09 December 2019

Book review: Bretagne – 30 Years Of Splendour

Let's start with a little bit of background for this one: a little over three years ago, my friend (of the internet variety) Vitor Francisco got in touch with me as he had an idea for a maritime book (several, in fact!) and he was keen to have my advice on publishers and how to get things started. In the end, however, it turned out he didn't need it: last May, he got in touch with me again, telling me he had found a publisher (G Books International, run by the maritime historian Nico Guns) and that he was about to do a book on Brittany Ferries' Bretagne – amusingly, this was not a project he had listed to me earlier. Later on, Vitor was kind enough to ask me to write a foreword for the book, which I was more than happy to do.

All this naturally makes me not the ideal person to review the book, as I've been involved in it, first in a peripheral manner before it was even a real project, and then later more intimately. But, as I think it's a good book worthy of the publicity, I'm going to do it anyway.

Bretagne – 30 Years Of Splendour isn't your stereotypical ferry book with thorough technical details and an extensive history of the ship down to the smallest incident and route change. Rather, it is the kind of book which I think is sorely lacking in the field of maritime books: one looking at the subject from the passengers' point of view. What is it like to sail on the Bretagne? What do the interiors look like? How is the cuisine? What are the ports served like? Are there any special events related to the ship and its service? This book delivers all these points and more, with plentiful illustrations to go with the text.

There are some things that I would have done differently. There is some repetition in the photos, and I would have frankly removed some of them from the final product, allowing either for the remaining ones to be printed in larger size (though it must be said there are no stamp-sized images here!), or cut down the number of pages, which would have had the advantage of making the book shorter and therefore cheaper to produce. Furthermore, I would maybe have included a look at how the ship's livery has changed over the years; as it is, all the liveries are illustrated, but not in a chronological way. And then there are a few typos, but to be honest they are almost unavoidable (and I shouldn't be the one speak, seeing there is one also in the prologue I wrote).

Overall, I think this is a very exciting book in that it is very different from most existing ferry books (the ones in English, anyway), with a refreshingly different way of looking at things. This is more of a passengers' book than an enthusists' book, and even with the above mild criticism it makes the book very worthwhile and, frankly, I wish there were more books like this out there! (Perhaps I should write some myself? :P)

27 November 2019

Strikebound in Helsinki

The Mariella and Gabriella laid up together at Katajanokka on 26.11.2019 due to the strike, with the Lotus (Danish-flagged and therefore outside the strike) bunkering the Gabriella and slightly messing up my envisioned shot.
The Finnish postal services have been on strike for the past two weeks, after the employer decided to unilaterally move a part of the workforce under a different collective agreement, resulting in pay cuts of 30-40%. When the postal services wouldn't budge from their original position, support strikes quickly begun – for reasons that should be obvious, workers across the board were not exactly keen on a precedent being set for such radical pay cuts made purely at the employers' discretion.

The Finnish Seamen's Union (amongst others) joined the strike on Monday, with Finnish-flagged ships laid up after arriving in Finnish ports. For the Helsinki-Stockholm route, this meant that only the Silja Symphony was sailing, with the Mariella laid up on arrival on Monday and the Gabriella and Silja Serenade on Tuesday.

Need a magazine cover?

Finnlines attempted a strikebusting move by moving the Finnstar, which normally sails on the Helsinki-Travemünde route, to the Malmö-Travemünde route (meaning she never arrives at a Finnish port and is therefore not subject to the strike), and moving the Swedish-flagged Europalink to the services from Finland instead. However, the strike was resolved earlier this morning, before the Europalink even reached Finland.

The Lotus leaving – I was so preoccupied with taking photos that I didn't notice she was moving at first! Alas, she reparted just as the light was getting a bit too dark for really good views.

Of course, the Helsinki-Stockholm ships laid up gave nice chances of photographing ships that are normally not seen together in Eteläsatama in Helsinki (similar unusual pairings could also be seen in Vuosaari, Turku, Naantali and Hanko, but I didn't have time to zoom around the country quite so much).

Line-up of the Finnish-flagged Helsinki-Stockholm ships. Unfortunately, I only realised you could take a photo with all three properly visible through the harbour fence when it was a bit too dark for really good photos.
You wait for five months for a blog update and then two come at once? Worry not, I'm sure we'll be back to the one update per month if you're lucky -pace soon. :P

26 November 2019

Where is this blog going?

A perfectly valid question to ask about a blog that hasn't been updated in almost five months. And, frankly, I don't have a proper answer, although the plan is to wake this place up from it's slumber in some manner.

But let's take things from the beginning.

Unlike this blog, the Mariella won't be going anywhere today, as she is strike-bound in Helsinki. This photo shows her departing Helsinki on 2.3.2019.

