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Farewell Stena Mersey! Liverpool ferry leaves Belfast for the final time

Stena Line’s STENA MERSEY left Belfast for the final time last night, taking the northern route around the Isle of Man to Birkenhead. She left Belfast a bit later than her scheduled time of 22:30 for her final revenue earning crossing between Belfast and Merseyside.

A Brief History of Stena Mersey

Originally delivered under charter to Norse Merchant Ferries in 2005 as MERSEY VIKING (ii), STENA MERSEY and her sister STENA LAGAN stayed on the Belfast – Birkenhead route much longer than originally intended. When Norse Merchant had originally taken the ships on charter they had stated an intention to replace them with larger vessels within years.

However, replacements didn’t materialise until much later than envisioned, and even then it was under a different operator. Like her sister, she survived three changes of operator within five years.

MERSEY VIKING with her original funnel colours. The norsemerchant.com text on her hull, which she was delivered with, has been painted over but is starting to show through. Image: © Scott Mackey.
MERSEY VIKING with her original funnel colours. The norsemerchant.com text on her hull, which she was delivered with, has been painted over but is starting to show through. Image: © Scott Mackey.

Norse Merchant, Norfolk Line and DFDS

Following financial problems at parent-company Cenargo, Norse Merchant Ferries was absorbed into Maersk-owned Norfolk Line during 2006. Four years later, Norfolk Line was acquired by DFDS.

A promotional image of MERSEY VIKING in Norfolk Line livery. The ship never actually carried this livery, instead her funnel was repainted and the norsemerchant.com lettering on her existing red hull was painted over. Image: Norfolkline (Scott Mackey collection).
A promotional image of MERSEY VIKING in Norfolk Line livery. The ship never actually carried this livery, instead her funnel was repainted and the norsemerchant.com lettering on her existing red hull was painted over. Image: Norfolkline (Scott Mackey collection).

In the intervening time, little changed onboard MERSEY VIKING apart from the logos on signage.

MERSEY VIKING in her Norfolk Line colours. Image: © Scott Mackey.
MERSEY VIKING in her Norfolk Line colours. Image: © Scott Mackey.

Unlike her sister ship, MERSEY VIKING was never painted in full DFDS livery. She was, however, renamed MERSEY SEAWAYS during August 2010.

MERSEY SEAWAYS in her DFDS colours. As with Norfolk Line before, DFDS only repainted the funnel on the former MERSEY VIKING (ii). Image: © Scott Mackey.
MERSEY SEAWAYS in her DFDS colours. As with Norfolk Line before, DFDS only repainted the funnel on the former MERSEY VIKING (ii). Image: © Scott Mackey.

Later that same year, Stena Line announced that it had agreed to purchase the Belfast – Birkenhead route from DFDS. Stena Line also took over the charters of the two sister-ships, which by then were owned by EPIC Shipping. The MERSEY SEAWAYS name only lasted a year, however, with the ship becoming STENA MERSEY during August 2011.

Stena Line

MERSEY SEAWAYS seen at the Ship Repair Quay in Belfast with her Stena Line funnel prior to being renamed STENA MERSEY. Image: © Scott Mackey.
MERSEY SEAWAYS seen at the Ship Repair Quay in Belfast with her funnel painted in Stena colours and her name removed to become STENA MERSEY. Image: © Scott Mackey.

In March 2012, STENA MERSEY entered dry dock at Harland and Wolff for her first full repaint since she had been delivered. Having taken full control of the Belfast – Birkenhead route following regulatory approval, Stena Line invested £4m in refurbishing and upgrading STENA MERSEY and STENA LAGAN in March and April 2012. At the end of April the company completed a transaction to purchase both vessels outright.

A further £2.3m each was invested in the two vessels during 2013. Again, this work was also completed at Harland & Wolff. Combined with the work done the previous year, this meant that STENA MERSEY and her sister were barely recognisable inside from just two years earlier.

Continuing our walk towards the bow (front) of the ship, we next pass through one of the main seating areas, the Barista Coffee Shop. This view is taken from the other side looking towards the news room (the glass panels in the background). © NIFerrySite.
The Barista Coffee House, Stena Mersey. © Steven Tarbox

Refurbishment continued under Stena ownership, but STENA MERSEY and STENA LAGAN would ultimately become victims of their own success. The Belfast – Liverpool (Birkenhead) route was growing for both the freight and passenger traffic, and the sister-ships were no longer big enough to cope. This was despite the additional of a third freight-only vessel to relieve pressure on the sisters.

The relocated Stena Plus lounge onboard STENA MERSEY. Copyright © Scott Mackey.
In 2018 the small Stena Plus Lounge which had been added just 5-years earlier was relocated and enlarged on both STENA MERSEY (pictured) and STENA LAGAN. Copyright © Scott Mackey 2018.

