Posts tagged: seatrade

Farewell Svealand, Stena Seatrader, Seatrade

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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 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 selection of fine images of scrapped Ventouris ships in the Polaris, Athens and Siren.

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.

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 ascend all the way to the top freight deck - where they find the former aft docking bridge...

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.

... latterly in use as a reclining seat lounge.

The international terminal at Igoumenitsa.

Seen from the Seatrade is Igoumenitsa's international ferry terminal.

The top deck during loading. This was primarily used for tourist vehicles and, in particular, passengers "camping on board".
Some lorries were also squeezed in here...

Some lorries were also squeezed in up here...

Access forward from the aft bridge area was via this narrow alleyway alongside the camper vans on the port side. It appears a few passengers never got this far - the following morning some who had overnighted in the aft bridge enquired if "there was anywhere else" on board!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 cafeteria servery area.

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.

Another view, looking across from the starboard side.

The deck below, Deck 7, featured this lower lounge.

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.

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...

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The second freight deck, Deck 5.

In one part of this deck there appeared to be evidence of there having been a lorry fire at some stage during Ventouris service.

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.

Returning to the top freight deck via the funnel casing.

Some interesting gas cylinders could be found here...

Some interesting gas cylinders could be found here...

... test stamped March 1972.

... test stamped March 1972.

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Seatrade Miscellany

Back on the top vehicle deck, with loading still progressing slowly.

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.

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.

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 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.

The ship's bell.

Sunrise the following morning - it comes as no surprise to learn we are running four hours late.

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.

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.

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...

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 berth 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).

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 Bari-Igoumenitsa-Patras route, overtook us shortly after sunrise and is already fully unloaded by the time we approach our berth.

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.

Embarkation of the Bari pilot.

Safely on the berth - four hours, forty minutes late.

Safely on the berth - four hours, forty minutes late.

Fin.

That Was The Year That Was – 2011

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If, as I do, you attribute to passenger ferries some of the characteristics of human beings, the cycle of life can be unsettling and, occasionally, brutal. How did those jumbo ferries with which I grew up suddenly become middle-aged? Why are the outside decks of the cutting-edge Norsea caked in years of rust? What calamity has befallen the shiny, new Fiesta that has caused her to go for scrap?

In the times of plenty, old favourites would head south for long and, hopefully, fruitful careers. Today, with the Greek economy in particular in ruins, no home can be found for them there. Instead, the scrap yard beckons all too soon and the production line of replacement new ships has all but dried up. Those which did appear in 2011 often seemed to be more dysfunctional than historic.

The veterans which survive often seem to be clinging on, just one unpaid subsidy away from the end. Happily, if you look in the right hidden corners, more than a few remain, shyly eking out a living at the margins of the ferry industry. 2010 was spent saying farewell to some quite well known, doomed, elderly ships; the ferry year of 2011, perhaps more than ever before, was focussed on the marginal, the half-forgotten, the never-remembered.

Based purely on subjective feelings on the 66 ships sailed on or visited in 2011, here are some of the bests and worsts of the year.

Like a trip through space: Abel Matutes

Like a trip through space: Abel Matutes

Best new ferry
The well documented difficulties of the Spirit of Britain somewhat preclude her from taking this title and the only other 2011 newbuild sailed upon was the functional but somewhat derivative Stena Transporter. New to me this year, however, were Balearia’s 2010-built Abel Matutes and SF Alhucemas. Like the Martin i Soler two years ago, these Spanish-built ferries capture a suitably stylish sense of adventure with hints of practical luxury. The Abel Matutes is a large ro-pax whilst the ‘Alhucemas’ is more like a smaller version of the Martin i Soler. Although neither is perfect, they represent an appropriately modern vanguard for the Spanish ferry industry in the second decade of this century.

Stena Superfast VII leaving Belfast

Stena Superfast VII leaving Belfast


Best conversion
The lack of a particularly vintage crop of new vessels leaves the Stena Superfasts as the most impressive ferries newly sampled this year. Whereas in their previous incarnations the pair were comfortable and pleasant overnight ships the new-found, peculiar genius of Figura has seen them transformed into something quite special. Alongside the new port in Cairnryan they form the centrepiece of a determined attempt to wrest back Stena’s lost dominance on the North Channel – a project which deserves to succeed, if nothing else than for its breathtaking boldness. One does wonder if (or over how long a period) the revamped operation can possibly repay all the investment.

On the down side, see also ‘Worst food’ below.

The Rosella at Mariehamn

The Rosella at Mariehamn


Worst conversion
I found the work done by Viking Line to the Rosella somewhat underwhelming. The surviving bits of the ship’s original interiors are clearly much smarter than the new – it’s that bit too apparent that the designers were working to a strict budget. The conversion of former cabins on Deck 4 to public toilets by the expediency of removing the bunks and adding a “W.C.” sign outside the en-suite sums this one up.

The veteran Maria Maddalena at Ponza.

The veteran Maria Maddalena at Ponza.


Best classic ferry

The Maria Maddalena was built in 1955 as the Ærøskøbing for Danish domestic service between her namesake hometown and Svendborg. Sold after just four years, she has spent the past half century in Italian coastal service, and now serves the remote island of Ponza for SNAP. This little ship is a remarkable survivor and, on board, retains more than could be expected of her original outfit, from the wooden planked vehicle deck to the vintage bridge.

