Ferry Chronicle 2014 by Kalle Id

Ferry Chronicle 2014

by Kalle Id

Welcome to the second ever issue of MaritimeMatters’ annual (if one can use that terms when the series is only on its second year) look at the status of the international ferry business. I started the 2013 issue by saying that the year was a “gap year” in the ferry business, with operators biding their time, waiting for the Sulphur Emission Control Area (SECA) regulations to come into effect on the Baltic Sea, North Sea and the east & west coast of North America. Year 2014 was even more of a gap year, with just one actual newbuilt ferry entering service during the entire year. But several other interesting developments took place during the year.

Notable Newbuildings & Cool Conversions

Interestingly, unlike last year, only one of the ships covered in this segment is actually SECA-compliant – despite the fact that all ships featured here do sail in the SECA areas.

Fjord Line's new BERGENSFJORD arriving in the port of Hirsthald in Denmark. With the pair of LNG powered ships, Fjord Line have taken the lead in environmentally friendly passenger shipping. Photo copyright © 2014 Marko Stampehl.
Fjord Line’s new BERGENSFJORD arriving in the port of Hirsthald in Denmark. With the pair of LNG powered ships, Fjord Line have taken the lead in environmentally friendly passenger shipping. Photo copyright © 2014 Marko Stampehl.

The only actual newbuilding to enter service during 2014 was Fjord Line’s new BERGENSFJORD, built by by the Fosen shipyard in Rissa, Norway (although her hull was subcontracted to the Stocznia Gdansk yard in Poland). A sister ship of the 2013-built STAVANGERFJORD, covered in last year’s Ferry Chronicle, the BERGENSFJORD entered service in March 2013, joining her sister on the Bergen-Stavanger-Hirsthals-Langesund -line. With two ships, Fjord Line are now able to offer daily departures from both ends of the line, and daily departures in both directions from the intermediate ports. The delivery of both sisters was severely delayed after a decision by their owners to change their engines from diesels into ones using liquidized natural gas (LNG), which handily produces much less sulphur and other emissions than what is mandated in the SECA regulations.

On north European ferries, the buffet is usually the main dining venue onboard, with design to match the high status. The BERGENSFJORD's Commander Buffet is a good example of this. Photo copyright © Mike Louagie/Fjord Line.
On north European ferries, the buffet is usually the main dining venue onboard, with design to match the high status. The BERGENSFJORD’s Commander Buffet is a good example of this. Photo copyright © Mike Louagie/Fjord Line.

In terms of interiors, the BERGENSFJORD is essentially identical to the STAVANGERFJORD, with interiors designed by the Norwegian marine architects Falkum-Hansen Design. The aim of the interior design was to “update” the design style of Norwegian ocean liners of the 20th century into the 21st century – whether this has been successful is for each individual to judge. Certainly in terms of amenities the new ships have nothing to be ashamed of: there are four different restaurants to choose from, three lounges and bars, a conference rooms area and a tax-free supermarket.

BERGENSFJORD specifications
Tonnage 31 678 GT
Length 170 m / 558 ft
Width 27,5 m / 89 ft
1 500 passengers (summer), 1 200 passengers (winter)
1 180 berths
600 cars
1 350 lane metres of cargo

The old BERGENSFJORD was radically rebuilt in Finland from a long-distance overnight ferry into a short-distance day ferry. Photo copyright © 2014 Marko Stampehl.
The old BERGENSFJORD was radically rebuilt in Finland from a long-distance overnight ferry into a short-distance day ferry. Photo copyright © 2014 Marko Stampehl.

The arrival of the new BERGENSFJORD made it possible for Fjord Line to open a new line using their old 1993-built BERGENSFJORD (ex-BERGEN, DUCHESS OF SCANDINAVIA, ATLANTIC TRAVELLER). Short sea crossings between Sweden and Norway across the Oslo Fjord are highly popular, as the short crossing allows for tax-free goods to be sold onboard. Hitherto the line between Strömstad and Sandefjord has been dominated by Color Line, but with the 1993 BERGENSFJORD freed from her old line, Fjord Line also wanted a share. The BERGENSFJORD was sent to the STX Europe shipyard in Rauma, Finland for a complete transformation from a long-distance overnight ferry into a short distance retain-oriented ferry. The ship entered service on the Strömstad-Sandefjord -line in June 2014, fittingly renamed OSLOFJORD.

