Pioneering P&O Ferry Enters Service Between Dover and Calais

By: Steven Tarbox
The Food Market, P&O PIONEER . Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.
The Food Market, P&O PIONEER . Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.

P&O Ferries’ new ‘fusion class’ hybrid ferry P&O PIONEER begins revenue earning service between Dover and Calais today. 

The new ship, which P&O Ferries says will reduce carbon emissions by 40%, boasts a number of firsts. P&O PIONEER is;

  • The world’s largest double-ended ferry and the first to enter service between the UK and Mainland Europe.  
  • The first English Channel ferry to use pod propulsion.
  • The first hybrid ferry to operate between England and France.

A sister-ship, P&O LIBERTÉ, is expected to be handed over at the start of September. She will enter service around the end of October on the Calais route. 

P&O PIONEER leaves Dover.  Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.
P&O PIONEER leaves Dover. Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.

The new P&O ferries were designed by Danish naval architects OSK Shiptech. Interior architecture and design is by fellow OSK Group company Steen Friis Design. Both companies have since been rebranded as OSK Design.

Some elements of the original interior concept design, by dSign Vertti & Kivi of Finland, have also been retained.

As the ‘Pioneer is a double-ended vessel, there is no need for it to turn around in port like traditional English Channel ferries.  This saves time, energy and fuel.  Manoeuvring in port is one of the most energy intensive phases of a ferry crossing, but P&O PIONEER’s design means that this will be kept to a minimum.  

The main lounge / bar onboard P&O PIONEER which has its own dedicated outside deck space.  Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.
The main lounge / bar onboard P&O PIONEER which has its own dedicated outside deck space. Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.

P&O Ferries has previously stated that by not having to turn around the vessel will save seven minutes and a sixth of the total fuel burn per crossing. The time saved with less manoeuvring will give the ship more time to cross the channel while adhering to the same schedule, so reducing crossing speed, fuel burn and emissions.


Peter Hebblethwaite, CEO of P&O Ferries, is keen to highlight the company’s investment in new lower emissions ships.  He said: 

“P&O Pioneer marks a new era in low-carbon travel and trade for the UK and France, with the investment of £250m in new hybrid ships on the iconic Dover-Calais route.

“For the millions of passengers who sail with P&O Ferries between the UK and France, our two ultra-modern vessels being introduced this year will deliver a fantastic travel experience.

“We are determined to make P&O Ferries the best ferry company in Europe. That means: the best ships, the best routes, and the best value for our customers.”

Source: P&O Ferries press release 19 June 2023.

Zero-emission ready

P&O PIONEER is designed to become even kinder to the environment in the future.  Initially the ship will operate as a diesel-battery hybrid as there is currently no shoreside charging available in Calais or Dover.  

Instead of plugging in while in port, P&O PIONEER will operate as a diesel-electric ferry with batteries which will be charged using energy generated by the main engines during the crossing. This will allow the ship to arrive, manoeuvre in port, and depart using only battery power as well as draw extra energy from the battery reserves in times of high demand instead of increasing engine output (and emissions). 

Once shore power becomes available, P&O PIONEER and P&O LIBERTÉ have been designed to be upgraded to full-electric operation. Unlike most other ferries, there is no mechanical connection between the main engines and the propulsion system on P&O PIONEER. The four Wärtsilä main engines act as generators for the electrical system instead.  These engines are designed to be replaced with batteries once the ship is converted to all electric operation.

A top down view of P&O PIONEER showing the almost symmetrical bow and stern of the vessel. GSI.
A top down view of P&O PIONEER showing the almost symmetrical bow and stern of the vessel. GSI.

Cruise ship propulsion

Instead of using traditional mechanical propulsion methods, P&O PIONEER is propelled by four DO1600 electric Azipod® units provided by Swedish-Swiss company ABB.  These pods, one of which is located near each corner of the vessel, can rotate 360 degrees.  This removes the need for fixed propellers, bow or stern thrusters, and also traditional rudders as the pods can steer the ship in any direction. While pods have been a popular choice for cruise ship builds, their adoption by ferry operators has been slower so far.

As with other modern ferry new builds, P&O PIONEER also makes use of heat recovery and LED lighting to reduce energy consumption.  The ship has been designed so that up to two-thirds of the vessel can be closed off on non-peak sailings. The intelligent energy management system can further reduce energy use by shutting off the ventilation and lighting to these closed off spaces. 

Modern passenger facilities

Inside, P&O Ferries has provided the contemporary passenger facilities you’d expect for a 90 minute crossing. There is a particular focus on commercial drivers and families.  

The double-ended design lends itself to having large open deck spaces and there are four outside spaces totalling over 1,500 m2 for passengers.  Transparent screens surround the outside decks in order to reduce passenger’s exposure to the elements.

On deck 9 these outside spaces are subdivided.  Forward, the division provides dedicated spaces for commercial drivers and users of the Pet Lounge.

