EUROPEAN SEAWAY was ordered by P&O European Ferries from Bremerhaven’s Schichau Seebeckwerft as one of what was at first to be 2, then later 4, identical new Seaway (or “Super European”) class super-freighters for P&O’s Dover-Zeebrugge operation. The term “super-freighter” was used in the early 1990’s to describe vessels built to carry larger amounts of freight traffic than the previous generation of freight ferry. Significantly, for freight ships, the Seaway class could carry up to 200 passengers. This passenger accommodation was needed to accommodate drivers who accompanied their trailers on the crossing, rather than just leaving it at the port to be picked up by another driver at the destination port. North Sea Ferries (later P&O Ferries’) sister ships NORBAY and NORBANK were also described as super-frieghters when conceived. However, changing traffic patterns meant that P&O changed the Seaway Class order when construction of the ships was already underway. As a result the 4th vessel was completed with more passenger accommodation, entering service as the multi-purpose passenger and vehicle ferry PRIDE OF BURGUNDY (she was originally to be named European Causeway), with the 3 older ships completed as originally intended. From the 10th of March 1998 the vessels operated under the ‘P&O Stena Line’ banner, following the establishment of a joint-venture between P&O and Stena Line for their English Channel routes.
Although 3 of the vessels were delivered to the original specification as freighters, EUROPEAN SEAWAY is the only vessel now remaining as a freighter. European Highway and European Pathway became the passenger RoPax ferries PRIDE OF KENT (II) and PRIDE OF CANTERBURY (II) in 2003 after conversion at Lloyd Werft (this was known within P&O as The Darwin Project – the ships evolved). It had been intended that the vessels would be rebuilt at their original builders yard, but following Schichau Seebeckwerft going out of business the contract went to nearby Lloyd Werft, a yard which was no stranger to converting freight ships to cross-channel ferries having converted Sealink’s Fantasia (later Stena Fantasia) and Fiesta (later Seafrance Cezanne). Lloyd-Werft would however sub-contract some work to SSW (such as steel work design) which was by now under new management. Coincidentally, Pride of Canterbury (I) (ex Fantasia, Stena Fantasia) was one of the ships the newly converted vessels would replace following their rebuilds. European Highway and European Pathway were fitted with modernised ‘digital’ systems during their rebuilds (as was Pride of Burgundy), meaning EUROPEAN SEAWAY remains as the only vessel in the quartet with her original ‘analogue’ systems still in place.
As a result of increased capacity following the introduction of the ‘new’ PRIDE OF KENT and PRIDE OF CANTERBURY, reduced traffic levels after the opening of the Channel Tunnel, and improvements to road connections from Calais; the Zeebrugge route closed at the end of 2002 to release the vessels for Calais. The announcement of this coincided with the announcement that the joint-venture between P&O and Stena Line on the Calais route would end after just 4 years. By now the other route in the joint-venture, the former Stena Newhaven-Dieppe route, had been closed with new operator Transmanche Ferries operating the route instead.
EUROPEAN SEAWAY was then dedicated to Dover-Calais freight duties. Her large open upper vehicle deck meant she was suitable to carry large amounts of the hazardous cargo which was not allowed to pass through the competing Channel Tunnel, however she would only stay in service until November 2003 due to over capacity after the introduction of the ‘new’ PRIDE OF KENT (II) and PRIDE OF CANTERBURY (II) . Following a refit at A&P Falmouth during December 2003, EUROPEAN SEAWAY was used as an accommodation vessel for fleet overhauls at Falmouth and listed for sale. In June 2004 the vessel was moved to Birkenhead for further lay up, but was removed from the sale list.
At the beginning of 2005, EUROPEAN SEAWAY returned to Dover to resume sailings to Calais. Until August 2010 EUROPEAN SEAWAY didn’t stray from the Calais route except for refit’s, and during a short period during March 2006 when she operated 6 sailings to Zeebrugge after the collapse of a berth at Calais. Berthing trials were conducted at Boulogne’s ‘hub port’ for a single day in October 2009 however, in order to assess the new port’s suitability as a fallback option should Calais be closed. Years later this would prove important as PRIDE OF BURGUNDY, PRIDE OF KENT (II) and PRIDE OF CANTERBURY (II), which still shared the same hull-form as EUROPEAN SEAWAY, would all be required to operate to Boulogne when Calais was blockaded during industrial action related to the closure of MyFerryLink in 2015.
