Stena Line Irish Sea ferry fleet January 2024 updates

By: NI Ferry Team
Last updated:
STENA EUROPE on the Mersey on 25 January 2024. Image: © Ian Collard.
STENA EUROPE on the Mersey on 25 January 2024. Image: Ian Collard.

The first months of the year usually means changes to normal fleet deployment, this is very certainly very true for Stena Line’s Irish Sea ferry fleet in 2024.

Ships moving routes to cover dry-docks, new services and unexpected problems are all factors as Stena Line works hard to keep their fleet in top condition and offer new products to customers for the year ahead. The following is an overview of the changes that have happened during January and a look ahead to the next few months.

Stena Europe returns to Stena Line Irish Sea fleet or not?

When STENA EUROPE was replaced on the Fishguard to Rosslare route last July, few would have believed that the vessel would ever return to the Stena Line Irish Sea ferry fleet.  However, that became Stena Line’s plan when a combination of the annual overhaul period and repairs to the Fishguard jack-up rig made for good reasons to bring the 1981-veteran back.  

Whilst most vessels need the jack-up rig to allow a fit with the linkspan at Fishguard, there are extra fenders to allow a “work around”, permitting STENA EUROPE use the ramp without it.  Hence, using the ‘Europe would allow the route to remain open during these essential repairs.

The jack-up rig – a type of barge with retractable legs that sit on the seabed – is required due to the design of the ramp/linkpsan at Fishguard.  Dating from 1972, it was built for much smaller vessels.  The jack up rig allows newer ferries with a wider beam to land their ramps on it. Essentially, it provides a connecting platform to the linkspan.  

Following her replacement on the Fishguard route by the rebuilt STENA NORDICA, STENA EUROPE was transferred to another Stena subsidiary and re-registered to Cyprus, with plans for her to see service with Intershipping on the Strait of Gibraltar.  In reality, STENA EUROPE was only used for a month on the Algeciras to Tangier Med route at the peak of the return part of the 2023 Operation Marhaba, sailing 11 August until 15 September.  After idle time at Algeciras until 24 October, STENA EUROPE moved to Gibraltar.  She remained at the British Overseas Territory until making a surprise departure for Falmouth on 28 November.

STENA EUROPE moving from Cammell Laird, Birkenhead to Royal Seaforth Dock, Liverpool. Image: Christopher Triggs.
STENA EUROPE moving from Cammell Laird, Birkenhead to Royal Seaforth Dock, Liverpool. Image: © Christopher Triggs.

STENA EUROPE reached Falmouth on 3 December, entering the A&P dry-dock she’d been in only five months previous, before her trip to Southern Europe.  The ship departed on 22 December, but unexpectedly was bound for Holyhead.  The vessel subsequently spent the Christmas and New Year holiday period laid up at the Welsh port, departing for Fishguard on 1 January 2024.  During the following days the ship also visited Rosslare.

The plan was for STENA EUROPE to enter service on the morning sailing from Rosslare to Fishguard on 7 January. This allowed STENA NORDICA to replace STENA ESTRID on the Dublin to Holyhead route.

Stena Line Irish Sea ferry fleet mainstay STENA NORDICA at Holyhead on 16 January 2024. Image: Luke Wilson.
Stena Line Irish Sea ferry fleet mainstay STENA NORDICA at Holyhead on 16 January 2024. Image: © Luke Wilson.

However, early into the New Year, Fishguard to Rosslare sailings were cancelled for a week until 14 January.  STENA EUROPE’s return was subsequently put back until 24 January then 29 January.  On 15 January the vessel sailed to Birkenhead for attention at Cammell Lairds’ Wet Basin. 

STENA EUROPE remained there until 25 January when she moved to a lay-by berth (S8) in Royal Seaforth Dock on the Liverpool side of the Mersey. She subsequently moved berths at that location this morning, 28 January, with Liverpool port movements showing another move from berth S6 to S7 this evening. 

On her move from the Birkenhead to Liverpool side of the Mersey, it was noted that STENA EUROPE was without her lifeboats on the Portside, except for her fast rescue boat.

Stena Line has attributed STENA EUROPE’s cancellations to “mechanical issues”.

STENA EUROPE moving from Cammell Laird, Birkenhead to Royal Seaforth Dock, Liverpool. Image: Christopher Triggs.
STENA EUROPE moving from Cammell Laird, Birkenhead to Royal Seaforth Dock, Liverpool. Image: © Christopher Triggs.

At the time of writing, Fishguard to Rosslare sailings remain cancelled until up to and including 18 February.  It isn’t yet clear if STENA EUROPE will eventually re-join the Fishguard to Rosslare service or instead, with jack-up rig repairs complete, we may see another vessel such as STENA VINGA used.   

As described below, STENA NORDICA isn’t expected to return to Fishguard until mid-April.

STENA VINGA has been idle at Frederikshavn since before Christmas, following covering the dry-dock period of the STENA NAUTICA on the Halmstad to Grenå route from late November to mid-December.  The vessel is not currently scheduled to sail for Stena Line until she covers for the refit period of the STENA JUTLANDICA on the Gothenburg to Frederikshavn route, 9 to 29 April inclusive.  This is her only publicly scheduled duty at present.  STENA VINGA previously operated the Rosslare to Cherbourg and Fishguard routes in 2020.   She returned to the French route in 2021

STENA VINGA at Rosslare. Image: © Matt Davies.
STENA VINGA at Rosslare during 2021. Image: © Matt Davies.

