UPDATE: DUBLIN SWIFT (former WESTPAC EXPRESS) left Belfast on the afternoon of Friday 13th April for Dublin following the completion of her refit and conversion to civilian use. NIFS understand that after berthing trials, sea trials, and crew training/familiarisation she will enter service between Dublin and Holyhead before the end of the month.
Royal Caribbean Cruise subsidiary Azamara Club Cruises' AZAMARA PURSUIT arrived at Belfast's Harland & Wolff shipyard earlier today, ahead of a comprehensive refurbishment to be undertaken by Newry based MJM Group. She is currently berthed at the Ship Repair Quay (SRQ), joining Irish Ferries DUBLIN SWIFT there (see below). Harland and Wolff will provide berthing and support services to MJM throughout the refurbishment. The contract to refurbish AZAMARA PURSUIT (previously P&O Cruises' ADONIA) is worth some £50m and is expected to take 3 months to complete.
This contract is historic for many reasons – it is the first time in MJM Group’s history that the company has completed a refit in Belfast, it is the first time Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd has refitted a ship in a UK shipyard and it is the first time that any cruise company has awarded complete project management responsibilities to a single fit-out company.
AZAMARA PURSUIT is scheduled to make her maiden voyage for Azamara Club Cruises on the first of August, sailing from Southampton to Norway. She will become the third vessel in Azamara Club Cruises fleet, joining AZAMARA JOURNEY and AZAMARA QUEST. The three Azamara vessels were originally the final three in a series of eight 'R-Class' sister vessels built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique in Saint-Nazaire France for now bankrupt Renaissance Cruises. During the refurbishment of AZAMARA PURSUIT her 600-strong crew will be assembled and trained, also in Belfast.
Richard Twynam from Azamara Club Cruises said it was unprecedented in the cruise industry to hand an entire refit project to just one company.
“It’s never been done before,” he said.
“We are effectively making MJM from Newry an extension of our new build team for Royal Caribbean, so it’s really exciting.”
Brian McConville, founder and chairman of Newry company MJM, said he hoped the Azamara Pursuit was the first of many liners to undergo a refit in Belfast.
"I am already working on potentially trying to secure the next couple of ships to come to Belfast," he said.
"This is a very historical day for Northern Ireland, the fact we have taken this ship back - this will hopefully rekindle the start of many, many great ships and shipping lines to come in here and get such contracts done in the future."
Jonathan Guest, a director at Harland and Wolff, welcomed the arrival of the ship.
"I think it's a great boon for the economy," he said.
"It's the first time a large-scale refit has been carried out in Northern Ireland and I think that's hugely significant."
He added: "Harland and Wolff has a great history of cruise ships and cruise ship building, but not so much in the refit side.
"So we hope this is a new chapter in the development of Harland and Wolff along with MJM in bringing cruise ship refits to Belfast and seeing where that can take us."
AZAMARA PURSUIT left the Grand Bahama Shipyard in Freeport, Bahama under the command of Captain Carl Smith around 2 weeks ago following her handover from P&O Cruises in March. She underwent a classification survey and general inspection whilst in dry-dock there, as well as repainting in Azamara colours.
Irish Ferries' Dublin Swift preparing to leave Belfast
Meanwhile, another major refurbishment contract being undertaken at Harland & Wolff is nearing completion. Irish Ferries' DUBLIN SWIFT (ex WESTPAC EXPRESS) has left Belfast Dry Dock (BDD) and is now berthed alongside the adjacent Ship Repair Quay (SRQ). NI Ferry Site understand the extensive refurbishment to reconfigure the former military transport vessel for civilian service is nearing completion. She is expected to start extensive trials soon before entering service with Irish Ferries between Dublin and Holyhead before the end of April if all goes well. She will replace the current fast-craft JONATHAN SWIFT which has been sold to Spanish operator Baleària. At present Belfast Harbour movements has DUBLIN SWIFT scheduled to leave Belfast on the 9th of August, but this as always is subject to change.
Title image: Azamara Club Cruises AZAMARA PERSUIT (ex ADONIA) arrives in Belfast for refurbishment on April 4th 2018. Copyright © Scott Mackey.
With thanks to Scott Mackey for providing todays photos.