Due to a seasonal downturn in traffic EUROPEAN SEAWAY was laid up for much of August 2010. On the 5th of September EUROPEAN SEAWAY filled in for PRIDE OF BURGUNDY and conducted berthing trials at Ramsgate in place of the latter, as PRIDE OF BURGUNDY was to be chartered for the opening of a wind farm and would use the Kent port.
EUROPEAN SEAWAY continued in Dover-Calais service (excluding refit and occasional lay-up’s due to lower traffic demand) as required until the end of April 2012 when she was chartered out for wind farm work following modifications (including fitting a GIS GCH1600/1SF Electric Chain Hoist, and the upgrading of some of the onboard cabins) to make her more suitable at ARNO Dunkerque. She returned to Dover-Calais service on 22nd October, where she remained until April 2013 (except for her annual refit, this time on Tyneside). From early April 2013 until mid-August 2014 she was laid up at Tilbury, before returning to the ARNO shipyard at Dunkerque for further modifications to make her suitable for use as a wind farm accommodation vessel. With the conclusion of this latest charter in early April 2015, the vessel was again laid-up at Tilbury. However, as already mentioned, industrial action related to legal rulings against P&O’s competitor MyFerryLink resulted in a blockade at Calais, which saw EUROPEAN SEAWAY reactivated at short notice. This was to help in moving the huge backlogs of freight which had built up on both sides of the channel. Due to the nature of the changes made for her most recent charter EUROPEAN SEAWAY operated as a stern-only loading vessel as her upper bow doors had been welded shut following damage sustained during her charter. Apart from refit’s at Damen (formerly ARNO) Dunkerque, the first of which in December 2015 restored her ability to load through both bow and stern on both levels, EUROPEAN SEAWAY has continued to operate freight sailings between Dover and Calais as required ever since.
During March 2017 NIFS reported that EUROPEAN SEAWAY was due to cover the refit and dry-docking’s of EUROPEAN CAUSEWAY and EUROPEAN HIGHLANDER from the end of April to the beginning of June 2016. However, due to a delay with the dry docking of NORBAY, EUROPEAN SEAWAY did not arrive in Northern Ireland for the first time until the morning of May the 3rd. At just shy of 180m long, EUROPEAN SEAWAY is longer than the maximum length advised by the Port of Larne website for any of the ferry berths at the port. At present it is expected that EUROPEAN SEAWAY will be in service on the Larne – Cairnryan route from May the 6th 2017 until early June. EUROPEAN SEAWAY entered service with the 20:00 ex Larne on 5/5/17 in place of EUROPEAN HIGHLANDER. On 13th May ‘Seaway’ missed her 04:00 ex Larne round-trip in poor visibility, but resumed service as normal with her 10:30 departure from the Antrim port.
At 179.7m long, EUROPEAN SEAWAY is longest ferry to ever operate from the ports of both Larne and Cairnryan, although at over 6m longer STENA LAGAN remains the longest ferry to have successfully docked at Larne having visited the port previously for an underwater survey.
Schichau Seebeckwerft AG (SSW), and Knud E Hansen AS
Schichau Seebeckwerft AG (SSW), Bremerhaven, Germany
1991 (launched 20/4/1991)
7/10/1991 (Dover – Zeebrugge)
Lloyds Register of Shipping
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Dover (United Kingdom)
The above article is Copyright © Steven Tarbox, all rights reserved. Unauthorised reproduction or distribution is strictly prohibited.
With thanks to the crew of EUROPEAN SEAWAY for their hospitality. Thanks also to Scott Mackey, Gary Andrews, Trevor Kidd, Ian Boyle, and Paul Smith for the use of their images.
Original article published 05/03/2017
updated: throughout 06/17