While the passenger spaces on the newbuilt Fjord Line line ships evoke a feeling on ocean liners of the past, the OSLOFJORD's interior design takes its cues more from sailing vessels. Photo copyright © Jon Inge Nordnes/Allegro/Fjord Line.
While the passenger spaces on the newbuilt Fjord Line line ships evoke a feeling on ocean liners of the past, the OSLOFJORD’s interior design takes its cues more from sailing vessels. Photo copyright © Jon Inge Nordnes/Allegro/Fjord Line.

As said, the biggest attraction on the line across Oslofjord is tax-free shopping, and as such the main feature of the OSLOFJORD is her tax-free supermarket – reportedly the second-largest afloat, with the only that onboard the VIKING GRACE being larger. While almost an entire deck of cabins was demolished to make way for the supermarket, the ship’s superstructure was also extended aft, creating an attractive observation lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows. Other onboard spaces were similarly modernized and brought up to the same standard as on the STAVANGERFJORD and the new BERGENSFJORD, essentially creating an entirely new ship.

OSLOFJORD specifications
Tonnage 16 794 GT
Length 134,50 m / 441 ft
Width 24 m / 79 ft
1 800 passengers
370 cars
720 lane metres of cargo

The NOVA STAR of Nova Star Cruises was actually built in 2011, but since she entered service in 2014, she qualifies for a newbuilding. She is seen here at Yarmouth in October. Photo copyright © 2014 Marko Stampehl.
The NOVA STAR of Nova Star Cruises was actually built in 2011, but since she entered service in 2014, she qualifies for a newbuilding. She is seen here at Yarmouth in October. Photo copyright © 2014 Marko Stampehl.

The third newbuilt ship in this issue is not strictly speaking new, as she was completed already in 2011, but did not enter service until the summer of 2014. I am talking of course about the Portland-Yarmouth ferry NOVA STAR. Originally she was ordered by LD Lines of France from the ST Marine shipyard in Singapore. The ship was to be called NORMAN LEADER and placed in service on the short routes across the English Channel. However, LD Lines declined to take delivery of the ship, as her deadweight capacity (and thus ability to carry freight) was smaller than specified. No buyer emerged for the ship, until ST Marine and the US-based Quest Navigation formed Nova Star Cruises to bid for, and won, the tender to operate a ferry service from the US to Yarmouth. the NORMAN LEADER was thus renamed NOVA STAR, and placed on service from Portland (Maine, US) to Yarmouth (Nova Scotia, Canada).

The forward-facing lounge onboard the NOVA STAR offers rather spectacular views of the surrounding ocean. Photo copyright © Nova Star Cruises.
The forward-facing lounge onboard the NOVA STAR offers rather spectacular views of the surrounding ocean. Photo copyright © Nova Star Cruises.

Passenger facilities onboard the NOVA STAR include two restaurants, three lounges, a pub, a casino, a supermarket, a spa and a conference center that doubles as a discotheque during the night. Due to being designed for short English channel crossings, the NOVA STAR has a limited number of cabins for the route she currently serves,  and particularly the selection of larger-than-standard cabins is very limited – at least by the standards of someone used to the cabin facilities on North European ferries. The terms of the tender to operate the Portland-Yarmouth -service include a state aid of 21 million Canadian dollars for the period of seven years, but reportedly Nova Star Cruises used the entire sum during their first season of operation. A rival company is reportedly planning a competing service, and it remains to be seen whether Nova Star Cruises persists or not.

NOVA STAR specifications
Tonnage 27 744 GT
Length 162 m / 532 ft
Width 25,6 m / 84 ft
1 215 passengers
648 berts
400 cars
1 500 lane metres of cargo

Serious accidents

Unfortunately, 2014 was a year of serious ferry accidents.

The sunken SEWOL photographed in an earlier guise as the FERRY NAMINOUE in Kagoshima, before her superstructure was enlarged. Photo 2010 Tsuda, used under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.
The sunken SEWOL photographed in an earlier guise as the FERRY NAMINOUE in Kagoshima, before her superstructure was enlarged. Photo 2010 Tsuda, used under the CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

In April the South Korean ferry SEWOL capsized and sunk while en-route from Incheon to the island of Jeju (both in South Korea). Only 179 of the 475 passengers and crew onboard were resqued. The captain of the SEWOL was one of the first to leave the ship, and the crew instructed passengers to remain onboard even when the ship was listing so badly that normal movement was impossible. Cause of the incident was later found to be changes to the ship’s original construction, which compromized her stability, and navigational errors by the crew. The SEWOL’s officers received heavy sentences in a South Korean court in November, with captain Lee Jun-Seok sentenced to 36 years in prison and the other officers receiving sentences of 15-30 years. The South Korean maritime authorities that approved the fatal alterations to the SEWOL’s construction were not charged.

