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.