferries' troubled Mega Express Five at the Palumbo shipyards, Messina. With the shipyard seemingly incapable of finishing the conversion, the ship was later towed to Genoa for completion.

From the Rosalia, Corsica Ferries' troubled Mega Express Five could be seen at the Palumbo shipyard. With the yard seemingly incapable of finishing the conversion, the ship was later towed to Genoa for completion.

The sunken wreck of the old train ferry the Cariddi, near the Messina car ferry berths. Built in 1932, the ship served the FS for 60 years before being sold for use as a museum ship. Ultimately abandoned, she was lost in 2006.

The sunken wreck of the old train ferry the Cariddi, near the Messina car ferry berths. Built in 1932, the ship served the FS for 60 years before being sold for use as a museum ship. Ultimately abandoned, she was lost in 2006.

The statue of the Virgin Mary at the entrance to Messina port

The statue of the Virgin Mary at the entrance to Messina port

Passengers out on deck as the ship crosses to Villa San Giovanni

Passengers out on deck as the ship crosses to Villa San Giovanni

Down at the car deck level, looking forward

Down at the car deck level, looking forward

The ship's bell

The ship's bell

And the builder's plate

And the builder's plate

Passing the Rosalia's fleetmate the Reggio, originally the Superflex Golf

Passing the Rosalia's fleetmate the Reggio, originally the Superflex Golf

Arriving at Villa San Giovanni, the Iginia is loading on one of the other berths

Arriving at Villa San Giovanni, the Iginia is loading on one of the other berths

As soon as the ship began moving onto the berth, all the train passengers disappeared back downstairs, leaving the ship near-deserted

As soon as the ship began moving onto the berth, all the train passengers disappeared back downstairs, leaving the ship near-deserted

The departure of the Iginia

The departure of the Iginia

The Rosalia unloading

The Rosalia unloading

The loading ramps and, beyond, marshalling yards at Villa San Giovanni. In general the train ferry facilities at either end of the 30-minute crossing are sadly run-down

The loading ramps and, beyond, marshalling yards at Villa San Giovanni. In general the train ferry facilities at either end of the 30-minute crossing are sadly run-down

Having spent an afternoon on the mainland side of the Strait, the return journey to Messina was again to be on the Rosalia. The ship arrived promptly in port, but seemed to be having difficulties in achieving a good fit onto the ramp. After a bit of a struggle, she was finally secured although for this crossing the effort seemed hardly worth it as there were no trains to embark or disembark. In such circumstances, when foot and car passengers are the only patrons, the ships are almost mournfully quiet.

The all-but abandoned passenger walkways leading to the train ferry berths at Villa San Giovanni.

The all-but abandoned passenger walkways leading to the train ferry berths at Villa San Giovanni.


The Rosalia arrives from Messina

The Rosalia arrives from Messina


Evidently there's a 'technical problem' for the crew as the ship approaches the berth...

Evidently there's a 'technical problem' for the crew as the ship approaches the berth...

Edging up to the berth

Edging up to the berth

The ramp's ready, but the ship is not.

The ramp's ready, but the ship is not.

Tired of waiting, those foot passengers who have chosen to disembark via the train deck jump onto the linkspan and off over the side as the crew continues to resolve the berthing issue

Tired of waiting, those foot passengers who have chosen to disembark via the train deck, jump onto the linkspan and off over the side as the crew continues to resolve the berthing issue


All sorted

All sorted

On board again - the ship's funnel

On board again - the ship's funnel

To Messina!

To Messina!

Arriving at Messina - the Iginia is on the adjacent berth

Arriving at Messina - the Iginia is on the adjacent berth

Disembarking via the train deck - this picture taken as the ship approaches the berth

Disembarking via the train deck - this picture taken as the ship approaches the berth


Doesn't that sign say No Smoking? ;)

Doesn't that sign say No Smoking? ;)

Lowering the ramp seems to present less of a problem this time

Lowering the ramp seems to present less of a problem this time

I suppose that's what the wooden piles are there for...

I suppose that's what the wooden piles are there for...

All clear!

All clear!

The berth just vacated by the Iginia (in the background)

The berth just vacated by the Iginia (in the background)


Although generally many of the berthing and loading facilities for the train ferries are showing severe signs of neglect, the fabric of the waiting and booking areas of Messina’s Maritime Station remain in excellent condition. The current station was opened in 1939 and was designed by Antonio Mazzoni in the fascist style. As a centrepiece, the magnificent curved departure hall on the upper level is capped by a huge mural, by Michele Cascella, depicting Mussolini; it is an archetypal propaganda image with Il Duce lifted aloft by bare-chested farm workers, the hero of Italian peasantry.
The main hall of Messina's Stazione Marittima

The main hall of Messina's Stazione Marittima

Detail of the mural, showing Mussolini

Detail of the mural, showing Mussolini

The booking hall, downstairs

The booking hall, downstairs

Messina Marittima

Messina Marittima

The Rosalia

The Rosalia

In many ways the Villa San Giovanni-Messina train ferry has changed little since the 1960s. This makes it a quite unique survivor amongst European ferry operations. How long it can remain so is open to question – the service has clearly been pared down to the bone, perhaps in expectation of a fixed link that will rid the FS of what must be a costly and loss-making operation. That still seems many years away so presumably the existing ferries must be made to continue for the duration. Whilst that is in many ways of course pleasing for the enthusiast, it is troubling to see an operation that was once clearly of a very high quality in such reduced circumstances. With much of the North European train ferry network dismantled however, this is the last, best chance to step back in time and experience things as once they were.

Click here for a video of the ‘Freccia della Laguna’ being shunted off one of the train ferries at Villa San Giovanni.

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