The Sveti Stefan of Montenegro Lines, originally Brittany Ferries’ Cornouailles of 1977, this afternoon arrived off Aliaga in Turkey prior to being scrapped.
The ship had been ordered by Brittany Ferries from the Trondheim Mekaniske VÃ¦rksted following the company’s earlier charter of the Prince de Bretagne (ex-Falster, later Vega), which had been delivered by the Norwegian shipyard two years earlier. The Prince de Bretagne had lacked sufficient passenger space and was considered prone to rolling in even moderate seas but the French evidently saw enough in the basic design to order a similar vessel for themselves. Although the Cornouailles was built with significantly more accommodation, she did inherit some of the poor seakeeping characteristics of her half-sister and, most notably, nearly sank in an incident off Cork in 1992 when, in one of her final periods of service back with Brittany Ferries, she encountered a “freak wave” and barely made it into port.
The Cornouailles replaced the smaller Penn-Ar-Bed as the mainstay of the Roscoff-Plymouth route but passenger traffic continued to grow and, in 1984, she was chartered out to SNCF for two years, being replaced in BF service by the Benodet (1984) and Tregastel (1985). Painted in full SNCF livery, the ship replaced the smaller Valencay and served as one of two French ships on the Dieppe-Newhaven operation, alongside the Chartres and the British Senlac.
Returing to her owners in January 1986 she initiated freight-only service on the new Ouistreham-Portsmouth route before being deployed that summer on a new passenger option on the Cherbourg-Poole Truckline operation that Brittany Ferries had acquired the previous year. This proved successful and for 1989 the ship was replaced by the Tregastel and transferred to BF’s other affiliate, British Channel Island Ferries, and renamed the Havelet. There she would begin over a decade of service to the islands, running as second ship to the Rozel (ex-St Edmund) between 1989 and 1992 and the Beauport (ex-Prince of Fundy, Reine Mathilde) from 1992 to 1993. When BCIF was taken over by rivals Condor/Commodore in 1994 she operated in support of the car-carrying catamarans until the arrival of the new Commodore Clipper in late 1999, after which she was laid up.
The Havelet eventually found a buyer in the form of Montenegro Lines, who had inherited the Bar-Bari route of Prekookeanska Plovidba which had maintained a car ferry service since the 1960s. The original ship, the first Sveti Stefan (ex-Djursland) operated on the route for three decades and, for a brief period in the 1980s, was joined by the Njegos – a ship which subsequently followed the Cornouailles in service at Roscoff and Poole as the Tregastel.
In 2003 Montenegro Lines acquired a second passenger ship in the shape of the Sveti Stefan II, originally the third Prinz Hamlet and latterly Polferries’ Nieborow. A shorter derivation of the KEH design that had produced the Gustav Vasa (later Norrona) and Nils Dacke (Quiberon), the ship was deployed primarily on the longer crossing from Bar to Ancona. The two ships operated together for a decade until, in early 2013, the newly-published summer timetables indicated that only a one-ship service would be offered to Bari with the Ancona route closed. The Sveti Stefan II was retained and the smaller Sveti Stefan was sold for scrap. Having maintained the core service through the winter, the ship made her final scheduled sailing from Bari to Bar on 16 April. Arriving the next morning, she was promptly destored and sailed straight for Aliaga just two days later.
I first travelled on the ship as part of a three-day visit to Montenegro in the summer of 2003. The Adriatic ferry scene has changed much in those ten years and most of the old ships we encountered on that trip have succumbed to the breakers. We had disembarked in the morning in Brindisi from the venerable Poseidonia of Hellenic Mediterranean Lines, the most famous of all Greek operators themselves no longer with us. That ship was originally the Belfast Steamship Co’s Ulster Queen of 1967 and we arrived in a Brindisi which, that summer, was served by an array of aged tonnage which once served the British Isles such as the Kapetan Alexandros (ex-Doric Ferry), Media V (ex-Viking I), Egnatia III (ex-Saint Killian II) and Penelope A (ex-European Gateway).
After taking the train up to Bari we walked around the breakwater to inspect the Orestes (ex-Cerdic Ferry) which was enduring the long lay up which preceded her final demise. Not long removed from the port was the abandoned Sirio (ex-Cambridge Ferry) whilst in regular service were the Dubrovnik (ex-Duchess Anne), Marko Polo (ex-Zeeland), Azzurra (ex-Olau West), Siren (ex-Dana Gloria) and Polaris (ex-Dana Futura). The ship which had been replaced by the Cornouailles during her two year SNCF charter, the Valencay (by then the Pollux) was in her final season running from Bari to Albania whilst Marlines operated the sole rival operation to Montenegro using their Duchess M, once the Cornouailles’ Brittany Ferries fleetmate the Breizh-Izel.
On that first crossing the budget did not stretch beyond a place on deck and, after a brief inspection of the accommodation inside, we set up camp for the night on her port side promenade deck. As we sailed to Bar, the ship encountered what appeared to be tremendous seas, and she rocked and rolled alarmingly through the night. We woke the next morning, with our sleeping bags covered in sea salt, to another beautiful and perfectly calm day and with the Duchess M following us into port. Already alongside was Montenegro Lines’ little freighter the Alba, which in an earlier life had served the UK as the Neckartal on charter to Sealink and, latterly worked for Schiaffino Line.
During our 2003 visit to Montenegro we stayed up the coast at Budva, and were able to stop briefly en-route at the small island town of Sveti Stefan after which the ships are named – well, we were able to stop outside it, for the island itself is a private and exclusive hotel, perhaps not the best situation for one of Montenegro’s most famous tourist sights.
Seven years later I had the opportunity to sail on the Sveti Stefan and Sveti Stefan II once more, the former from Bar to Bari on the night of the 2010 football World Cup Final, which delayed departure from port as the crew preferred to wait and watch the conclusion before setting sail. The pictures below are from that sailing and the ship remained in satisfactory condition given her age and limited size – and certainly a world away from the fairly squalid state of her fleetmate.
The Cornouailles was a workmanlike, unglamorous ship, almost always overshadowed by her fleetmates. She was rarely given first ranking – whether it be the Armorique, the Senlac and Chartres, the Rozel, the Beauport, the Condor fast cats or, latterly, the larger Sveti Stefan II, she was always a useful second ship, able to economically cover the routes with lower loads and with less expectations. Only when she headed up the Truckline passenger service and her initial period with Montenegro Lines (2000 to 2003) was she the lead ship. Yet this was still a useful function – she was able to set up new operations and, latterly, maintained Montenegro Lines’ services year round when the use of the larger vessel could not be justified. In her final guise, she also played an important part in the recovery of Montenegro’s tourist industry which had been shattered by the Balkan wars.
Time catches up with all ships in the end, however, and in a continuingly difficult economic climate Montenegro Lines’ downsizing meant the Sveti Stefan had to make way. There was a hope that, as with some other ferries, she might get a reprieve, that some entrepreneurial operator might see some worth in her as she sailed past Piraeus for Aliaga. But it was not to be. She sailed on, under her own power and only a couple of days after carrying her final passengers – a workhorse to the end.