For the past months, I have been busy polishing the text, images and layout of my next book The North Sea Bridge – Ferry Connections Between Scandinavia and Britain 1820-2014, which went to printers last week and should be with us before Christmas. I will do a proper blog entry on the book once the actual physical copies arrive. The book being completed is relevant for the subject at hand because I discovered that working on the book, plus various other jobs, and being the main parent of a two-year-old left me with little time or energy to post things here.

But, at the same time, after having been an active ship photographer for well over a decade – and a ship photo blogger for nine years – I find myself less interested in it than I once was. This is not to say that I wouldn't be interested in ships, and photographing them, anymore, but I do feel that my development as a ship photographer has reached a plateau, making the process itself less interesting. Simultaneously, I have less time to myself than before (being a parent and all) and less interest in using that time for going out on the kind of long photo sessions that used to be the norm for me. It doesn't help that, ultimately, the ships calling in Helsinki stay pretty much the same year in–year out (even on the cruise ship side) and I have good photos of most of them already. Thus ships for which I feel going out for photos would be warranted are few and far between.

All this is not to say I wouldn't continue ship photography, but it likely will not be frequent enough to keep the once per week schedule I have tried to maintain in the past. Added to all this is the fact that I have been somewhat displeased with the format of this blog for a long time; I remember talking with the editor of CruiseBusiness.com back in 2015 that I would like to move to a format more based on travelogues and experiences, rather than dry reporting of facts.

As said in the beginning, I'm not sure where exactly this blog will be going. It might be that after such a long break I will end up simply not restarting this blog and this will the penultimate entry (I will do the one about the book in any case). What I am currently leaning towards, however, is finally changing this to a blog that is more about travelogues, other shipboard experiences, and more thematic photo sets (rather than ones about an individual ship). I have some ideas on this front that have been thinking of doing for a while, and maybe now is the time to turn them to reality?

Of course, if the latter way is the way that I'll go, that will likely mean the update frequency will continue to be of the sporadic once-a-month kind, as there will be less material actually worth an entry – but on the other hand, the entries should be more detailed.

04 July 2019

Finnmaid in Helsinki, 25 June 2019

As promised, this week we return to last week's jaunt at Vuosaari and photos of Finnlines' Finnmaid.


IMO 9319466
Built 2006, Fincantieri Ancona, Italy
Tonnage 45 923 GT
Length 218,80 m
Width 30,50 m
Draft 7,00 m
Ice class 1 A Super
500 passengers
500 berths
4 216 lane metres
4 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 48 000 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
Speed 25 knots

The Finnmaid was delivered in August 2006 from Fincantieri's Ancona yard as the second ship of Finnlines' five-strong Star-class (the order for the class was split between Ancona and Castellammare di Stabia). The ship was placed on the Helsinki-Travemünde service alongside the older sister Finnstar (the two were later joined by the third sister Finnlady). Originally, the ship(s) sailed from the Sompasaari harbour close to the city center, but in 2008 switched to the new Vuosaari harbour, some 15 kilometres from central Helsinki, alongside all other cargo- and cargo-oriented vessels sailing from Helsinki.

A series of route changes were made for the Finnmaid and its running mates in 2009: first, in June, intermediate calls as Gdynia were added to some (but not all) departures; then, in October, an additional intermediate call at Rostock was added (as reaction to Tallink's cessation of the Helsinki-Rostock service for the winter season); and finally, in December, the service was split in two, with the Finnmaid and its running mates alternating between Helsinki-Travemünde and Helsinki-Gdynia-Rostock routes. In the long run, this arrangement failed to find the popularity Finnlines were hoping for, and in October 2012 the Helsinki-Gdynia-Rostock route was terminated.

Since then, the Finnmaid's life has been uneventful. In 2014, it was re-registered in Mariehamn (in place of the original Helsinki) and visited the Remontowa shipyard in Gdansk for scrubber installation, and in May 2017 it had the honour of hosting Finnlines' 70th anniversary celebrations, for which the ship visited Helsinki's Eteläsatama and Olympiaterminaali, the terminal normally used by the ships of Silja Line.

The photos below show the Finnmaid departing from Vuosaari in the evening of 25 June 2019 (approximately an hour delayed); and as you can see, the Finnlines cargo roro Finnhawk is also present in the first pic. Photographed from Särkkäniemi. As always, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Which funnel belongs to which ship again?
I admit to quite liking the looks of the Star-class.
Reappearing from behind Pikku Niinisaari. Now if one could get to that island, some beautiful photos would result!
Travemünde awaits!
Kships will return.

26 June 2019

Finbo Cargo in Helsinki, 25 June 2019

This blog has been very inactive recently, as I have been putting the finishing touches on the manuscript and photos of The North Sea Bridge – Ferry connections between Scandinavia and Britain 1820-2014. Today, however, the blog comes back to look at our new Helsinki-Tallinn ferry, the Finbo Cargo.