The Rosslare to Pembrokeshire routes are set to have some of the lowest capacity in memory in the coming weeks.  Irish Ferries’ OSCAR WILDE is due to be replaced on the Rosslare to Pembroke Dock route by the 114-passenger NORBAY on 31 January, significantly reducing passenger capacity.  With Stena Line’s Fishguard route suspended, this leaves a very limited Southern Corridor service available to freight and tourist customers.

Stena Estrid on Irish Sea tour

Stena Line’s original E-Flexer, STENA ESTRID is taking a break from her regular Dublin to Holyhead route to assist on other services.

After arrival at Rosslare on the morning of 7 January 2024, STENA NORDICA sailed for Holyhead, allowing her to replace STENA ESTRID from the afternoon departure from Wales on the same day.  STENA NORDICA, of course, operated the Holyhead route full-time 2008 until 2015STENA NORDICA is operating the secondary/shoulder schedule, in support of STENA ADVENTURER.

STENA ESTRID subsequently sailed to Stena Line’s 12 Quays Port at Birkenhead and took up service to Belfast with the evening trip on 8 January.  This allowed fellow E-Flexer STENA EDDA to go to dry-dock at Cammell Laird Birkenhead, having completed her overnight sailing from Belfast to the Mersey on 7 January.  After a refit lasting over three weeks, STENA EDDA should re-enter service on the evening sailing from Birkenhead on 31 January, allowing STENA EMBLA to take her place at Cammell Laird.

STENA ESTRID at Stena Line's 12 Quays Terminal at Birkenhead on 14 January 2024. Image: Luke Wilson.
STENA ESTRID at Stena Line’s 12 Quays Terminal at Birkenhead on 14 January 2024. Image: © Luke Wilson.

At the end of February with STENA EMBLA back in service, STENA ESTRID will cover the short dry-docks of STENA SUPERFAST VII and STENA SUPERFAST VIII on Stena Line’s Belfast to Cairnryan route.

STENA ESTRID then returns to her usual Holyhead to Dublin route, taking the place of her normal running mate STENA ADVENTURER.  On the return of the ‘Adventurer, STENA ESTRID will return to her normal schedule on the Holyhead route.  STENA ESTRID refitted in June/July 2023 and is not expected to have any major maintenance work in 2024.

STENA ADVENTURER at Holyhead on 16 January 2024. Image: Luke Wilson.
STENA ADVENTURER at Holyhead on 16 January 2024. Image: © Luke Wilson.

New horizons for Stena Horizon

Stena Line’s Rosslare to Cherbourg route was reduced to a one ship service after the 7 January arrival at France of the STENA HORIZON.  Stena Line’s booking system indicates that STENA VISION will operate alone for the next few months.  STENA VISION will operate departures from Rosslare on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and returning from Cherbourg on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  

Operating on the Hoek Van Holland to Harwich route, STENA HORIZON replaced STENA HOLLANDICA from the night sailing from the Netherlands on 8 January. With STENA HOLLANDICA returning to service on 24 January, STENA HORIZON has been covering for the STENA BRITANNICA’s dry-dock from 25 January until 10 February. Throughout, Horizon will remain on the night sailing ex Hoek Van Holland, daytime sailing ex Harwich schedule.   

STENA HOLLANDICA and STENA BRITANNICA are receiving significant upgrades to their passenger accommodation.  Their first significant upgrades since arriving in service in 2010, the refit brings the ships into line with current Stena Line concepts, including much improved Stena Plus lounges.

After her first period operating on the North Sea, STENA HORIZON is then due to open Stena Line’s new Dublin – Liverpool (Birkenhead) route on 15 February.  Stena Line’s freight timetable shows that the first sailing will be a 0630 sailing from Dublin, arriving at 1430 at Birkenhead.  The return sailing is at 1830 from the Mersey, arriving at 0230 at the Irish port.  Following this, at those times there will be evening sailings from Birkenhead Sunday to Friday and morning sailings Monday to Saturday from Dublin.  A roundtrip will be missed from Liverpool on Saturday nights.

STENA HORIZON will receive her biennial refit in early April.  In her absence, the new Dublin to Liverpool route will be covered by STENA NORDICA.    When ‘Horizon returns, STENA NORDICA will finally return to the Fishguard service.   STENA HORIZON will remain on Stena Line’s newest Irish Sea ferry route until eventually returning to the Rosslare to Cherbourg route in time for summer.  

Stena Line is currently seeking an appropriate ship to continue the Dublin to Liverpool route when the ‘Horizon returns to Rosslare.   It remains to be seen whether Stena will have a fleet reshuffle or source external tonnage.

Meanwhile, STENA GOTHICA remains laid-up at Waalhaven, Rotterdam. The vessel saw service on the Rotterdam to Harwich route in December to bridge the gap between SOMERSET leaving the fleet and STENA FORETELLER coming back into service after her major dry-dock.

STENA GOTHICA’s sistership, URD, is due to sail to Klaipeda to begin a charter to TT-Line in the next few hours. Despite reports of a charter to Maritima Peregar from the end of January, it is understood that URD could be with TT-Line until as late as 1 May. The vessel’s first sailing on the Klaipeda – Karlshamn route is shown on the TT-Line booking engine as taking place at 2200 on 30 January. URD was previously on charter to TT-Line for two months before Christmas due to the grounding of the company’s MARCO POLO. As well as the issues with MARCO POLO, the newbuild NILS HOLGERSSON has been out of service at Travemünde since an engine room fire on 18 January and it is unclear how long this vessel will also be out of service.

Polite notice: While we welcome our articles being shared, we request that links to this website are provided rather than other approaches. Thank you (NI Ferry Site team).