Replacement

When Stena confirmed an order for four large new Ro-Pax ferries at AVIC Weihai in China in early-2016, Belfast – Birkenhead quickly emerged as one of the favourites to get two of the ships. Stena Line later confirmed that both STENA MERSEY and STENA LAGAN would be replaced by new-builds. The first of the new ships, STENA EDDA, arrived early in 2020.

STENA EDDA turns to meet and salute STENA LAGAN while at anchor off Groomsport on the morning of her first arrival in UK waters. Copyright © Steven Tarbox.
STENA EDDA turns to meet and salute STENA LAGAN while at anchor off Groomsport on the morning of her first arrival in UK waters. Copyright © Steven Tarbox.

Once STENA EDDA entered service, STENA LAGAN left for rebuilding in Turkey. STENA LAGAN‘s rebuild, which has seen her lengthened some 36 metres, is still ongoing. She will be joined in Turkey by STENA MERSEY in the next few days which will also undergo a similar rebuilding.

The lengthened STENA LAGAN undergoing fitting out at SEDEF Shipbuilding. She will be renamed STENA SCANDICA for service between Nynashamn and Ventspils. © Stena Line.
The lengthened STENA LAGAN undergoing fitting out at SEDEF Shipbuilding. She will be renamed STENA SCANDICA for service between Nynashamn and Ventspils. © Stena Line.

STENA MERSEY arrived at Birkenhead’s 12 Quays terminal for the last time this morning. Once she has de-stored and the necessary preparations have been made, STENA MERSEY will transfer to Stena RoRo who will oversee her conversion in Turkey.

STENA HORIZON will initially replace STENA MERSEY on the Birkenhead roster. She will sail opposite Mersey’s direct replacement in the fleet, STENA EMBLA. The other regular Belfast – Birkenhead vessel, STENA EDDA, is to cover STENA SUPERFAST VII and STENA SUPERFAST VIII on the Belfast – Cairnryan route for around 10 days. Once her spell on the North Channel route is complete, STENA EDDA will release STENA HORIZON.

STENA HORIZON leaves Belfast on her final crossing to Birkenhead as 2019 refit relief vessel for STENA LAGAN and STENA MERSEY, 25.01.19. Copyright © Scott Mackey.
STENA HORIZON leaves Belfast on her final crossing to Birkenhead as 2019 refit relief vessel for STENA LAGAN and STENA MERSEY, 25.01.19. Copyright © Scott Mackey.

Edda had been due to leave Belfast Dry Dock yesterday after an extended visit to Harland & Wolff. This has now been delayed until Monday, likely due to high winds over the weekend.

The Future

STENA LAGAN is expected to leave Turkey as STENA SCANDICA for her new route between Nynäshamn and Ventspils in the coming weeks. Once her own conversion is completed, STENA MERSEY will join Scandica as the new STENA BALTICA.

The first part of SEDEF new build number 207, a new 36m section for STENA LAGAN, is lifted into place. The 960 ton section is the heaviest ever lifted in Turkey according to the yard. Copyright © SEDEF Shipbuilding.
The first part of SEDEF new build number 207, a new 36m section for STENA LAGAN, is lifted into place. The 960 ton section is the heaviest ever lifted in Turkey according to the yard. Copyright © SEDEF Shipbuilding.

The lengthening project will see STENA MERSEY‘s freight intake increase from about 2,200 to 2,875 lane metres.  In addition, 280 cars will be able to be carried on separate decks instead of the 170 at present. A total of 1,000 passengers will also be able to be accommodated in an enlarged and reconfigured passenger area which will have 194 cabins – 74 more than present.

STENA MERSEY at Larne, 27.01.2020. Copyright Steven Tarbox / niferry.co.uk.
STENA MERSEY seen during an underwater survey at Larne, 27.01.2020. Image: © Steven Tarbox

Significantly, the vehicle decks are also being reconfigured. Hoistable ramps are being added between decks to allow loading from both single and dual levels via the modified stern and new bow doors. This will be particularly useful on the Ventspils – Nynashamn route where the ships will need to turnaround a larger amount of cargo within the same time as the existing vessels.

Like with STENA LAGAN, STENA MERSEY‘s conversion will be undertaken at SEDEF Shipbuilding in Turkey. The complex project is being overseen by Stena RoRo and the ship’s original designer NAOS, with a multinational group of specialist companies undertaking the work.

Updates

Update 14.02.2021 @ 20:20: STENA MERSEY left Birkenhead for Tuzla shortly after 18:30 this evening, bringing an end to over 15 years service to Birkenhead. STENA HORIZON will shortly arrive at Birkenhead to take tonight’s sailing to Belfast.

Update 15.02.2021: STENA EDDA left dry dock yesterday and moved to the ship repair quay. STENA HORIZON replaced STENA MERSEY as expected last night, though her departure was delayed by around an hour. STENA EDDA is timetabled to replace STENA SUPERFAST VIII from the 07:30 sailing ex Belfast tomorrow.

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