HSC Express (ex Portsmouth Express, Catalonia, later marketed as Viking FSTR)
Until the end of September 2015, EXPRESS provided the seasonal service between Larne and Troon (and occasionally Cairnryan) in Scotland. She is an InCat 91m wave-piercing car carrying catamaran and was built in 1998 to operate in Spain for Buquebus (who's Spanish services where taken over by Balearia). In 1998 on her delivery voyage from Australia (named Catalonia) EXPRESS crossed the atlantic ocean in 3 days 7 hours 54 minutes, temporarily making her the holder of the Hales Blue Riband Trophy of the Atlantic for an eastbound crossing - her sister ship Cat-Link V took the record from her just 6 weeks later. (The previous record holder had been Hoverspeed Great Britain in 1990 which co-incidentally also previously operated from Northern Ireland to Scotland for Seacat. Prior to this the record holder was the SS United States which had held the record since 1952!) However, EXPRESS still holds the record for being the first passenger ship to cover more than 1000 miles in one 24 hour period (also achieved on that delivery voyage).
Since 2000 EXPRESS spent most of her career operating for P&O, firstly on cross-channel services from Portsmouth then on Scottish services from Larne. During the winter, when operating from Northern Ireland, she was usually laid up at Albert Quay in Belfast as she only operated between March and October. EXPRESS was one of only 4 car carrying fast craft left operating to the Island of Ireland (Stena's
'HSS Stena Explorer' (withdrawn at the end of 2014) and Irish Ferries 'JONATHAN SWIFT' operating from Dublin, and Isle of Man Steam Packets 'MANANNAN' being the others), and the only catamaran operating between Northern Ireland and Scotland.
In June 2015, P&O crew where informed by the company that the charter of EXPRESS was not being renewed at the end of her current season. At the end of June 2015 it was announced that owners Buquebus had sold EXPRESS to a new company called Nordic HSC, for operation between Gotland and the Swedish mainland. On the evening of 30th September 2015, EXPRESS made her last commercial sailing in our waters from Troon. The following morning, she left Larne for the last time for Belfast, where having been handed over to her new owners, EXPRESS visited Harland and Wolff (perhaps for the last time) for a quick dry-docking.
Express operated between Västervik and Nynäshamn (Swedish Mainland) and Visby (Gotland) for a single season for a new company called Gotlandsbåten. However, it was later announced that the service would not continue in 2017. In early 2017 it was announced that EXPRESS would operate for Viking Line as 'Viking FSTR' in 2017. From 10th April EXPRESS has operated for Viking Line between Helsinki and Tallinn, but with a reduced vehicle capacity. Our Scandinavian correspondents tell us that this is in order to increase turnaround speed in port. The Viking FSTR service will run until the 22nd of September. From a passenger perspective it appears that EXPRESS is essentially unchanged inside from when she operated for P&O.
Title image: Express in the livery of Gotlandsbåten. Gotlandsbåten
HSC Express Deck Plan (P&O, 2013)
Viking Line Viking XPRS information sheet (includes deck plan)
InCat Tasmania Pty Ltd., Hobart, Tasmania
Owner in NI service
Los Cipreses S.A (Buquebus)
Det Norske Veritas - DNV +1A1 HSLC R1 Car Ferry “B” EO
In service (original)
June 1998 (for Buquebus)
Call sign (for P&O)
Power(Max/Pme @ 75%)
220 cars or a combination of cars and up to 4 buses on single car deck
Up to 900 passengers on 2 passenger decks.
Bow and Stern doors leading directly onto the car deck
Flag (P&O service)
Portsmouth Express (trading name), Catalonia L, Catalonia
Facilities (at end of P&O career)
Club Lounge (Extra)
Costa Coffee shop
Bureau de Change
Note: There is no passenger lift onboard Express.
A P&O promotional video, released following the 2013 refit of Express.
Gotlandsbåten promotional video promoting the short-lived new service to Visby
Viking Line promotional video to introduce Viking FSTR (in Finnish)
Article Copyright © Steven Tarbox (NIFerrySite).