Three of the vessels have recently undergone or are undergoing significant renovation, while the other is just about to complete her 2018 season.
It’s been a while since we have taken a look at the quartet of Belfast built former Sealink ferries, and much has happened in the interim. We start with perhaps the most surprising news. The former STENA ANTRIM (originally ST CHRISTOPHER) is now in Greece at what is at least the third shipyard she has been to since she was purchased at auction in 2015, having been abandoned after the collapse of her owner/operator COMANAV in 2012.
The former North Channel and Dover to Calais favourite now sports a new livery dominated by a yellow hull and yellow and black funnels which she appears to have received at her dry-docking at the Gemak shipyard in Turkey. Her appearance at a shipyard in the Greek port of Perama is the latest chapter in her lengthy refurbishment which has also seen her visit yards in Albania and Turkey. She arrived in Piraeus (of which Perama is a suburb) under tow of the tug CHRISTOS XXII on or around the 15th of August.
It is still not 100% clear who her owners are, but NIFS notes she now wears an almost identical livery to the veteran “Papenburger” ST DAMIAN (originally Viking Line’s VIKING III from 1972) of European Ferries. ST DAMIAN, which is an older and smaller vessel, currently operates the Vlore (Albania) – Brindisi (Italy) route. Long term readers will recall European Seaways previously purchased the former BANASA from breakers in Turkey, though they soon resold her to Moby Lines for whom she now sails as MOBY KISS. You can view a photo of LE RIF arriving under tow here (external link).
The first of the quartet of ferries, LE RIF (ex GALLOWAY PRINCESS / STENA GALLOWAY) has also been undergoing prolonged refurbishment. She does however now look like she is almost ready for service, at least externally and in her passenger spaces. She has been subject to a thorough refurbishment of her passenger spaces and vehicle decks at Jobson Italia in Naples, where she has been since her move from La Spezia last year. As well as the replacement of much of her furniture she has also has her decks (floors), bulkheads (walls), deckheads (ceilings), and all pillars renewed as well as updated systems installed throughout. Her galley has been totally replaced as well, though despite the thorough refurbishment some areas remain recognisable from her original Stena Sealink refit in 1993 such as the former Motorists Lounge and video lounge, and the bar area which dates from a Sealink refit in 1987! With her refurbishment compete she was towed back to La Spezia in August. You can view a picture of her under tow back to La Spezia here (external link).
A picture speaks a thousand words so now follows a gallery of her refurbishment. All pictures are courtesy of owner DWLM (external link) unless otherwise stated (click for larger image).
Port Link also refurbished earlier in the year
Now we take a look at one of the two vessels which have largely remained in service whilst the other pair have been laid up over the past few years. PORT LINK (originally the ST DAVID and later STENA CALEDONIA) has undergone a refurbishment of her own. The final of the four vessels to be completed has been with Indonesia’s ASDP since she left the Stena Line fleet in 2012, leaving service only during the rainy season when operating her and other vessels is deemed impractical. The refurbishment has seen the replacement of furniture with that much more suited to her role in Asia where she carries a lot more passengers. Like LE RIF there has also been some renewal of decks, bulkheads, and deckheads. Again pictures speak louder than words so here follows another gallery. All pictures are from the KMP Port Link Facebook page (click for larger images).
What about Bari?
Finally we take a look at BARI. Originally built as ST ANSLEM and renamed to STENA CAMBRIA after the Stena takeover of Sealink in 1991, she is perhaps best known as a Holyhead – Dun Laoghaire ship even though like ST CHRISTOPHER she was built for (and soon extended for) service between Dover and Calais. She also had spells on the North Channel, though unlike her three part-sisters she wasn’t a permanent vessel. BARI still operates in the Mediterranean for Italy’s Ventouris Ferries, who saved her from the beach in 2010. This summer she has operated between Italy and Greece on the Bari – Corfu – Igoumenitsa and Bari – Corfu – Sami – Zante routes. Previously she has operated between Italy and Albania for the same operator. Like operating partner RIGEL I, her 2018 season ends with the sailing rotation she started yesterday.
There have been some suggestions that BARI may have been purchased by the same interests as LE RIF or European Ferries’ marketing and operating partner Red Star Ferries (whom were originally thought to have purchased IBN BATOUTA), however NIFS hasn’t been able to find anything to corroborate this. Red Star Ferries’ only vessel is the 1965 built RED STAR 1 (originally Thoresen’s VIKING III) however, and it may be that they want to upgrade to more modern tonnage in a period when there are moves to force operators to use newer vessels.
With three of the four vessels having undergone significant refurbishment this year it looks like the Harland & Wolff built quartet all still have a future in service ahead of them, despite having been conceived as far back as the mid to late 1970’s. Although only two are currently active with operators (PORT LINK and BARI) the investment in LE RIF and IBN BATOUTA and high demand for ferry tonnage suggests that they have an operational future, even if things don’t work out with their present owners.
LE RIF has had a number of false starts with dates being given for starting service on her old route between Algeciras and Tangier, only for the dates to pass with her still undergoing refurbishment. NIFS understands this may be related to difficulties in her Moroccan owners DWLM obtaining an operating licence from the Spanish authorities. At present the route is already served by an eclectic mix of tonnage operated by Balearia (who coincidentally use the former STENA NAVIGATOR, currently POETA LOPEZ ANGLADA, on the route), Transmediterranea, FRS, Intershipping, and Africa Morocco Link. There have been suggestions that the latter may charter LE RIF to use on the route, but indications from DWLM are that they intend to operate the vessel themselves.
With special thanks to regular contributor Rob de Visser who is currently on holiday and spotted IBN BATOUTA in Greece!