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Farewell Norsea! Last large British-built passenger ferry departs for Italy

Pride of York to become GNV Aries

P&O Ferries’ former Hull – Zeebrugge and Rotterdam vessel PRIDE OF YORK left a North Sea port for the final time earlier today. The 1987-built vessel left Rotterdam this morning with a destination of Napoli (Naples).

As previously reported, PRIDE OF YORK and her part sister and operating mate PRIDE OF BRUGES have been sold to a subsidiary of MSC. They will sail on the Napoli – Palermo route for Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV) as GNV ARIES.

PRIDE OF YORK seen at Rotterdam with her P&O Ferries hull and funnel branding removed. Image: © Rob de Visser.
PRIDE OF YORK seen at Rotterdam with her P&O Ferries hull and funnel branding removed. Image: © Rob de Visser.

Norsea and Norsun – the final North Sea Ferries passenger ships


PRIDE OF YORK and PRIDE OF BRUGES were originally built for North Sea Ferries, a joint-venture between U.K.-based P&O and Royal Nedlloyd Group (Koninklijke Nedlloyd Groep N.V.) of the Netherlands. Reflecting the nationality of their British and Dutch owners, one ship was to have been constructed in the U.K. and the other in the Netherlands. The ships would replace the existing ships on the company’s original Hull – Rotterdam route, which had been outgrown.

PRIDE OF YORK was completed in 1987 by Govan Shipbuilders as NORSEA for P&O. Amongst the biggest ferries in the world at the time, she would be the last large passenger and vehicle ferry constructed in the U.K. Her near-sister PRIDE OF BRUGES was constructed as NORSUN in Japan for Nedlloyd. The Dutch yard van Der Giessen- de Noord, where Nedlloyd had hoped to build the ship, turned down the contract due to a lack of state financial support. At the time they also had KONIGNIN BEATRIX (later STENA BALTICA, SNAV SARDEGNA) under construction for SMZ.

Once the new NORSEA and NORSUN were introduced, NORLAND and NORSTAR went for lengthening in Germany before joining the Hull – Zeebrugge route. All four ships would remain on these routes apart from during maintenance periods until the arrival of two new and much larger ships for the Hull – Rotterdam route.

Replacement

The new ships, PRIDE OF HULL and PRIDE OF ROTTERDAM arrived from their Italian builders in 2001/2. Having been replaced, NORSUN and then NORSEA went for rebuilding in Germany before being introduced on the Zeebrugge – Hull route. Again they replaced NORLAND and NORSTAR.

P&O Ferries' PRIDE OF HULL. Image © Gary Andrews.
P&O Ferries’ PRIDE OF HULL. Image © Gary Andrews.

A company related to GNV, SNAV, purchased NORLAND and NORSTAR as they became available in 2001/2. Renamed SNAV SICILIA and SNAV CAMPAGNIA, they remained in service until they were scrapped in India in their 36th year, 2010.

During 2002, P&O rebranded the North Sea Ferries operation as P&O North Sea Ferries having already taken full control of the company prior to the arrival of the new Rotterdam ferries. Accordingly, the passenger vessels later adopted new names in line with the P&O naming scheme. NORSEA became PRIDE OF YORK while NORSUN became PRIDE OF BRUGES. As the dedicated freight ferries NORBANK and NORBAY were no longer required due to the high capacity of the new Italian-built “cruise-ferries”, they were transferred to the Dublin – Liverpool route in place of older tonnage. P&O North Sea Ferries was subsequently absorbed into P&O Ferries during 2003.

Loss Making

PRIDE OF YORK and PRIDE OF BRUGES had remained on the Hull – Zeebrugge route (apart from annual overhaul cover on the Rotterdam route) until 2020, when P&O Ferries announced they were considering closing the route permanently. The service had been unprofitable for almost two decades, a plight surely not helped by the rise of low cost airlines and improved connections from the North of England to the South Coast and onward to Continental Europe, including via the Channel Tunnel. Hauliers have also had a choice of many other options linking Northern England to Belgium and the Netherlands. Companies such as DFDS, Stena Line, Cobelfret and even P&O themselves had introduced larger tonnage on these routes throughout the 2000’s. The announcement also followed the outbreak of Covid-19. The pandemic and resulting restrictions had wiped out the mini-cruise, short-break, and coach tour markets the route depended on for year-round passengers virtually overnight.

By the end of 2020, the Hull – Zeebrugge passenger service was no more, though a freight-only container service continues to be offered. Both ‘York’ and ‘Bruges’ were laid up, though PRIDE OF BRUGES had a short reprieve as a relief vessel on her old Rotterdam-Hull route.

North Sea Ferries lives on

The sale means that NORBANK and NORBAY are the only ferries built for North Sea Ferries remaining in Northern European service. The former North Sea Ferries operation lives on, however, as the North Sea operations of P&O Ferries. A combination of the purpose built ferries PRIDE OF HULL and PRIDE OF ROTTERDAM and chartered freight tonnage serves the remaining routes.

A mockup of PRIDE OF BRUGES in the current GNV livery.
A mockup of PRIDE OF BRUGES in the current GNV livery. Image: GNV.

At the time of writing, PRIDE OF BRUGES remains laid up at Zeebrugge. The former NORSUN has also been sold for further service with GNV. She is expected to leave for Italy in the coming days, where it is said she will be renamed GNV ANTARES.

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