Former Galloway Princess back in service as the yard which built her goes into administration

The latest addition to the Africa Morocco Link (AML) fleet, MOROCCO SUN, entered service last Saturday, 3rd August.  Better known here as the former GALLOWAY PRINCESS and STENA GALLOWAY, this was the first time the ship had been in revenue earning service since she was laid up in 2013 prior to the collapse of her then owner/operator IMTC.  

LE RIF seen in Tangier, 18th April 2009. Copyright © Ian Boyle.

As LE RIF she had been laid up during 2013 as a result of the bankruptcy of IMTC and reported serious technical issues before being sold at auction during 2016 to new operator DWLM.  Her new owners embarked on a substantial refit of the vessel at yards in both Italy and Spain. However, they appear to have had problems obtaining an operators license and reportedly experienced serious financial difficulties.  The financial situation was made worse when LE RIF broke free of her moorings during a storm when tied up at La Spezia, causing significant damage at a nearby marina.  This resulted in a court impounding the vessel following a claim for millions of euros in compensation.  Eventually an agreement was reached so that LE RIF could be released, after which she sailed to Genoa for further work to be completed including a second full repaint.  

Sealink’s GALLOWAY PRINCESS was built by Harland & Wolff, in 1980, for service on the Larne – Stranraer route. She is seen arriving at Larne with the 12.00 from Stranraer. Townsend Thoresen’s FREE ENTERPRISE IV can be seen (right) at the Continental Quay. GALLOWAY PRINCESS was renamed STENA GALLOWAY under Stena Line ownership. © Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

With DWLM seemingly unable to acquire an operators license it came as little surprise when rumours circulated that LE RIF was available for sale or charter, given the significant cost of her refurbishment in addition to her purchase price.  A number of different parties were linked, including would-be Dover Strait operator Seaborne Freight, but ultimately it was AML who secured LE RIF on what is reported to be a five-year bareboat charter.  She has re-joined the same route between Tangier Med and Algeciras which she plied between 2002 and 2013 for ITMC following her sale by Stena Line.  

Chantry Classics postcard depicting STENA GALLOWAY in ‘Sealink Stena Line’ livery. Photograph Copyright © Gordon Hislip.

MOROCCO SUN is a very different vessel inside than she was with IMTC, however, with DWLM having refurbished much of her passenger accommodation as well as having completed technical upgrades such as to her engine management system.  Much of the existing passenger accommodation, which dated from her Stena Line and Sealink days, was ripped out – with the notable exception of the former motorists lounge which is now a VIP lounge and still retains its distinctive curved counter.

A promotional video from the Jobson Italia shipyard showcasing their refurbishment of LE RIF

MOROCCO SUN was the first of four similar ferries ordered by Sealink from Harland & Wolff in the late 1970’s and delivered in the early 1980’s.  Launched and delivered as GALLOWAY PRINCESS, she was the first passenger ferry to be built by the yard in 15 years and designed specifically for the Stranraer to Larne route.  The fourth of the quartet, ST. DAVID (later STENA CALEDONIA and PORT LINK), would prove to be the last passenger ferry built by the yard and was delivered in 1981.  

‘Ferrycards’ postcard of STENA GALLOWAY leaving Belfast in Stena Line colours. Copyright © Gordon Hislip

As widely reported in the press, Harland & Wolff entered administration earlier this week after owners Dolphin Drilling (formerly Fred Olsen Energy) failed to find a buyer.  Although Harland & Wolff is a much smaller concern than that which used to imply around 30,000 people (the current workforce is being reported as 120), the facility does still boast one of the largest building docks in the world which is also reportedly the largest in Europe.  

Irish Ferries’ OSCAR WILDE in Harland & Wolff’s building dock in February 2016. Copyright © Gary Hall.

The nearby Belfast Dry Dock is also one of the biggest dry docks in the British Isles and is used by a number of ferry companies for maintenance, most notably Stena Line who have chosen the facility to dry dock most of their Irish Sea fleet in recent years.  Irish Ferries and P&O Ferries have also been users of the facility in recent years.  

STENA SUPERFAST VIII seen in Belfast Dry Dock in early March 2019 before repainting was completed. Sister-ship STENA SUPERFAST VII can be seen in the background to the right of the picture. Copyright © Scott Mackey.

For three months last year the adjacent Ship Repair Quay was used by MJM Marine to refurbish AZAMARA PURSUIT.  At the time this extensive refurbishment was  hailed as “the first of its kind undertaken in the UK for many years”, with the £50m contract billed as a “game changer” for MJM and the marine industry in Northern Ireland.  MJM themselves were previously linked by some as one of the party’s interested in purchasing Harland & Wolff, as well as at least two other parties – an American private investment company and a property company. However, none of the potential buyers have yet followed up with a commitment to purchase the yard, and employees were issued with redundancy notices on Monday according to a trade union.

ULYSSES approaches Belfast Dry Dock for an emergency dry docking on 28/06/18 with STENA HIBERNIA in the background, while AZAMARA PURSUIT (in Belfast for refit) looks on from the Ship Repair Quay. Copyright © Scott Mackey.
The newly renamed MOROCCO SUN (ex LE RIF / STENA GALLOWAY / GALLOWAY PRINCESS) undergoing work in Genova to prepare her for Africa Morocco Link service on her old route between Tangier Med and Algeciras, 08.06.19. Copyright © Giorgio Parodi.