The NORMAN ATLANTIC photographed in the colours of her previous operator LD Lines. Photo copyright © 2014 Gary Andrews.
The NORMAN ATLANTIC photographed in the colours of her previous operator LD Lines. Photo copyright © 2014 Gary Andrews.

On 28th December the ropax ferry NORMAN ATLANTIC caught fire while en-route from Patras and Igoumenitsa in Greece to Ancona in Italy. The ship was owned by Visemar in Italy, but had recently been chartered to the Greece-based ANEK Lines. 427 passengers and crew were saved from the burning ship in a 24-hour long drama, when heavy seas on the scene left lifting people off the burning ship one by one on a helicopter as the only viable alternative. The exact amount of people perished in the accident is currently unknown, as several people not included in the crew or passenger manifests are amoungst those rescued from the ship. At the time of writing, the fire is believed to have originated from a malfunction of electric equipment on the car deck. Shortly before the accident, several safety defects were discovered onboard the NORMAN ATLANTIC in a routine inspection.

New lines and struggles

Aside from newbuildings, several other interesting company developments also took place during the year.

The first ferry line between China and South Korea was opened in the summer, when Yantai Bohai Gulf Ferries chartered the STENA EGRERIA from Sweden’s Stena Line and opened a service from Yantai (China) to Pyeongtaek (South Korea). In geographically related news, Stena Line closed down their 2013-opened South Korea-Russia service Stena Daea Line in July.

Tallink Grupp's attempts in improve profitability across their two brands included thorough refits of the Silja Line flagships SILJA SERENADE and SILJA SYMPHONY. Seen here is the completely rebuilt buffet restaurant of the former. Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.
Tallink Grupp’s attempts in improve profitability across their two brands included thorough refits of the Silja Line flagships SILJA SERENADE and SILJA SYMPHONY. Seen here is the completely rebuilt buffet restaurant of the former. Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.

To streamline their operations for the SECA era, the Estonian ferry operator Tallink Grupp, who operate ships under the Tallink and Silja Line brands, streamlined their operations during the year. The laid up ferry SILJA FESTIVAL (ex-WELLAMO) was chartered to Bridgemans Group as an accommodation vessel for use in British Columbia in January. She was joined in August by the SILJA EUROPA, which was chartered to the same company but for use in northern Australia. In the resulting ship shuffle, the Stockholm-Riga line operated under the Tallink brand was downgraded to a single-ship service with a departure ever other day. To improve profitability, the Silja Line ferries SILJA SERENADE and SILJA SYMPHONY, which were the first ships to introduce the idea of a horizontal atrium, were given through refit of their public areas during the year.

The Panamian company Ferry Xpress opened the first ferry line between Panama and Colombia on October, when the SNAV ADRIATICO chartered from the Italian ferry operator SNAV initiated service between Colón, Panama and Cartageba, Colombia. It will be of interest to see if a service using the large (31 910 gt and 1 200 passenger) SNAV ADRIATICO will be a success.

The SNAV ADRIATICO seen in her previous life as the STENA BALTICA. She begun her career as the UK-Netherlands ferry KONINGIN BEATRIX. Photo copyright © 2007 Marko Stampehl.
The SNAV ADRIATICO seen in her previous life as the STENA BALTICA. She begun her career as the UK-Netherlands ferry KONINGIN BEATRIX. Photo copyright © 2007 Marko Stampehl.

In preparation for the SECA restrictions, several companies begun the process of installing sulphur scrubbers towards the end of the year, with ship repair yards getting (understandably) very busy. Amongst the companies installing scrubbers are DFDS, Color Line, TT-Line, Finnlines and Brittany Ferries. The latter was originally planning to convert their three newest ferries to run on LNG, as well as built a new LNG-powered ship, but could not get a temporary permission to run on high-sulphur fuel until the completion of the LNG conversions. Therefore the entire six-ship fleet will be refitted with scrubbers instead.

Finnlines' Star-class ferries are amongst the ones that are in the process of receiving scrubbers to fullfill the SECA regulations. Seen here is the lead ship of the class, the FINNSTAR, when she was brand new. Photo copyright © 2006 Kalle Id.
Finnlines’ Star-class ferries are amongst the ones that are in the process of receiving scrubbers to fullfill the SECA regulations. Seen here is the lead ship of the class, the FINNSTAR, when she was brand new. Photo copyright © 2006 Kalle Id.

