Norway to Sweden ferry route ceases earlier than expected

By: NI Ferry Team
Last updated:
OSLOFJORD at Sandefjord 7 October 2023. Image: Gary Andrews.
OSLOFJORD at Sandefjord 7 October 2023. Image: Gary Andrews.

Fjord Line’s Sandefjord, Norway – Strömstad, Sweden ferry service has now closed.

The last sailing was OSLOFJORD’s departure from Sweden at 1830 this evening, 24 October.  She arrived just before 2100 local time.

The closure of the ferry route was announced just over a month ago and was scheduled to be this Sunday, 29 October.  However, yesterday, Fjord Line revealed on social media that the route would close today.  

The early closure was attributed to the closing down sale in the onboard shop going better than expected with stock running out fast.  The route is significantly about onboard shopping, so there is little incentive to sail with a lack of stock.

OSLOFJORD at Strömstad on 7 October 2023. Image: Gary Andrews
OSLOFJORD at Strömstad on 7 October 2023. Image: Gary Andrews

Strategic decision

In the closure announcement, Fjord Line stated that the Sandefjord route was closing as it “does not support Fjord Line’s vision and long-term strategy.”  Fjord Line will concentrate on their Norway – Denmark routes, developing the company further within tourism and the best on-board customer experiences. The company will also continue to strongly support passenger and freight transportation in the region.

At the time of the announcement of the route closure, CEO, Brian Thorsted Hansen said

“We are now in dialogue with the trade unions and union representatives as well as starting consultation meetings with those of our employees who will, unfortunately, be affected by the situation.

We thank our committed and loyal employees for their fantastic efforts and for creating great customer experiences. A sincere thank you must also be extended to all our customers having chosen Fjord Line when travelling or transporting goods between Sandefjord and Strömstad over the years.”

Fjord Line Press Release 20 September 2023

Future unknown for redundant ferry

Fjord Line has said that solutions to dispose of the OSLOFJORD are being considered.  It has been revealed that the vessel was offered to Viking Line earlier this year, but the price was too high. 

OSLOFJORD.  Image: © Peter Therkildsen.
OSLOFJORD. Image: © Peter Therkildsen.

Having been refitted as an impressive day ferry with a 1800 square metre shop but no overnight accommodation and a modest 720 lane metre capacity – though 370 cars – as currently configured, obvious moves for the ship are limited.  Viking Line closed their Kapellskär – Mariehamn route at the start of 2023 following the sale of the ROSELLA but the vessel would be perfect for that route.  Alternatively, Eckerö Linjen operate the 1979 ECKERÖ on the Grisslehamn, Sweden – Eckerö, Åland route.  This is a shopping route like  Sandefjord,– Strömstad, making OSLOFJORD a possibility for there.

At 30 years old, the vessel may also be sold for conversion to another ferry market such as the Greek Domestic trade where her 134.5 metre length would allow her to access many of the smaller ports.

OSLOFJORD at Strömstad on 7 October 2023. Image: Gary Andrews
OSLOFJORD at Strömstad on 7 October 2023. Image: Gary Andrews

An optimistic start to 9 years of shopping cruises

Built in 1993 as the overnight ferry BERGEN, the vessel primarily operated the Bergen – Stavanger – Egersund – Hanstholm route.  She later joined DFDS as the DUCHESS OF SCANDINAVIA in 2003 for two years on the Harwich – Cuxhaven route before returning to Fjord Line as the ATLANTIC TRAVELER.  Until the end of 2013, the ship remained on the traditional Fjord Line routes between Norway and Denmark, with a renaming to BERGENSFJORD in 2008. 

OSLOFJORD as the DUCHESS OF SCANDINAVIA. Image: Jon Woodhouse collection.
OSLOFJORD as the DUCHESS OF SCANDINAVIA. Image: Jon Woodhouse collection.

Replaced by the newbuilds STAVANGERFJORD and BERGENSFJORD (II), the ferry was renamed OSLOFJORD and sent to the STX Rauma yard, Finland for conversion to a day ferry.  In June 2013, the vessel emerged, almost unrecognisable and totally changed inside, ready for service on the Sandefjord – Strömstad route.

The Fjord Line Norway to Sweden ferry route opened on 20 June 2014.  Despite competing against the long-established Color Line service on the same crossing, Fjord Line quickly gained confidence.  The spectacular refit of OSLOFJORD’s quickly won loyal customers and a Shippax Award in 2015 for “the spectacular conversion into a modern day ferry”.

In December 2016, Fjord Line was announced as the winner of four daily slots at Sandefjord, meaning a second ship would be required from 1 January 2020.  Color Line were to reduce to two slots with only one ship required.  They were to build a Hybrid newbuild ferry for the purpose.  That vessel was to become the 2019-introduced COLOR HYBRID.

In June 2018, Fjord Line appeared to show their long-term commitment to Sandefjord with a major port announcement.  The company announced a plan to acquire space at the Jotun plant at Vidal, Sandefjord to construct a new port to open in 2025.

Fjord Line's previously planned port at Vindal, Sandefjord. Image: Fjord Line.
Fjord Line’s previously planned port at Vindal, Sandefjord. Image: Fjord Line.

Decline and the end

Due to a failure to agree terms with the Sandefjord munipality, a u-turn happened at the start of 2019 which saw Fjord Line lose their two additional slots at the port.  They were to stay with Color Line.

Meanwhile, Color Line’s new COLOR HYBRID ferry entered service in August 2019 alongside COLOR VIKING. The elderly BOHUS was sold for further service.

As a route with limited freight and low essential transportation numbers, the Covid-19 Pandemic hit the Sandefjord – Strömstad route badlyBastø Fosen’s Horten to Moss route was, and continues to be, the dominant player in the transport market in the region and the most trafficked ferry route in Norway.

OSLOFJORD was removed from service on 15 March 2020.  The vessel was used for two weeks in summer 2020 on a Langesund – Hirtshals service before further lay-up.  The vessel returned to service July to December 2021 on Sandefjord to Strömstad before a further two month suspension.  The upshot was that in two years, the vessel only seen six and half months service.

COLOR VIKING at Sandefjord 7 October 2023. Image: Gary Andrews.
COLOR VIKING at Sandefjord 7 October 2023. Image: Gary Andrews.

The Norwegian ferry routes have also severely affected by a reduction in the Norwegian duty-free allowance for tobacco.  This resulted in Color Line withdrawing COLOR VIKING from the Sandefjord – Strömstad route in November 2022 before the change was even introduced.  That vessel was subsequently sold to Seajets of Greece.

With the ferry companies on the Sandefjord route often charging low or free fares, the 2024 arrival of the European Union’s Emissions Trading System (ETS) is undoubtedly another challenge to the “shopping centre at sea” business model.

Having gone from three ships to one in less than a year, through a series of major business challenges, it is now COLOR HYBRID that continues the Sandefjord – Strömstad tradition.  Blessed with impressive environmental credentials and an ultra-modern onboard experience, if any ship can survive, it is this one.

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