Finbo Cargo

IMO 9181106
Name history: Midnight Merchant, El Greco, European Endeavour, Finbo Cargo
Built 2000, Astilleros Españoles Sevilla, Spain
Tonnage 22 152 GT
Length 179,95 m
Width 25,00 m
Draught 6,50 m
Ice class 2
366 passengers
214 passenger berths
2 000 lane metres
4 Wärtsilä-NSD diesels, combined 23 760 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
Service speed 22,5 knots
Maximum speed 24 knots

The Finbo Cargo was built in 2000 by Astilleros Españoles in Sevilla, Spain as the Midnight Merchant, one in a series of five sister ships. Although owned by Merchant Ferries, the ship was chartered following delivery to Norfolkline for service between Dover and Dunkerque, but retaining its Merchant Ferries name. In this the Midnight Merchant was joined by the sister ship Northern Merchant.

When Norfolkline took delivery of its new D-class ships purpose-built for the Dover-Dunkerque route in 2006, the charter of the Midnight Merchant ended to them ended. The ship was instead chartered to Acciona Trasmediterránea and renamed El Greco (after the famous Greek painter who worked in Spain for most of his career); Trasmediterránea also took the Northern Merchant under chater as the Zurbaran, and had owned the fifth and final sister Murillo from the start.

Unlike the Zurbaran and Murillo, the El Greco left the Trasmediterránea fleet already in 2007, being sold to P&O Ferries (but immediately resold to a British bank and chartered to P&O) and renamed European Endeavour. During the early part of the ship's P&O career, it alternated between routes, sailing on Liverpool-Dublin, Dover-Calais and Tilbury - Zeebrugge, as well as being briefly chartered again to Norfolkline, until settling on the Liverpool-Dublin route in 2011.

In the beginning of May 2019, the information first surfaced that the ship would have been sold to Rederi Ab Eckerö. While the to-be buyer initially denied any deal would have been done and only said they were only "interested" in the ship, on 6 May the deal was made public, with Rederi Ab Eckerö confirming the ship would be employed by their subsidiary Eckerö Line on the Helsinki-Tallinn route as a cargo-oriented ship. Many (the author included) theorised the ship would get a -landia suffixed name in the tradition of Eckerö Line (like many, my money was on Estlandia, with Eurolandia a potential second candidate), later in May the company revealed the ship would instead be named Finbo Cargo, after an island in the Eckerö municipality.

On 15 May the European Endeavour was taken over by its new owners and officially renamed. A few days later the Finbo Cargo set sail for the Turku Ship Repair Yard (actually located in Naantali, not Turku), where it was repainted in a new livery – I can't really say it is an Eckerö Line livery, as the company doesn't really have a uniform livery, and the big text on the side actually reads Finbo Cargo by Eckerö Line.

Originally, the Finbo Cargo was slated to enter service between Helsinki's cargo harbour in Vuosaari and Terminal A in Tallinn's Vanasadam (Old City Harbour). However, following a public outrage about a cargo-oriented ferry sailing to the city centre in Tallinn, the Port of Tallinn agreed to alterations in Muuga, Tallinn's cargo harbour, so the Finbo Cargo would sail there. Thus, on 25 June 2019 the Finbo Cargo entered service between Vuosaari and Muuga.

As the ship lacks an ice-reinforced hull still nescessary for around the year service on the Gulf of Finland (despite climate change making the winters warmer, ice reinforcements of some kind are still a nescessity), according to Rederi Ab Eckerö CEO Björn Blomqvist the ship will be dry-docked again at a later date – presumably some time next autumn or early winter – to receive proper ice reinforcements to the hull, propellers and rudders. It remains to be seen if the public rooms will receive some TLC at the same time, as they essentially remain in P&O-eta style based on photographs.

The photos below show the Finbo Cargo arriving in Vuosaari on the first commercial crossing from Muuga in the afternoon of 25 June 2019, photographed from Särkkäniemi. As always, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Vuosaari doesn't give the best views, especially during the long approach when the ship is quite far from land and pretty much always seen from the same direction.
Nearer to the harbour and turning towards the quay. And of course the side facing me was in the shade.
And then turning in the other direction...
...to reverse into the quay.
Rush hour in Vuosaari, with the Finnmaid departing as the Finbo Cargo arrives (the Finnmaid was delayed, it should have left an hour earlier).

Next time: likely more of the Finnmaid, as it's been years since I last photographed her.

17 May 2019

Baltic Queen on the Bay of Tallinn, 14 May 2019

Last Tuesday, I had the chance to do a shot trip on the Megastar and try out the special Tallink 30th anniversary menu in the gourmet restaurant. Those of you who speak Finnish can read my review of the menu on the Ulkomatala website here. In this entry, however, we will be looking at photos of the Baltic Queen – which has finally received the current-style Tallink logos – taken during the same trip.