For sale

No less than three major ferry operators were placed for sale during 2014, though none changed ownership yet during the year.

Trasmediterránea's flagship FORTUNY photographed arriving in Barcelona. Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.
Trasmediterránea’s flagship FORTUNY photographed arriving in Barcelona. Photo copyright © 2014 Kalle Id.

The Spanish conglomerate Acciona stated during the summer that they are looking to sell their loss-making ferry subsidiary Trasmediterránea, which Acciona acquired from the Spanish state in 2001. Trasmediterránea operate various intra-Spanish routes, as well as services from Spain to Morocco. This is not the first time Acciona has tried to sell  Trasmediterránea, and finding a buyer is likely to be difficult. Originally the company’s aim was to complete the sale by the end of 2014, but the company remains unsold at the time of writing. The only company to have expressed public interest in  Trasmediterránea is their competitor Balearia, who could not take over most of  Trasmediterránea’s routes without gaining a dominant market position and thus encurring the wrath of the local competition regulators.

Polferries' flagship SCANDINAVIA seen in Nynäshamn, Sweden. According to rumours, Polferries are planning to sell the 1980-built vessel separately before the entire company is sold. Photo copyright © 2005 Marko Stampehl.
Polferries’ flagship SCANDINAVIA seen in Nynäshamn, Sweden. According to rumours, Polferries are planning to sell the 1980-built vessel separately before the entire company is sold. Photo copyright © 2005 Marko Stampehl.

The Polish state has attempted to sell the ferry operator Polferries – a leftover from the socialist rule – several times without success. In autumn 2014 negotiations with the Italy-based Grimaldi were revealed to be ongoing, with Grimaldi planning to incorporate Polferries with their other Baltic Sea subsidiary Finnlines. In December DFDS also publicly stated they had submitted a bid, and later reports indicate TT-Line, Tallink and three Polish companies have also submitted a bid. Polferries operates two routes linking Poland to Sweden and has a fleet of three ships.

The 1998-built JEAN NICOLI, originally Minoan Lines' PASIPHAE, was acquired by SNCM in 2009. The ferry with its large cargo decks is probably one of the most desirable units in the SNCM fleet. Photo copyright © SNCM.
The 1998-built JEAN NICOLI, originally Minoan Lines’ PASIPHAE, was acquired by SNCM in 2009. The ferry with its large cargo decks is probably one of the most desirable units in the SNCM fleet. Photo copyright © SNCM.

The struggles of the French ferry operator SNCM were a constant feature in the news this year. As noted in last year’s Ferry Chronicle, the company was saved from bankruptcy in late 2013. This, however, proved to be only a temporary respite, as the company applied for bankruptcy in November 2014. Soon afterwards a French court placed the company under court protection while a buyer is sought; thus far only the Mexico-based Baja Ferries and a group of unnamed French ivestors have shown interest. According to a ruling by the European Commission, SNCM has to pay 440 million euros worth of illegal state aid to France, which makes the company very difficult to sell.

Future developments

The on again/off again saga of the Baltic Sea ferry operator Scandlines’ newbuildings BERLIN and COPENHAGEN reached a conclusion at the end of January, when Scandlines purchased the near-complete ships from their original builder P+S Werften for 31,6 million euros. Scandlines had previously declined to take delivery of the ships (whose original value was estimated at 184 million euros) due to severe construction faults, most important of which was the ships’ being far heavier than specified. After takeover by Scandlines the ships were towed to the Fayard shipyard in Denmark, where their three top decks will be completely rebuilt to decrease their weight. The ships are due to enter service on the Gedser (Denmark) – Rostock (Germany) route during 2015.

The COPENHAGEN seen in Hamburg in June 2014. Since then the ship's superstructure has been almost entirely gutted and a new navigation bridge constructed one deck above the previous one. Photo copyright © 2014 Marko Stampehl.
The COPENHAGEN seen in Hamburg in June 2014. Since then the ship’s superstructure has been almost entirely gutted and a new navigation bridge constructed one deck above the previous one. Photo copyright © 2014 Marko Stampehl.

The Swedish ferry operator Destination Gotland won the tender to operate the state-supported routes between Gotland and the Swedish mainland for the years 2017-2027. By the terms of the contract traffic to the island will be operated by three ships (instead of the current four), but one of them needs to be LNG-powered. To fulfill the contract requirements, Destination Gotland placed an order in November for a new LNG-powered ferry with the GSI shipyard in China in November. GSI were also responsible for the Destination Gotland’s current flagships VISBY and GOTLAND, built in 2001, and based on advance material the new ship will of a similar size as the older pair.

