19 March 2014

Wasa Express in Holmsund, 13 March 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
800 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

Last week I travelled to Vaasa, Finland with my friend, the maritime author Bruce Peter, to try out the "new" Wasa Express of Wasaline, the municipally-owned shipping operator established in the beginning of 2014 to operate the ferry connection between Vaasa and Umeå (Sweden) after the last commercial operator on the service, RG Line, had gone bankrupt in late 2012. Wasaline's Wasa Express is a ship with a long and fascinating history, and since it has not previously been featured on this blog, before the photos we will take a moment to look at the history of the ship.

The current Wasa Express (the fourth ship to sail on the Vaasa-Umeå route with that name) was originally built for Gedser-Travemünde Ruten as the Travemünde for traffic between - you guessed it - Gedser in Denmark and Travemünde in Germany. Gedser-Travemünde Ruten had previously trusted West German shipyards to build their ships, but for the new flagship they turned to Wärtsilä's Helsinki yard. Externally, the 1981 Travemünde bears resemblance to the 1979-1980 -built Viking Line sisters Turella and Rosella, albeit with angular exterior stylings similar to the more recent Wärtsilä products Viking Saga, Viking Song, Finlandia and Silvia Regina.

In 1986 Gedser-Travemünde Ruten was renamed GT Linien, but it went bankrupt the next year. The company was reorganised under the leadership of Rederi AB Sea-Link and rebranded as GT Link. At the same time the name of the Travemünde was amended into Travemünde Link. Already in 1988 the Travemünde Link was sold to Rederi AB Gotland, who chartered her to the UK-based but Finnish-owned Sally Line. The ship was renamed Sally Star and placed on service across the Engish channel from Ramsgate to Dunkerque. Interestingly, the Sally Star's partner on the route was the Sally Sky, also a former Gedser-Travemünde Ruten ship, the Gedser of 1976.

The Sally Star stayed in Sally Line traffic until the beginning of 1997, when reorganisation of the traffic rendered her superfluous for the company's needs. Her charter agreement continued until the end of the year, however. Fortunately Sally Line's owners, the Finland-based EffJohn, had another service the ship was suited for: the route between Vaasa and Umeå, operated under the banner of Silja Line. Thus the Sally Star was repainted in Silja Line colours and used on the said route during the summer season. She retained her previous name, but was marketed as the "Wasa Express".

After the charter to EffJohn ended in late 1997, the Sally Star moved for the first time to the fleet of her long-time owners Rederi AB Gotland, who had managed to regain the concession to operate the state-subsidised services between the Swedish mainland and the island of Gotland, now rebranded Destination Gotland. For these new services the ship was renamed Thjelvar. She stayed in Destination Gotland until 2003, when she was supplanted by larger tonnage. New, she was chartered to Color Line for a three-year period from the beginning of 2004 as the Color Traveller for freight-oriented services from Larvik in Norway to Hirsthals and Frederikshavn in Denmark. Before entering service as the Color Traveller, the ship was rebuilt with a bulbous bow in place of the original forward rudder.

In 2006, the Color Traveller reverted to the name Thjelvar and was repainted in Rederi AB Gotland colours, as mandated by the terms of the charter agreement. After a year's lay-up, the ship found another charterer, when Scandlines took her under charter for the 2007-2010 period as the Rostock. She was placed on a service between Gedser and Rostock - a route that had become a part of the Scandlines network after Scandlines' preecessor DSB Rederi purchased what remained of GT Link in 1996. As such, this charter was something of a homecoming for the Rostock. In the end she became superfluous for Scandlines before her charter ended, and she was sub-chartered to Comarit for Almeria (Spain)-Nador (Morocco) service for 2009-2010. Unusually, neither she ship's name nor livery were changed for this charter.

In 2010, the Rostock was returned from charter, again renamed Thjelvar and repainted in Rederi AB Gotland colours. The next year she was again chartered out, now to Lineas Fred. Olsen (marketed as Fred. Olsen Express) opering in the Canary Isles, who wanted a conventional ferry in order to capture a larger share of the cargo traffic in the area. For the new service the ship was renamed Betancuria. The charter of the Betancuria lasted for only one year. Reportedly Lineas Fred. Olsen could not afford to continue the charter, due to overall poor financial situation in the Canary Isles. Other sources claim the poor state of the Betancuria's engines was also a contributing factor.

In late 2012, the Betancuria was sold to NLC Ferry, a new ferry operator established by the city Vaasa and the municipality of Umeå to operate traffic between the cities. Soon afterwards NLC Ferry reported they had purchased the rights to the traditional Vaasanlaivat - Vasabåtarna brand name and traffic would be begun using this name, while the Betancuria would be renamed Wasa Express. The Wasa Express entered service in the beginning of 2013, initially retaining the yellow-funneled, white-hulled Fred. Olsen Express livery - naturally without the hull and funnel markings of her previous operators. Later in the spring Vaasabåtarna was rebranded as Wasaline, and the Wasa Express repainted in a new livery with a light blue funnel.

It remains to be seen how long the aged Wasa Express will remain in service with Wasaline, as her replacement is already being designed. If realised, this new ship will be the first newbuilt ship ever designed for the routes from Vaasa.

The photographs below show the Wasa Express at quay in Holmsund, the outer harbour of Umeå, on 13 March 2013. Click on the images to see them in larger size.

At quay, looking like the ship is in need of a fresh lick of paint.
The area these photos were taken from might have been surrounded by a fence that said "coast guard area - no entry". But I deny all allegations.
The few remains of winter ice as seen in early March. During a normal winter, the port should still be iced over.
Waiting for spring.
The hull and funnel markings nicely reflect the heritage of Vaasanlaivat-Vasabåtarna. Even so, at least I personally would have preferred sticking with the traditional name.
A photo from later in the day, taken through the window of the terminal building shortly before departure.


  1. Remember this ship, Traveműnde, very well from I was a kid. At that time I thought it was huge, and it was at least compared to the DSB ferrys sailing from Rødby to Puttgarden.

    So have a special relation to this beauty😉.

    1. This was my first encounter with her, but she was quite nice, yes. I also documented her interiors on the same trip, but it seems I've never posted the photos here. I should definitely correct the omission at some point (although quite a lot of the interior has been redone since then, so my photos are not exactly current anymore).