Baltic Queen

IMO 9443255
Built 2009, STX Europe Rauma, Finland
Tonnage 48 915 GT
Length 212,10 m
Width 29,00 m
Draught 6,42 m
Ice class 1A Super
2 800 passengers
2 500 berths
600 cars
1 130 lanemeters
4 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 32 000 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
Speed 24,5 knots

The story of the Baltic Queen is succint so far: it was delivered in 2009 as the last ship of Tallink's three-strong Galaxy class. On delivery, the ship was placed on the Tallinn-Stockholm run, on which it stayed (excepting occasional deputising on the Turku-Stockholm route) until 2014. The charter of the Silja Europa as an accommodation ship to Australia that year resulted in the Baltic Queen moving to take over the Helsinki-Tallinn 22 hour cruise circuit in what seemed like a permanent solution. However, when the Silja Europa's charter ended after just one year, Tallink were left in a conundrum of what to do with an extra ship, with the Silja Europa temporarily placed on day cruises from Helsinki to Tallinn (not as a second 22 hour cruise ship on that route as some sources have erraneously claimed). Rumour has it that DFDS invested the Baltic Queen for purchase in 2016, but if this really happened, nothing ever came of it. Instead, in December 2016 a radically refitted Silja Europa returned to take over the Helsinki-Tallinn 22-hour cruise circuit, and the Baltic Queen returned to the Tallinn-Stockholm run.

In January 2019, the Baltic Queen sailed to the Remontowa shipyard in Gdansk for a change of the unreliable original reduction gears, in a similar refit to what had been carried out the year before on the sister ship Baltic Princess (I was onboard the Baltic Princess for that ship's hourney from Turku to Gdansk, of which you can read more here). At the same time, the Baltic Queen was repainted with the current-style Tallink logotypes – no less than seven years (!) after they had been taken into use.

The photos below show the Baltic Queen on the Bay of Tallinn, outbound from Tallinn to Stockholm on the evening of 14 May 2019, photographed from onboard the inbound Megastar. As per the usual practice, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Contemporary Estonian dry-land architecture meets contemporary Finnish maritime architecture.
Coinciding with the painting of the new-style logotype, they also painted over the red "Cruise" text that was next to it, improving the looks of the ship if you ask me.
However, I do wonder who at Tallink thought it was still nescessary to keep the www.tallink.com text on the hull in the year 2019?
Sailboats, always pictoresque.
Stockholm calling.
Kships will return.

27 April 2019

Astor in Helsinki, 27 April 2019

The 2019 cruise season in Helsinki started today (and is expected to break passenger records again), with CMV/Transocean Kreuzfahrten's Astor being the first ship of the season. Since the weather was unusually warm and sunny for the season, I thought I'd head out to take some photos. And it was high time, too, as the last time the Astor appeared in this blog was way back in 2011!


IMO 8506373
Former names: Astor, Fyodor Dostoyevskiy
Built 1987, HDW Kiel, West Germany
Tonnage 21 000 GT
Length 176,50 m
Width 22,61 m
Draugth 5,80 m
578 passengers (650 passengers maximum)
4 Sulzer-Wärtsilä diesels, combined 15 400 kW
2 propellers
1 bow thrusters
Speed 16,5 knots (18 knots maximum)

The history of the Astor is rather fascinating: the ship built in 1987 at Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft (HDW) in Kiel, as the last purpose-built ocean liner to be completed before the Queen Mary 2, although the Astor never sailed as such.

The Astor had been ordered by Safmarine in 1985 to replace an earlier ship (also named Astor, at the time of writing facing an uncertain future as the Pearl II, having been featured in this blog as the Saga Pearl II). The second Astor was to be essentially identical to the first, but slightly larger and with more powerful engines to be better suited for the Southampton-Cape Town -route. However, before the second Astor could ever be completed, in 1986 Safmarine decided to abandon the liner service and the under-construction Astor was sold to the Marlan Corporation.

The Astor was completed in early 1987 and placed on cruises around the Caribbean. In late 1988 the was sold to the Soviet Union's Black Sea Shipping Company and renamed Fyodor Dostoyevskiy (or however you wish to translitterate Фёдор Достоевский – the lack of consistent Russian cyrillic to English translitteration rules is a source of constant irritation to me). For a little over a year the ship was chartered to Transocean Tours, before being chartered for five years to Neckermann Seereisen. At the end of that charter in 1995 the ship reverted to its original name Astor as was chartered to Aquamarin. The next year the Astor was (again) chartered to Transocean Tours.

In 2009, the Astor became Transocean's only ship, and in 2013 the company (the name of which had been amended to Transocean Kreuzfahrten in the interim) was sold to Cruise & Maritime Voyages. During the summers, the ship operates European cruises for the German market under the Transocean brand name, and during the (northern hemisphere) winter it has cruised for the Australian market under the CMV. This, however, is due to cease now that CMV has taken delivery of the larger Vasco da Gama.

