In 2006 Brittany Ferries somewhat unexpectedly chartered the long-serving Duke of Scandinavia (ex-Dana Anglia) from DFDS with Brittany’s Val de Loire heading in the opposite direction. With minimal refurbishment, the ‘Duke’ was put into service as the Pont l’Abbe between Roscoff and Plymouth – she was later purchased but the 2009 arrival of the purpose-built Armorique saw her displaced on the Roscoff run. The economic downturn and a strategic rethink meant that plans for a significant refurbishment and long-term future for the ship with the company were aborted and, unwanted, she was despatched to Saint Nazaire where she laid up for over a year.
Down in the Mediterranean, the islands of Corsica and Sardinia are fiercely competitive ferry battlegrounds with legacy operators SNCM and Tirrenia to a great degree nowadays outmuscled by acquisitive and efficient companies such as Moby Lines, Grandi Navi Veloci and Corsica/Sardinia Ferries. The latter is the dominant force on the France-Corsica routes but Moby is stronger in operations to Sardinia – whilst it has long-standing routes from Italy to the Corsican port of Bastia the company has never been able to make its presence felt on services from France. Determined to break into this market, Moby announced in 2008 that they would be launching a new service from Nice in France to Bastia to begin the following year.
In the end, no service was forthcoming for 2009, but in November of that year, it was revealed that the Pont l’Abbe had been acquired to enable the operation to finally start in 2010 – although by this stage the mainland port had been switched to Toulon. Competing directly against Corsica Ferries’ established and popular operations, the Pont l’Abbe was brought round to Naples where she underwent a fairly thorough refit, emerging as the Moby Corse.
In addition to providing overnight sailings every other night from either end, the ship was scheduled, when in Bastia, to make a day time round trip from there to Livorno on the Italian mainland – essentially repeating some of the sailings made by the Maria Grazia On. in her Summer stint in 2009 and supplementing the core Livorno sailings of the Moby Vincent. Alas, the work on the ‘Corse’ was delayed and so the company’s newest build, the Moby Aki, was briefly deployed for a few weeks instead before the ‘Corse’ finally made it into service in mid May.
This Summer we joined the Moby Corse on a day sailing to Livorno. Almost all areas on board have seen some attention, although the Admiral Pub remains essentially untouched, now being a standard Moby feature ever since its arrival with the former Tor Line sisters Moby Drea and Moby Otta (ex-Prince and Princess of Scandinavia) – indeed other ships such as the Moby Tommy have been retrofitted with this facility. Presented below are a few ‘before and after’ shots, along with a couple of images from the Dana Anglia in her smart original guise, long since ripped out in a somewhat misguided DFDS 1990s refit.
What, then, to make of the Moby Corse? Although I was something of a fan of her retro virtues on the Roscoff route, to fully fit into any mainstream operator’s fleet the Pont l’AbbÃ© was in need of a thorough refit. Moby Lines have given her just that and, whilst much of the decor is generic to other ships in the fleet, it is fair to say that the ship has been given a new lease of life. Whilst they have several modern ships, most of Moby’s ferries are older ships which are modernised and well maintained. As has been seen with the success of the Moby Fantasy on the Olbia-Civitavecchia route, the elderliness of Moby’s fleet is not necessarily the key factor by which passengers judge them. Instead, an astutely cultivated image together with a thoroughly modernised on board offering sees families flocking to the company throughout the intensive Summer months. The aggressive self-promotion, liveries and Looney Tunes might not appeal to everyone – but it has been key to Moby’s success. The new French venture meanwhile has opened up another front in the war with Corsica/Sardinia Ferries and, as the Moby Corse seems to have been a qualified success on her Toulon sailings, one wonders if there will be a second ship on the route for 2011, opening up the possibility of daily departures and a real foothold in the freight market.