The Pet Lounge is a space where customers can relax alongside their dogs during the crossing. In addition to the dedicated pet exercise area and separate dog toilet, the pet lounge also has its own dedicated lift.  Dog parents can avail of complimentary hot drinks.

At the aft (Dover facing) end of deck 9 the outside deck space is divided to provide dedicated outside spaces for the Club Lounge, which gets the best views of the white cliffs of Dover, and the Quiet Lounges.  

Children are catered for with a maritime themed soft play area (with seating for parents) for younger kids and interactive screens, a digital selfie wall, arcade games and plenty of charging points for those who have outgrown soft play areas.  Wi-Fi is of course also available on board.

P&O PIONEER's maritime themed soft play area.  Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.
P&O PIONEER‘s maritime themed soft play area. Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.

Range of lounges

P&O’s fusion class each have two quiet lounges on deck 9 of the ship with outside deck space. 

The large Club Lounge, also on deck 9, as mentioned, has its own dedicated outside deck space as well as separate lounge and dining areas.  Club Lounge customers can avail of ‘premium’ food options and complimentary drinks, all included in the access price of the soundproofed lounge. 

The Club lounge onboard P&O PIONEER. Image: P&O Ferries.
The Club lounge onboard P&O PIONEER. Image: P&O Ferries.

For those just looking to relax or have a drink that don’t want to pay the premium for the Club Lounge, there is a 287 seat lounge bar forward on deck 8 with its own outside space.

Passengers can take advantage of their duty free allowance in a large duty free shop which at 588m2 takes up nearly a third of deck 8.  As with P&O Ferries’ other vessels, the shop is a World Duty Free concession and contains the usual beer, wine, spirits, perfumes, and tobacco products.

Modern food choices

Food options are provided over both public decks midships with impressive views available from the glass curtain walls along both sides of the ship spanning both decks.  Both dining areas offer ‘grab and go’ options.  

The selection in the Food Market on deck 8 includes pizzas, paninis and a selection of salads, sandwiches, sweet treats and drinks.  P&O Ferries has designed the Food Market, which is the largest passenger space on the ship, to be convenient and fast.  As with the Food Market on SPIRIT OF BRITAIN and SPIRIT OF FRANCE, passengers pay for their purchases using self-service tills.

Upstairs in The Kitchen passengers can choose from options such as hand battered haddock and chips, the new buttermilk chicken burger and a vegan burger.  A new children’s offer includes chicken nuggets and a cheeseburger.  Passengers will place orders using self-service kiosks similar to those commonly found in fast food restaurants. 

Reflecting changed trends over the past 20 years, there is no brasserie/waiter service restaurant. This is a facility already removed from the existing Dover fleet.

Looking after freight drivers

Making up a significant part of Dover – Calais revenue, P&O Ferries has significantly improved the freight driver experience on the new ferries.

A 132 seat commercial drivers restaurant is located on the port side of deck 9 beside the drivers changing and showering facilities.  The dedicated drivers lounge is located just forward of the commercial drivers restaurant.


P&O Ferries is keen to emphasise how accessible its new vessel is.  To aid those with reduced mobility, P&O PIONEER has more passenger lifts than on previous vessels – five in total.  There is space for wheelchairs in all seating areas on the ship. Similarly, counters have been designed to ensure wheelchair accessibility.

P&O PIONEER will also be the first ferry on the Dover to Calais route to have a ‘Changing Places’ toilet. This is a larger facility with a changing bench and hoist to support disabled people who need assistance.  Six wheelchair accessible toilets are available with three on each public deck.

Bigger ships, modern fleet

The fusion class ferries each have the capacity to potentially carry half a million freight units per year.  Consequently, P&O can increase efficiency by moving the same amount of cargo with fewer overall sailings.

This has seen the withdrawal and sale of the EUROPEAN SEAWAY and PRIDE OF BURGUNDY in recent years. PRIDE OF BURGUNDY is currently undergoing recycling in Turkey and EUROPEAN SEAWAY was sold for further service.

This is a fleet reduction from six vessels to four.

P&O PIONEER at sea. Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.
P&O PIONEER at sea. Image: P&O Ferries Ltd.

The two newbuilds directly see the end of P&O’s oldest generation ferries on the Dover to Calais route. The Darwin class’ PRIDE OF KENT, and PRIDE OF CANTERBURY will be retired from the service. These older ferries were converted from freight ships built in the 1990’s and use much less efficient, older technology than the newbuilds.  

PRIDE OF KENT completed her final scheduled crossing earlier this month. PRIDE OF CANTERBURY will be withdrawn when P&O LIBERTÉ arrives on the route around the end of October.  

The older generation PRIDE OF KENT. P&O Ferries.

The new fusion class will operate alongside P&O’s 2011/12-built Spirit class twins SPIRIT OF BRITAIN and SPIRIT OF FRANCE.

The result is that P&O Ferries will have the most modern fleet on the Dover Strait.

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