The photos below show the Astor at, and departing from, Helsinki Eteläsatama (south harbour) in the evening of 27 April 2019. Photographed from Kauppatori. As per the usual practice, click on the images to see them in larger size.

No unsuspecting offspring or spouses were harmed in the making of this photo.
The Astor and our charmingly small ferris wheel.
You get interesting photobombs when taking photos from next to the quay for local ferries, such as the lovely 1952-vintage Suokki.
The Astor took its sweet time actually getting anywhere – I guess they weren't in a hurry!
The weather attracted a lot of people to spectate, and people with boats were out in force, too.
The rest of the aft views were rubbish as this side of the ship was in the shade.
Kships will return.

05 April 2019

Silja Europa outside Helsinki, 13 June 2018

I realised recently that I haven't posted any exterior photos of the Silja Europa since her late-2016 return to the Helsinki-Tallinn 22-hour cruise circuit, and that there is no up-to-date history of her in this blog. So today, we will look at some photos of the SE from last summer.

Silja Europa

IMO 8919805
Name history: Europa, Silja Europa
Built 1993, Meyer Werft, Germany
Tonnage 59 912 GT
Length 201,78 m
Width 32,60 m
Draught 6,80 m
Ice class 1 A Super
3 013 passengers
3 696 berths (as of 2013, may have changed)
340 cars
932 lane metres
4 MAN diesels, combined 31 800 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
1 stern thruster
Speed 22 knots

The Silja Europa was originally ordered by Rederi AB Slite, one of the owners of Viking Line, in 1989. The Europa, as she was to be known (in keeping with Slite's tradition of taking their names from Greek and Roman mythologies), was to be the jewel in the company's crown, outdoing both SF Line's (the other Viking Line partner) Cinderella and Silja Line's still-under-construction Silja Serenade and Silja Symphony. In terms of basic design the Europa is an enlarged version of the Athena and Kalypso, built in 1989 and 1990 respectively (they in turn were based on the Mariella of 1985 and her sister Olympia of 1986).

While the Europa was under construction at Meyer Werft, a disaster struck the Finnish shipbuilder Wärtsilä Marine, who were building both Slite's Kalypso and Silja's Serenade and Symphony. Wärtsilä Marine went bankrupt and in the ensuing reorganisation the prices of the still under construction newbuildings rose radically, leaving both Slite and Silja Line in heavy debt.

Fast forward to January 1993. During the month the Swedish krona (SEK) was devaluated by 25%, leaving Slite 200 million SEK short of the price of the Europa just two months before the ship was to be delivered. The situation was further compicated by the fact that the main funder of Slite, Nordbanken, was also the main funder of Silja Line. While Slite was better off financially of the two, the bank stood to lose more if Silja folded (as it perhaps seemed likely to do at the time). Regardless of what the actual reasons were, Nordbanken refused to grant Slite an additional loan to secure the Europa. During the same month Silja Line signed an agreement with the shipyard to charter the Europa on completion of the ship. Slite's assests, meanwhil,e were evaluated by Nordbanken as being much less valuable than they were. The result was that Slite was forced to declare bankruptcy and their remaining assets (Olympia, Athena, Kalypso and a pair of small achipelago cruise ships operating in Stockholm) were sold, the big ferries for trading outside the Baltic. The money from selling the ships easily covered the debts of RAB Slite, in essence meaning the bankruptcy was unwarranted. With large parts of Viking Line's fleet missing, Silja Line established itself as the dominant shipping company on the North Baltic and managed to somewhat improve it's financial position.

Returning to the Europa, she has been christened Silja Europa on 5 March 1993 and entered service on Silja Line's Helsinki-Stockholm route on 14 March 1993. She had been planned for that exact route, and placing her on the service allowed Silja to cash in on the large-scale marketing Viking Line had already carried out for the ship. In 1994 the Silja Europa was the second ship to arrive on the scene of the Estonia disaster and was appointed head of the rescue operation.

In practice Silja Line found the Silja Europa to be ill-suited as a running mate to the Silja Symphony. More importantly the Silja Serenade – which the Silja Europa had replaced on the Helsinki-Stockholm service – was found to be highly ill-suited for the Turku-Stockholm service, where she had been trasferred to make way for the Silja Europa on the Helsinki-Stockholm route. Resultingly, from January 1995 the Silja Europa moved to the Turku-Stockholm service, with the Silja Serenade returning to the Helsinki-Stockholm route.

