Grimaldi-owned ferry operator Finnlines celebrated 75 years of shipping Finnish imports and exports earlier this week. The company, which started off with six steamships and now operates 23 modern Ro-Ro ferries, provides both passenger and cargo services on a network across the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, and the Bay of Biscay. Earlier this year, Finnlines entered the EU – Ireland market with the start of a route connecting Zebrugge and Rosslare.
As with many shipping companies, Finnlines grew through acquiring other operators. The Finnlines we know today largely resulted from the merging of the operations of Finncarriers and Poseidon Schiffahrt in the late 1990’s, though the company also acquired Bore Line earlier in that decade and Nordö-Link AB in 2002.
In 2007, the Grimaldi group became the largest shareholder in Finnlines having started buying shares in 2005, but the Italian company would not take full ownership of the company until August 2016. Grimaldi is one of the world’s largest operators of ro-ro vessels, and Finnlines is able to offer its customers liner services using both its own and the wider Grimaldi network which stretches as far as the USA.
Even before Grimaldi took a controlling stake in the company, Finnlines had ambitious tonnage acquisition plans to support its continuing expansion.
In 2004, the company ordered five large Star-class Ro-Pax ferries from Fincantieri. These were later delivered as FINNSTAR, FINNMAID, FINNLADY, EUROPALINK and NORDLINK. The Star-class was acquired to succeed the Hansa-class ships which had been delivered by Stocznia Gdańska to Finncariers-Poseidon a decade earlier. Two of the Hansa-class, FINNPARTNER and FINNTRADER, remain with Finnlines while the other pair of the quartet are in service elsewhere in the Grimaldi group.
The latest deliveries are three hybrid Ro-Ro ferries. These were delivered in quick succession earlier this year, again from Jinling (Nanjing). Dubbed the Eco-class, they are based on the Grimaldi group GG5G design by Knud E. Hansen. Although they have less trailer capacity than the Grimaldi Lines units, they incorporate the same efficiency boosting technologies such as an air hull lubrication system.
All three Eco-class ships, named FINNECO I-III, are deployed on the Biscay line which takes in Bilbao–Zeebrugge / Antwerp–Travemünde–Helsinki / Kotka–Paldiski.
Finnlines is also expecting two brand-new Superstar-class Ro-Pax vessels to be delivered by China Merchants Jinling (Weihai). This is the same shipyard that has been building Stena’s E-Flexer series in impressive time, and is part of the same group as Jinling (Nanjing).
The Superstar-class promises to set new standards in passenger comfort and efficiency on the Naantali – Långnäs – Kapellskär route. The first of the due, FINNSIRIUS, was launched on 30 August and is expected to be in service next year. Keel-laying took place for sister-ship FINNCANOPUS on 1 September, and she is also expected to be in service during 2023. Together with the Eco-class, the Superstar-class represent a total investment of €500 million in new tonnage delivered over 2 years.
New Polish Route on the Horizon?
Earlier this month, Finnlines was linked with a new service between the Polish port of Świnoujście and Malmö in Sweden which would start in December. While the company has not publicly confirmed the plan, any such route would be controversial in competing with the Polish state controlled operators Unity Line and Polferries who both sail between Świnoujście and Ystad. Malmö is less than 60km from Ystad and closer to cities such as Copenhagen, Helsingborg, Lund, Halmstad, and Gothenburg. Finnlines already has a presence in Poland, and offers a two-ship Ro-Ro service between Gdynia and Hanko (Finland).