Favourite crossing
When boarding the Ionian King for a departure from Brindisi to Corfu, Igoumenitsa and Zante in August the ship was surprisingly busy. Having planned to sleep, in line with Brindisi tradition, beneath the stars we found that we were able to negotiate a quite beneficial ‘cash only’ price for a cabin at the purser’s desk. This turned out to be a quite swish Japanese original, complete with shoji screens and Shin Nihonkai blankets. By the time we finally awoke the following morning, with our intermediate ports of call long behind us, we found the ship virtually and delightfully deserted for the eight hour leg to the so-called party island. Further exploration of this big and beautiful overnight ferry reconfirmed my previous thoughts: that the Ionian King and Ionian Queen were truly the finest ferries on the southern Adriatic. Sadly, within weeks, the ‘King’ had left Europe and returned to Japan for operation as a neo-cruise ship between Shanghai and Nagasaki. This sailing was the perfect way to say goodbye.

Leaving Zante on the Ionian Star. Even the rusty hulk of the long laid-up Odysseas Elytis must be better than this.

Leaving Zante on the Ionian Star. Even the rusty hulk of the long laid-up Odysseas Elytis must be better than this.

Worst crossing

The very next sailing after the Ionian King was Tyrogalas’ Ionian Star from Zante to Kyllini. In contrast, this ship was filled to the brim to the degree that many motorists retreated to their cars whilst for many of the rest of us the only ‘seats’ to be found were the stairs leading up from the car decks. An unpleasant experience.

Spirit of Britain: before and after

Spirit of Britain: before and after

Worst maintained ship
The generally decrepit Seatrade of Ventouris Ferries was probably the most unsettling ferry sailed on this year. However, the disgraceful decline of the outside decks on P&O’s brand new Spirit of Britain between my first sailing in January and most recent in October outdo even the most lackadaisical of Greek operators. Despite the ship’s widely-reported operational problems, there can be few excuses for this lack of basic maintenance.

Special mention should also be made of the small but stinky brown deposit left on the wall by the lavatory of our otherwise clean bathroom aboard Polferries’ Scandinavia. Whoops.

Not so Taste-y: Stena Superfast VIII

Not so Taste-y: Stena Superfast VIII

Worst food
No self service. Just fast food. In a box. Even the menu in the Plus Lounge on the Stena Superfasts has been dumbed down. A big, big shame.

Elsewhere, the Marrakech was predictably dismal whilst both of the ships of St Peter Line struggled badly to produce much edible on the smörgåsbord front.

Stena Lagan: dessert selection

Stena Lagan: dessert selection

Best food
It might seem unlikely, but the restaurant on board the Stena Lagan conjured up the most memorable ferry meal of the year on a December sailing between Belfast and Birkenhead. Moderately priced and perfectly formed, one can only hope that this hidden treat isn’t brought into line with the rest of the Stena fleet anytime soon. Honourable mentions also to the Scandinavia and to the Pride of Rotterdam.

The Bore

The Bore


Biggest disappointment
On a hot July evening we found ourselves one of three parties overnighting on the Bore, now in static use in Turku. The lack of ventilation, musty cabins and more than occasional power cuts made for a memorable, if not particularly comfortable, stay. Much remained to be done but, in the ship’s defence, her owners admitted that one of the reasons it was so difficult to book a stay on board was that they had yet to complete all the work they wanted to before having the full, formal launch.

Seafrance Rodin

Seafrance Rodin


So. Farewell then.
I have always felt an affinity for Seafrance; for here, Wightlink apart, were the last true inheritors to the Sealink tradition – including the strikes, the sometimes off-hand (or worse) service and even some of the ships. It contradicts received wisdom to call them a success, but on the surface they were: who, following the end of Sealink in 1996, would have imagined it would be Seafrance rather than Stena that, at their peak, would accommodate as much as 45% of Dover-Calais freight.

However, the whole project was built on financial sand and the end has come as violently for the company as it has for the two ships upon which it was founded: just after the Seafrance Renoir and Seafrance Cezanne headed for the beaches of Turkey, Seafrance stopped sailing. I travelled on the ‘Moliere’ days before the end; unlike deadly crossings earlier in the year on the ‘Rodin’ and ‘Berlioz’, here everything was open, the restaurant served decent food and, if you let yourself day dream just a little, maybe there was a future after all. It was not to be.

Unlike Seafrance and their early ships I cannot say I have great memories of the Romilda (ex-Free Enterprise VIII) but I feel I should at least make mention of her demise. She always seemed to appear on the horizon about thirty minutes beyond which queuing in one of the quayside cattle pens stopped being bearable; arrivals were always just after hoteliers and barkeeps had gone to bed; and the ship was always just that fraction more dilapidated than can be endearing. But still, this was a ship with a heart and when both sailed on routes through the western Cyclades, there was the happy opportunity to compare the Romilda to her longstanding rival, through both British and Greek careers, the Agios Georgios (ex-Hengist). Her familiar presence in Piraeus will be missed.

The Romilda, July 2008.

The Romilda, July 2008.

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