Originally the Silja Europa had a partially white funnel, with the seal painted on on blue. However, as there was a tendency for soot to gather in the white part, in 2000 the funnel was repainted all-blue, with the Silja funnel symbol painted on in white (since 1993, both blue-on-white and white-on-blue variants had been used). In 2002, Stena Line were reportedly interested in chartering the Silja Europa to replace their Stena Saga (some claim the staff of the Stena Saga even visited the Silja Europa to get to know her). Resultingly Silja Line's then-owner Sea Containers purchased 42% of the ship from Meyer Werft, which together with the previously Silja-owned 17% gave them a majority ownership and blocked the transfer to Stena. In 2004 Sea Containers purchased the remaining shares of the ship. In 2006, prior to Silja Line being sold to Tallink, the ownership of the ship was passed entirely to Silja Line.

The Silja Europa had for a long time suffered from engine problems, which are particularly problematic on the intensive Turku-Stockholm route. Compounded with the arrival of Viking Line's new Viking Grace on the Turku-Stockholm line in January 2013, Tallink swapped the Silja Europa with the Helsinki-Tallinn 22-hour cruise ship Baltic Princess in January-February 2013. The Silja Europa was transferred under the Estonian flag and marketed as a Tallink ship (although retaining her Silja-prefixed name). She entered service on the Helsinki-Tallinn route on 23 January 2013. Initially, she was marketed in Finland as the Europa, in an attempt to maintain a degree of separation between the Tallink and Silja brands, but as all signage, announcements etc onboard continued to refer to the ship under her full name, the practice was quickly dropped.

The ship remained in Tallink service without incident until July 2014, when her owners took the shipping world by surprise when they made public the agreement to charter the Silja Europa to Bridgemans Services as an accommodation vessel to Australia for 14 months (with a possible extension to 48 months), starting from August. Thus, the Silja Europa sailed to Naantali for conversion to an accommodation ship. At the same time the ship was repainted with Bridgemans logos on the hull. After the refit the ship left the Baltic Sea on a lengthy transition to Barrow Island in northern Australia. She was replaced on the Helsinki-Tallinn 22-hour cruise circuit by the Baltic Queen.

Most observers (myself included) expected this to be the last that we would see of the Silja Europa on the Baltic. And we were all wrong. When the charter ran out at the end of 2015, the ship sailed back to Tallinn (although rumour has it potential buyers inspected her in Singapore en-route) and received a partial refit. After covering for docking periods of other ships, she returned to the Helsinki-Tallinn route for the summer season on a somewhat anarchronistic schedule: day cruises, departing from Helsinki in the morning and returning in the evening (some English-language sources mistakenly claim she was used on the 22-hour cruise circuit alongside the Baltic Queen – a misunderstanding presumably arising from the fact Finnish has two different terms that translate into a English as "day": "päivä", meaning the period from morning to evening, and "vuorokausi", a 24-hour period. Thus, "päiväristeily" and "vuorokauden risteily" both translate as "day cruise", but are completely different products). Unusually, she sailed not from the Tallink terminals in Helsinki's Länsisatama (West Harbour) but from the Silja Line terminal in Eteläsatama (South Harbour).

At the end of August 2016, the Silja Europa was laid up at Muuga, the freight harbour of Tallinn, for a large-scale refit, with all public rooms (except the ones done the previous spring), cabins, staircases, corridors, etc. rebuilt. Following the refit, the ship re-entered service on the 22-hour cruise circuit between Helsinki and Tallinn in December, replacing the Baltic Queen. For an overview of the current interiors, feel free to look at this entry.

And that pretty much brings us to the present: the Silja Europa remains on the Helsinki-Tallinn 22-hour cruise service, complemented with two-night special cruises to Visby, Riga and Mariehamn during the summer seasons.

The photos below show the Silja Europa inbound outside Helsinki, photographed from onboard the Finlandia sailing in the opposite direction. As per normal practice, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Still looking every inch a Silja Line ship, even with Tallink logos. I've often thought they would be smart to cash in on the ship's perceived special status by just painting her name in large letters on the side in place of the Tallink-text.
The Finlandia and Silja Europa pass just on the edge of the Helsinki archipelago, giving impressive views.
Always nice when you get sun reflecting from the windows.
She is a bit of a chunky lady, to be honest. But I for one like my ladies that way.
She has a lovely rear, too.
Okay, I'll stop with the questionable puns now.
Kships will return.

28 March 2019

Finlandia on the Bay of Tallinn, 26 March 2019

Before we move to the main attraction of today's entry, I would like to take a chance to showcase two articles I did this month for a new customer, Ferry Shipping News: I had the chance to interview both Björn Blomqvist, the managing director of Rederi Ab Eckerö (who of course own Eckerö Linjen, Eckerö Line and Birka Cruises), and Jan Hanses, the president and CEO of Viking Line, with both offering fascinating insight on how they view the ferry industry in their business area.

You can read the interview with Eckerö's Blomqvist here, and Viking's Hanses here. Both also showcase some of my photography (that is already familiar to the readers of this blog, of course).

