This afternoon the Damla (ex-Vronskiy, Wisteria, Duc de Normandie, Prinses Beatrix) arrived on the beach at Aliaga, Turkey for scrapping. The ship, which most recently was in service between Spain and Morocco for Trasmediterranea and FRS, had spent most of the past week at anchor awaiting the final plunge after hopes for a new period of service in the Adriatic came to naught.
The Dutch-registered Prinses Beatrix was delivered in 1978 to the Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland (SMZ) for Sealink’s Hook of Holland to Harwich service, where she was paired with the earlier car ferry Koningin Juliana (later Moby Prince) and British Rail’s St George and St Edmund. Like her routemates the ship was two class, with Second Class forward and First aft in her accommodation and sailings connected to boat trains on both sides, especially at the Hook where the route was the best option for travellers heading to Germany and points east.
A handsome, well-proportioned ship, the Prinses Beatrix was relatively broad-beamed and thus able to offer an extra lane of freight space when compared to ships of similar length and concept from her designers at Knud E Hansen (such as the Peter Wessel, with which she was partnered as SMZ’s Zeeland from 1984 to 1986, or the Gotland, second ship on Brittany Ferries’ Ouistreham service in 1988). Her interiors were, though, reflective of their era with Second Class in particular designed to endure heavy use from students heading for Amsterdam and army personnel heading for Germany.
Although the ship was the largest ever built for the Hook-Harwich service, the operating economics of the route were never ideal, with capacity ramped up by second ships offering parallel crossings in peak periods where it would make more sense for one, larger vessel to operate alone. Sealink UK took the plunge first, replacing the ‘Edmund’ and George’ with the chartered St Nicholas in 1983. SMZ upgraded their second ship with the charter of the Zeeland whilst they pondered and then ordered a replacement – the giant Koningin Beatrix of 1986. In the interim the Prinses Beatrix was identified by Brittany Ferries as a good fit for their new route between Portsmouth and Ouistreham (for Caen), which was planned to open in the summer of 1986. When finally taken over by the French operator, she was given a comprehensive refit with almost all vestiges of her, by then tired and careworn, original interiors stripped out in favour of a new, one-class arrangement designed by Architectes Ingénieurs Associés.
The new route was a success and the ship was soon overwhelmed with a variety of vessels employed to support her until the arrival of the much larger Normandie in 1992 established a two-ship service on a more settled basis. Eventually replaced by the Mont St Michel in 2003 the ‘Duc’ moved to the Plymouth-Roscoff route until being sold to a company related to Trans Europa Ferries in 2005. Renamed Wisteria she would spend only brief periods on TEF’s Oostende-Ramsgate service, instead spending most of her time chartered out to the Spanish Trasmediterranea group.
The first charter was to Trasme-controlled Ferrimaroc (whose pioneer ship had been her former Harwich fleetmate the St Edmund) and the summers of 2005, 2006 and 2007 saw her deployed between Almeria and Nador but the ship also saw service in the Balearics as well as regular use on the routes to Algeria. The charter was later taken over by Trasmediterranea themselves and this continued after the demise of her owners and acquisition in 2013 by Nizhniy Shipping Limited, a company registered in the Marshall Islands, who renamed her Vronskiy.
In May 2016 I was able to make what, it turned out, would be a final sailing on the ship. She was in service on the Algeciras-Tangier Med. route – a short crossing of only an hour and a half duration for which she was not really suited but where she had been deployed, on and off, for a couple of years. The Vronskiy was in fair condition, but traffic wasn’t particularly heavy when we sailed. The ship was managed by Pulchra Mare, whose name appeared around the ship where it had placed on top of ‘Brittany Ferries’ in signage. Her crew and officers, primarily Croatian and Slovenian, were particularly welcoming and evidently quite fond of their old ship, which was reliable enough and relatively fast and manoeuvrable for her age.
For the next four years the ship remained in Trasmediterranea service until being passed to FRS in January 2020 to take over their Motril to Melilla operation. Sadly, the route was overwhelmed by the Covid-19 pandemic and she had barely got underway before the route was suspended for the duration. The charter was allowed to end and the ship sailed to Bar in Montenegro in search of further duties. It was not to be, however, and her final destination was to be a beach in Turkey.
Presented below are some pictures from that final crossing in 2016.