The future of the former North Channel stalwart, GALLOWAY PRINCESS / STENA GALLOWAY was uncertain for several years following the bankruptcy of her Moroccan owners, a significant period out of service, visits to various shipyards and difficulties surrounding the finances of another owner. Finally, in 2019, after 5 years in layup, during which she benefitted from a major internal refit, she received a new lease of life with a new operator across the Gibraltar Straits.
North Channel ‘game changer’
The first of four similar vessels built by Harland and Wolff for Sealink, the GALLOWAY PRINCESS was launched in May 1979 and entered service in May 1980. Designed and built specifically for the link between Larne and Stranraer, she was considered a ‘game changer’. Compared to any other vessels that had served the route, she was much larger and more efficient. She was the first vessel to feature drive through vehicle decks on 2 levels which brought a major boost to the link.
Differing to her later ‘near sisters’ in many ways, the ‘Galloway had slightly smaller passenger accommodation, her bridge was a deck lower and she was built with a bulbous bow instead of the bow rudders that were fitted to the other three ships in the series.
Stena Line service
In 1991, Sealink British Ferries was purchased by Stena Line. The GALLOWAY PRINCESS was renamed STENA GALLOWAY. Having operated the Northern Ireland to Scotland link with her younger near sister, ST DAVID (STENA CALEDONIA) since 1986, the third vessel on the route, DARNIA, was to be replaced by STENA ANTRIM (ST CHRISTOPHER) in April that year.
Following the introduction of the HSS, the STENA ANTRIM was moved to the Newhaven-Dieppe route while the STENA GALLOWAY and STENA CALEDONIA were retained on the North Channel as backup and for mainly freight sailings.
Sold to the Gibraltar Straits
By early 2002, the ‘Galloway was considered surplus to requirements and was sold. Her new owners were IMTC and she left Belfast for the final time on 24th February 2002, named LE RIF.
In March 2002, the vessel entered service between Algeciras and Tanger Med.
Following more than a decade of largely uninterrupted service, the future of the ship was unsure for a few years after her Moroccan-based owners, the International Maritime Transport Corporation (IMTC) were declared bankrupt in 2014. The ship, named LE RIF since 2002, was auctioned by the Administrative Court in Rabat in the summer of 2015 and was purchased by Detriot World Logistics Maritime (DWLM).
Africa Morocco Link
Having been idle for some time, the vessel was towed to a shipyard in Malaga in 2016 and then towed to Naples in March 2017. During this time, she was thoroughly renovated and refurbished. Following speculation about several ‘false starts’, it was reported in early 2019 that she had been taken over by Africa-Morocco Link (AML).
The outstanding debts accrued by DWLM were paid to the shipyards by AML and the intention to rename the ship MOROCCO SUN was announced. Reports suggested she would return to the Algeciras-Tanger Med route from June 2019, but it was not until July that she undertook sea trials and August when she finally entered service.
Matt Davies has kindly provided a selection of photographs from the vessel. Taken in late summer 2022, they document the extent of her refurbishment. The layout remains largely as built with some of the changes implemented by Sealink and Stena Line also evident.
Onboard Morocco Sun – Vehicle decks
These vehicle deck pictures illustrate clearly the flexibility of this series of vessels. The design brief was to provide a solution to enable vehicles to be loaded and discharged from both decks using either double or single shore ramps. Even in her 44th year, the MOROCCO SUN demonstrates this ability remarkably well.
Onboard Morocco Sun – The Bridge
Early in her new Southern European career, LE RIF had her bridge wings enclosed. This altered her appearance and made her seem more ‘boxy’ than previously.
Onboard Morocco Sun – Outside decks
Following the ship’s move from Northern Europe to warmer climes in the Gibraltar straits, her top deck was converted for passenger use and outdoor seating was provided. While the seats have since been removed, the area is still accessible and provides great views.
Unlike her three near-sisters, the GALLOWAY PRINCESS was built with an outside promenade on deck 7 that extended right along both the port and starboard sides of the vessel, as well as around the aft end. As a result, her interior accommodation is significantly smaller than the other ships in the series, but the outside area is illustrated well in the photographs below.
Onboard Morocco Sun – Interior passenger areas
As built, the GALLOWAY PRINCESS consisted of passenger accommodation on one deck, referred to as the Boat Deck (deck 7). Forward was a bar area with a restaurant situated midships, a small freight driver’s lounge on the port side of the main restaurant area, and a lounge located at the aft end. On deck 8 (the Bridge Deck) a shelter was provided towards the aft end, also for passenger use. This area on the upper deck was soon enclosed and converted to lounges.
All these areas were given various upgrades and refurbishments during the ship’s UK career. Today, they are still largely recognisable, having retained the same layout.
For the purposes of this article, we begin on deck 7 at the forward end which is still the main lounge bar area.
Aft of the bar is a lobby area which leads to the midships section of deck 7. This area was the restaurant as built and still serves this function today.
The ship originally had a very small shop located next to the information desk at the front of the aft lounge. In the early 1990’s a larger shop was created by splitting the lounge into two parts. The shop was located to starboard with a children’s soft play area behind it and a TV/video lounge was installed on the port side. Again, this layout remains the same today, although the play area is now a Mosque.
Not long after the ship entered service, what was built as a shelter on deck 8 was enclosed, and two lounges were created. These became the Motorist’s Lounge under Sealink British Ferries operation. A large main lounge was located midships which was separated by a stairwell, toilets and lobby area from a smaller aft lounge which opened directly onto the outside deck at the rearmost part of the ship’s accommodation.
These lounges benefitted from upgrades and refits under Sealink and Stena Line. The layout remains unchanged today as does much of the décor dating from the ship’s Irish Sea service.
We conclude our look around the ship with a couple of onboard plans. These illustrate the layout of the vessel today, operating for AML and back in 1999, while operating for Stena Line.
With special thanks to Matt Davies for the use of his photographs, without whom this article would not have been possible. Thanks also to Nigel Thornton of Dover Ferry Photos, Trevor Kidd and Alan Geddes for their assistance and for providing a selection of photos.
In the second article of this two-part series we will look at the former ST CHRISTOPHER/STENA ANTRIM/IBN BATOUTA which has recently benefitted from a major investment to reintroduce her to service. As the third vessel in the series of near sisterships built in Belfast by Harland and Wolff for Sealink, she now operates as EUROPEAN STAR from Brindisi in Italy to Vlorë in Albania.