Today's entry, by chance, is related to both companies mentioned: I was out on a day cruise with the Viking XPRS to Tallinn earlier this week, and took these quite neat photos of the Finlandia on the Bay of Tallinn as she was outbound and we were inbound.


IMO 9214379
Name history: Moby Freedom, Freedom, Finlandia
Built 2001 Daewoo Shipbuilding & Heavy Machinery Okpo, South Korea
Tonnage 36 093 GT
Length 175 m
Width 27,60 m
Draft 7 m
Ice class 1B
2 080 passengers
1 190 passenger berths*
610 cars
1 900 lane metres
4 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 50 400 kW
2 propellers
2 bow thrusters
Speed 27 knots

* = The berths figure is for the ship as originally built. In 2015, a number of cabins were converted into public rooms, so this figure is no longer correct, but none of the sources at my disposal were able to provide an up-to-date figure.

For a history of the Finlandia, see this earlier entry on her.

As said above, the photos below show the Finlandia on the Bay of Tallinn on the early afternoon of 26 March 2019, outbound from Tallinn towards Helsinki. Photographed from onboard the Viking XPRS sailing in the opposite direction. As per the usual, click on the images to see them in larger size.

The ship does look immensely better with the frames of the large forward-facing window painted blue. She might look even better if they added a blue stripe along the bridge windows, too.
If you look closely, you'll notice the small Finland 100 logo (which used to be above the piano keys) has been replaced by an Eckerö Line 25 Years one – the company will have its anniversary in late August.
I really like this shot myself.
The seagulls and the ship's name they added in the previously blank blue part in the rear last year also make the ship look better.
Kships will return.

08 March 2019

Isosaari in Helsinki, 23 June 2018

To start off, I must apologise for the longest hiatus in the history of this blog. Both my work and my personal life has been really hectic of late, and the blog has been an easy thing to drop off. Things are looking a bit easier in the near future and I will hopefully be able to return to a more normal update frequency.

For today's entry, we will be looking at a something of an unusual ship for this blog: the Isosaari, a local ferry connecting central Helsinki to the outlying island Isosaari. I've been sitting on these photos for some time, and the reason why I was inspired to post them today is the fact that the miniature Isosaari is slated to become a cruise ship this year – it will make one two-night cruise from Helsinki to Turku via Jussarö and Örö, and another one with reverse itininerary in early May. Both cruises will be all inclusive, even! So let's take a brief look at the history of one of the smallest premium cruise ships out there!


IMO 67212806
Name history: Sveio, Aspö, Isosaari
Built 1967, Ankerløkken Værft Florø, Norway
Tonnage 506 GT
Length 44,18 m
Width 9,94 m
Draugth 3,30 m
275 passengers
40 passenger berths
2 Wichmann diesels, combined 661 kW
? propellers
1 bow thruster
Speed 11,5 knots

The Isosaari was originally built in 1967 by the Ankerløkken Værft in Florø, Norway as the Norwegian local ferry Sveio for Hardanger Sunnhordlandske Dampskibsselskab. As built, the ship had a drive-through car deck for 30 cars and a passenger capacity of 350.

After lengthy service in Norway, it was sold in 1995 to Suomen Saaristolaivat in Turku, Finland and, despite being 28 years old, rebuilt at Pansion Korjaustelakka in Turku, with new passenger areas built into most of the former car deck. At the same time, the superstructure was made lower to keep the gross tonnage below 500 (as ships of under 500 gt can follow different crweing rules than bigger ships) Renamed Aspö, the ship then started service in the Turku Archipelago, linking to the outlying island of Utö.

In this role the ship remained until spring 2018, when it was sold to Suomen Saaristokuljetus in Helsinki, who had a dual role in mind for the ship: it both links Kauppatori in central Helsinki to the island of Isosaari, and functions as a hotel ship in Isosaari during the summers, and as a hotel ship and restaurant in central Helsinki during the winters. In March 2019, Suomen Saaristokuljetus made known that the ship would offer the two all-inclusive Helsinki-Jussarö-Örö-Turku cruises mentioned above, as a test for the potential demand for further such cruises in the future.

The photos below show the Isosaari on the afternoon and evening of 23 June 2018 in the Kustaanmiekka strait, in the first two photos outbound from Kauppatori towards Isosaari and in the second two sailing in the opposite direction. As per normal practica, click on the images to see them in larger size.

Apparently, the ship has a pretty attractive 1960s style interior. I wouldn't know, I haven't sailed on it yet.
In 2019, the Isosaari will also connect to Vallisaari, the island seen in the background here.
An hour later, the ship is in the same spot but bound in the other direction.
Kships will return. Hopefully sooner than in a months' time.

Edited 2019-03-09 20.47 with additional information about the ship's 1995 refit, courtesy of Miran Hamidulla.

