Farewell Mette Mols, Balkanija, Istra

A few weeks ago, Jadrolinija’s Istra was sold for scrapping in Turkey. As the Mette Mols, Mols Linien’s very first ship, she was the lead vessel of what became a very successful class of four completed by the Aalborg shipyard between 1966 and 1969. Passing to Jadrolinija in 1981, initially as the Balkanija, the Istra is the first of the quartet to pass for scrap.

Her demise is not entirely unexpected: for most of the past decade there have been rumours that every season may be her last. Her engines were in notoriously poor shape – one wonders if the engine room explosion which forced her passengers to flee in the lifeboats back in 1970 had any long-term impact. The Croatians made her work however and, although long since relegated from the coastal express or international services, she was still a local favourite as she chugged slowly along from Split to Stari Grad, Hvar Town, Vela Luka or Ubli.

On board she was a time warp: although she had been modified in places over the years, particularly with the addition of a Duty Free shop and a small number of cabins in part of the aft cafeteria, she was in many places still that pioneering little Danish domestic ferry right to the end and was maintained in pretty good general condition, all things considered. In her final seasons, even the former first class restaurant on the upper passenger deck was tidied up, the Italian rosewood panelling polished, white tablecloths laid and the tiny galley pressed into action to produce some unexpectedly good lunches.

The Istra's main lobby.
The Istra's main lobby.

But one knew it couldn’t last – with the local shipyards churning out new double-ended ferries at an alarming rate, supplemented by some second-hand Greek acquisitions of dubious quality, Jadrolinija’s fleet expansion was outpacing even the growth of the Croatian tourist industry and the older ships have, after decades of reliable and memorable service, finally started to make way. The Ivan Zajc was dispensed with for last year and even the glorious little Liburnija, the pride of the fleet, now faces an uncertain future.

After 29 years, one civil war, several post-war refugee sailings and the odd mishap, the Istra, one of the “legends” of Croatian coastal shipping, left her lay up berth in Å ibenik on 6 May bound for Aliaga.

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