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Final Departure of the Fleetwood Three: 10 years on

This month marks 10 years since the three former Larne to Fleetwood ferries left the Irish Sea for the final time. The service had been discontinued by operator Stena Line on Christmas Eve 2010, after which the vessels that served the route were laid up in Belfast pending sale. STENA SEAFARER saw refit cover duties on the Belfast to Stranraer route in early 2011, before all three were sold to a Russian Federation company, AnRussTrans to transport cargo across the Black Sea between Moldova, Turkey and Russia in June of that year.

The Fleetwood service operated by Pandoro began in 1975 and replaced an earlier LoLo service operated by P&O Ferrymasters. Initially, Pandoro, operated two ships on the route. A third vessel was provided in 1999 due to an increase in demand from hauliers and motorists who used the route for direct access to the M6 motorway. The route was deemed successful with each of the vessels ultimately receiving various modifications to increase capacity over the years.

Fleetwood itself is, however, very constrained by the Wyre Estuary and resulting tidal restrictions. This would ultimately lead to difficulties in finding suitable tonnage as the existing vessels aged.

In 2004, Stena Line made a bid to buy P&O‘s Larne to Fleetwood and Dublin to Liverpool services, The purchase of the Liverpool route was blocked by the UK Competition Commission but the Larne route was subsequently permitted to pass to the Swedish company. The Fleetwood vessels received Stena names soon after transfer to Stena Line and changes to their funnel colours were made during layover periods. At the same time, P&O markings were removed from their hulls and the new names applied. EUROPEAN SEAFARER, EUROPEAN LEADER and EUROPEAN PIONEER became STENA SEAFARER, STENA LEADER and STENA PIONEER respectively.

The deal with P&O also saw Stena purchase two other vessels; EUROPEAN AMBASSADOR and EUROPEAN ENVOY. The ‘Ambassador was to become STENA NORDICA while the ‘Envoy was quickly sold on to Norwegian company, Kystlink.

Ironically, Stena now owned and operated the three ships which were originally built for the company to place on the charter market in 1975 by JJ Siestas of Hamburg.

In late 2010, it was announced that the route would close on Christmas Eve and the ships would be laid up to be sold. The move was reported to have resulted in the loss of 140 jobs but the company stated at the time that there was “no option other than closure” as the route was incurring “serious losses”. Around the same time, Stena Line acquired the Belfast to Heysham and Birkenhead (Liverpool) services operated by DFDS which was subject to approval by UK and Irish competition authorities. Final approval was granted in June 2011.

On delivery to their new operator, AnRussTrans in summer 2011, the STENA PIONEER was renamed ANT 1, the STENA SEAFARER was renamed ANT 2 and the STENA LEADER was renamed ANNA MARINE. All three vessels were beached and scrapped at Aliaga, Turkey in February 2014.

Fast Facts: The former “Fleetwood Three”

Names:UNION MELBOURNE
UNION TRADER
PUMA
EUROPEAN SEAFARER
STENA SEAFARER
ANT 2
BISON
EUROPEAN PIONEER
STENA PIONEER
ANT 1
BUFFALO
EUROPEAN LEADER
STENA LEADER
ANNA MARINE
Builder:J.J. Sietas KG Schiffswerke GmbH & Co, Hamburg, GermanyJ.J. Sietas KG Schiffswerke GmbH & Co, Hamburg, GermanyJ.J. Sietas KG Schiffswerke GmbH & Co, Hamburg, Germany
Year constructed:197519751975
IMO Number:736159473615707361582
Gross Tonnage:10,95714,42612,879
Dimensions:140.80m x 19.40m140.80m x 22.00m157.20m x 19.40m
Passenger Capacity:457680
Freight Capacity:1,380 lanemetres1,674 lanemetres1,608 lanemetres
Fate:Scrapped at Aliaga, February 2014Scrapped at Aliaga, February 2014Scrapped at Aliaga, February 2014
NB: Figures quoted here are following various rebuilds

Scott Mackey

Scott Mackey is a Transportation and Transport Research graduate from Ulster University at Jordanstown. He has significant experience in the ferry industry, having worked for Stena Line in onboard services, as a customer services agent and sales support administrator in the freight department. He also has significant experience in public and community transport, having worked for Translink and as project officer of a rural community transport partnership. Scott has written numerous features for shipping and transport magazines and books.
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