21 January 2019

Upcoming book: The North Sea Bridge

I am happy to finally officially announce that this year will see the publication of another book by me. The North Sea Bridge – Ferry connections between Scandinavia and Britain 1820-2014 will, es the name suggests chronicle the history of the passenger ferry services between Scandinavia and Britain (plus Finland and Iceland to Britain) from the beginning of regular scheduled services right until the closure of the last passenger link in 2014.

Those of you who speak Finnish might be familiar with my very long article series on the same subject in Ulkomatala, published in 2015-2016; the book will be a translated, expanded and generally improved version of the article series.

Projected publication will be in December this year, while the projected page count will be 160. For the most eager amongst you, the book can already be pre-ordered from the Ferry Publications website here.

05 January 2019

Wasa Express interiors, 13 March 2014

Happy belated new year to all Kships readers! There was a bit of a hiatus over christmas and new year, as you probably noticed – in addition to being "regularly busy" with the festivities, there were also other issues of a personal nature that kept me from the regular update schedule. But now we're back and hopefully will be back to the weekly updates.

Today, we will look at an older photo set that, for some reason, I neglected to post when it was brand new: interiors of the Wasaline Vaasa-Umeå ferry Wasa Express from my & Bruce Peter's trip onboard her back in 2014.

Wasa Express

IMO 8000226
Name history: Travemünde, Travemünde Link, Sally Star, Thjelvar, Color Traveller, Thjelvar, Rostock, Thjelvar, Betancuria, Wasa Express
Built 1981, Wärtsilä Helsinki, Finland
Tonnage 17 046 GT
Length 141,00 m
Width 22,81 m
Draugth 4,95 m
Ice class 1A
915 passengers
316 passenger berths
450 cars
1 150 lanemeters
4 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 14 866 kW
2 propellers
1 bow thruster
Speed 19,5 knots

For those interested, the history of the Wasa Express was covered in a previous entry, which also includes my (so far only) exterior shots of her.

Before making judgements on the Wasa Express based on this entry, please remember that the photos are from 2014 and many of the interior spaces have since been refurbished. Wasaline are, of course, planning a replacement for 2021 delivery – I guess I will need to do another trip to Vaasa before then and document the Wasa Express again. Not an unpleasant prospect, as the service and food onboard were some of the best I have encountered on any ship, even if part of the ship were, at least at the time, in need of some TLC.

Decks 9-11 – all passenger spaces onboard the Wasa Express are found on decks 7 and 8. Above are the bridge (on deck 10), crew spaces and open decks accessible to passengers.

Sunset at Holmsund (Umeå's outer harbour) as seen from deck 9 of the Wasa Express.
Deck 8 – back in 2014, this deck had the bar forward, passenger cabins amidships, and kennels, conference rooms and the children's playroom aft. Since then, the aft areas have been reorganised so that there is now a sitting lounge and an extra-cost business lounge there in addition to the kennels and conference rooms.

The bar occupies the entire width of the ship forward. Since 2014, this had been rebuilt with the bar counter moved away from the view-blocking central location and is now just behind the photographer's back in this view. The chairs have also been swapped for new ones.
Midships there are a total of 60 cabins.
The kennel as it was back then. The chairs have since been swapped for new ones. Unfortunately, the rest of the aft area were closed (and I didn't want to intrude on the kid's playroom), so I can offer you no other shots of this part of the ship.
Deck 7 – here were (and still are) the cafeteria, à la carte restaurant, shop and the information booth. New additions since 2014 are the children's playroom (moved down here from deck 8) and buffet restaurant, which replaced the (at least on my trip unused) second cafeteria aft.

The cafeteria had a wonderfully eclectic collection of chairs from the ship's career back then. Perhaps fortunately, they have since been replaced with new ones and are now all of a uniform design.
The Vitfågelskär à la carte restaurant served some of the absolutely best, locally-inspired cuisine I have ever eaten onboard any ship (and yes, this includes your luxury cruise ships like the Crystal Symphony). The sea buckthorn panna cotta was to die for – and I don't even normally like panna cotta.
Midships, a starboard arcade connects the forward and aft restaurants. The glass doors on the right led to the small onboard shop, but this has since been replaced by the kid's playroom and a new, larger shop has been added aft. As was typical for Wärtsilä-designed ferries at the time, the galley occupies the same space port, serving restaurants both forward and aft of it.
The aft stair lobby, which also serves as the entrance foyer.
The (unused) aft cafeteria has since then been completely transformed into a buffet restaurant – which, my friends tell me – serves excellent food. The new shop is again behind the photographer's back here.
Decks 3-6 – the ship has two double-height car decks, allowing it to carry a pretty impressive number of lane metres considering what a small ship we're talking about.

While the ship does actually have a bow visor and side gate that would allow drive-through operation, for reasons unknown to me Wasaline use the bow ramps in both ports. The traffic cones are here because the gangway in Vaasa was broken and we had to embark and disembark via the upper car deck.
Kships, as always, will return.