Apart from the funnel, the artist's impression of Destination Gotland's future LNG ferry looks identical to the company's current flagships VISBY and GOTLAND. Photo copyright © Destination Gotland.
Apart from the funnel, the artist’s impression of Destination Gotland’s future LNG ferry looks identical to the company’s current flagships VISBY and GOTLAND. Photo copyright © Destination Gotland.

The state-owned Canadian west coast ferry operator BC Ferries placed an order for three double-ended LNG-powered ferries with the Remontowa shipyard in Poland, for delivery in 2016-2017. The new ships will have a capacity for 600 passengers and 145 cars. They will replace the 1960s-built QUEEN OF BURNABY and QUEEN OF NANAIMO.

BC Ferries' newbuildings will present a stark contract with the 1964-65 built ferries they are slated to replace. Photo copyright © BC Ferries.
BC Ferries’ newbuildings will present a stark contract with the 1964-65 built ferries they are slated to replace. Photo copyright © BC Ferries.

Soon after BC Ferries’ order of new ships, another state-owned ferry operator from the West Coast of North America also placed an order for new ships: Alaska Marine Highway placed an order for two 300-passenger and 53-car ferries at the Ketchikan shipyard in Alaska. The new ferries will be placed on the Juneau-Heines-Skagway -route upon delivery in 2018. They will be the first ever ferries to be built in Alaska.

The new Alaska Marine Highway ferries are also likely to replace aged ferries from the 1960s, although no details have yet been made public. Photo copyright © Alaska Marine Highway.
The new Alaska Marine Highway ferries are also likely to replace aged ferries from the 1960s, although no details have yet been made public. Photo copyright © Alaska Marine Highway.

The state-owned Algerian ferry operator Algerie Ferries had for several years searched for a second-hand ferry to replace their 1995-built Tariq Ibn Ziyad, which according to the company is too old for their needs. When no suitable second-hand vessel was found, Algerie Ferries eventually placed an order with the Hijos de J. Barreas shipyard in Spain  in December. The new ferry will have a capacity of 2 000 passengers and 700 cars.

In addition to the changes to their current fleet described above, the Estonian ferry operator Tallink signed a memorandum of agreement for the construction of a new LNG powered ropax ferry with the Meyer Turku (formerly STX Europe) shipyard in Finland for delivery in 2017. The ship is earmarked for the Helsinki-Tallinn line, and is projected to have a gross tonnage of 49 000, with capacity for 2 800 passengers. The ship expected to be built with the same service speed as Tallink’s current Helsinki-Tallinn “Shuttle” ships, capable of making a crossing in two hours.

The new Tallink ferry will either replace one of the existing Helsinki-Tallinn fast ropax ferries, or join them as a third ship on the route. Photo copyright © Tallink Grupp.
The new Tallink ferry will either replace one of the existing Helsinki-Tallinn fast ropax ferries, or join them as a third ship on the route. Photo copyright © Tallink Grupp.

After a few quiet years on the newbuilding front the pace of new ferries is picking up again, with up to ten new ferries to enter service by 2018. Further developments will be interesting to see; particularly Tallink’s newbuilding, should the order be confirmed, should result in a reaction from the competing Helsinki-Tallinn ferry operators Viking Line and Eckerö Line.

That was all for the first Ferry Chronicle. Please note that this was in no way a complete presentation of all developments in the international ferry industry during 2014, rather just a selection of most interesting case for MaritimeMatters’ readership.

With thanks to Marko Stampehl, Gary Andrews and Martin Cox.

Kalle Id is a freelance photojournalist and MaritimeMatters’ Helsinki correspondant. His first book, Silja Line from De Samseglande to Tallink, was published in spring 2014 in English by Ferry Publications. He is currently working on two further books on maritime history.

Kalle Id

Kalle Id

Kalle Id, MaritimeMatters' Helsinki correspondent, is a Finnish maritime historian, photographer and journalist, with a Master's Degree in history from the University of Helsinki. His early-age exposure to ferry travel led to a lifetime fascination with passenger ships, both the cruise ferries of his home waters and the cruise ships and ferries of further afield. Kalle maintains his own ship photography blog at kships.blogspot.com. Contrary to the popular belief, he writes under his real name.
Kalle Id
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