NI Ferry Site has learned that the IBN BATOUTA (ex STENA ANTRIM, ST CHRISTOPHER) left Durres (Albania) last Thursday under the tow of 1971 built tug CHRISTOS XXIV with a stated destination of Tuzla (Turkey). IBN BATOUTA had been in Durres since 2015 with no visible work having taken place to her following her purchase at auction earlier that year for her scrap value of $1,027,000, after the collapse of her operator COMANAV/COMARIT during January 2012.
While there are numerous shipyards in Tuzla which could return the former STENA ANTRIM to operating condition, Tuzla was also the initial stated destination for the former PRIDE OF DOVER before her destination was changed to Aliaga shortly before she was beached there. With the former North Channel and English Channel favourite having been out of service for over 6 years it would take a considerable amount of work and expenditure to restore her to a condition acceptable for passenger service.
UPDATE 14/02/18 08:45: CHRISTOS XXIV appears to have continued a northerly course overnight and is roughly level with Aliaga, though AIS coverage in the area is patchy. If she is to change course for the beach at Aliaga I imagine it will be within the next few hours.
UPDATE 14/02/18 14:45: CHRISTOS XXIV has continued her previous course and is now further north than Aliaga. It appears IBN BATOUTA may be going to Tuzla after all!
UPDATE 15/02/18 13:30 CHRISTOS XXIV is currently passing through the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara, still with a reported destination of Tuzla.
UPDATE 17/02/18 16:00 CHRISTOS XXIV is currently on her way to Tuzla Anchorage after the long journey from Albania with, it is assumed, IBN BATOUTA in tow. Hopefully things will become clearer over the coming days, and perhaps some photos will emerge.
UPDATE 17/02/18 23:00 CHRISTOS XXIV left Tuzla earlier, appearing to have left IBN BATOUTA behind. The Ferry Maroc blog suggests (in French) that she is to return to service for an as yet unspecified operator. When she was originally purchased at auction it was suggested that Red Star Ferries were linked to the purchaser, but it is not known if this is the operator in question nor is it certain that IBN BATOUTA will return to service.
UPDATE 21/02/18: There has been speculation that either Red Star Ferries or European Seaways could intend to return IBN BATOUTA to service on the Italy – Albania route between Brindisi and Vlora (Valona), which they operate in cooperation with each other.
Part-sister LE RIF (ex STENA GALLOWAY, GALLOWAY PRINCESS) is currently undergoing work to return her to service following her own extended layup.
ST CHRISTOPHER was the third of four ships built by Harland and Wolff for the then British State owned ferry operator, Sealink. Following the takeover of Sealink by Stena Line in 1990 she was reunited with two of her part-sisters STENA GALLOWAY and STENA CALEDONIA at Stranraer from 1991 to 1996. Following her becoming surplus to requirements at Stranraer after the introduction of HSS STENA VOYAGER she moved to the Newhaven – Dieppe route until April 1998 when she was laid up pending sale at Zeebrugge. She was purchased by Limadet and renamed IBN BATOUTA before leaving for Malaga in July 1998. Following a refit she entered service for Limadet on the route across the Gibraltar Strait between Algeciras and Tangier. In 2008 Limadet was taken over by COMARIT, though IBN BATOUTA remained on the Algeciras – Tangier route until the financial collapse of her owners. She received numerous refits after leaving UK waters, most notably in 2011 just a few months before she was laid up, when she had watertight doors fitted on her main vehicle deck (to ensure compliance with the Stockholm agreement) and a complete overhaul of her engines.