Further service (hopefully) beckons for the former North Channel favourite
It has been confirmed that the purchasers, at auction, of the former COMANAV ferry Ibn Batouta (better known as the former Stena Antrim and St Christopher) was Albanian operator Red Star Ferries. Red Star Ferries currently operate from the Italian port of Brindisi to the Albanian ports of Durres and Vlore, with the elderly Red Star 1 (ex, Viking III, originally built 1965). It is rumoured that Ibn Batouta has been acquired to operate one of the existing Brindisi to Durres or Vlore routes, though it is understood that the Vlore route has less traffic and so it may be more likely she will operate to Durres instead. It is believed that the vessel is currently (or about to) undergo an intensive refit at Bijela (Montenegro), which will involve her capacity being enhanced, and recertification. Certainly, an intensive refurbishment will be required, with the long layover in Algercias having taken its toll on her condition both internally and externally.
It has been reported, by shiptoshore.it, that the operation to tow Ibn Batouta from the port of Algercias (undertaken by the Italian tug Brucoli, which towed the vessel all the way to Albania, supported inside Algercias by local tugs VB Venti and VB Algercias), was conducted without the necessary security clearance from the local authorities in Spain. Ship2shore also report that it the Albanian government is allegedly planning to introduce anti-pollution legislation which could restrict the maximum age of vessels operating on international routes to Albania. At over 35 years old, it is likely that the former Stena Antrim could be affected by any such legislation if it were to be implemented
However, another former Moroccan ferry, Banasa (ex Mette Mols, 1975), was recently purchased from the breakers in Turkey, also for service from Italy to Albania. This time it was a competing operation, European Seaways, which was the buyer. It is understood that she too is to be refitted (in Piraeus) before entering service between Italy and Albania. Banasa had also previously been towed from Algercias, this time by the tug Amber II (which previously towed HSS Discovery across the Atlantic for scrapping at Aliaga, Turkey), having also been sold at auction. COMANAV and COMARIT where part of the same consortium, which suffered financial collapse in January 2012.
St Christopher was the third of four ships built by Harland and Wolff for the then British State owned ferry operator, Sealink. She received numerous refits after leaving UK waters, most notably in 2011 when she had work done to ensure compliance with the Stockholm agreement and a complete overhaul of her engines.
However, in 2012 her owners COMANAV ceased trading, and she was laid up at Algercias, where she remained until this August. She was purchased from the Algercias port authority at auction for around $1,027,000 earlier this year, said to be her value as scrap.
Title image: Stena Antrim arrives in Belfast, 1995. Copyright © Alan Geddes.