24 May 2018

Express (Viking FSTR) in Tallinn, 15 April 2017

Since I haven't really bee nable to go out and take photos of cruise ships visiting Helsinki this year (despite the exceedingly good weather recently), today's entry is a blast from the past - or last year's April and the Express in Tallinn, to be precise. As the ship has recently found a new operator, this is a good time to take an updated look at its history.


IMO 9176046
Name history: Catalonia, Catalonia L, Portsmouth Express, Express
Built 1998, Incat Hobart, Australia
Tonnage 5 902 GT
Length 91,30 m
Width 26,00 m
Draught 3,73 m
836 passengers
120 cars
4 Caterpillar diesels, combined 28 800 kW
4 waterjets
Maximum speed 48 knots
Service speed 30 knots
The Express was completed in 1998 by Incat, the Tasmanian specialist fast catamaran builder, as the Catalonia for the Uruguyan fast ferry operator Buquebus. However, instead of Buquebus' home services linking Uruguay to Argentina, the Catalonia was, as the name suggests, meant for services in the Mediterranean. However, before entering service, the ship secured the Hales Trophy, awarded for the fastest Transatlantic crossing, on delivery voyage to Spain. (The Hales Trophy should not be confused with the Blue Riband of the Atlantic, which requires for a ship to carry passengers in regular liner service, whereas the Hales Trophy is awarded simply to the fastest ship). Less than two weeks later, however, the Catalonia lost the Hales Trophy to another Incat-built catamaran, the Cat-Link V.

Almost immediately after arriving in Spain, the ship's name was amended to Catalonia L, after which it entered service linking Barcelona to Palma de Mallorca. Subsequently it also sailed on the Ceuta-Malaga-Algericas -route. From the 2000 summer season onwards, the ship was chartered during summers to P&O European Ferries as the Portsmouth Express on the Portsmouth-Charbourg -route. During the winters it reverted to Catalonia (now again without the L), but spent at least some of the winters simply laid up. For the 2003 season the ship was no longer renamed for the summer service, instead being marketed as the "Express". In late 2003, this became the official name.

From 2005 onwards, the Express spent summer seasons sailing on the Cairnryan-Larne and Troon-Larne routes with P&O Irish Ferries, occasionally making night-time crossings from Larne to Douglas (on the Isle of Man) with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Winters were spent laid up.

The pattern was finally broken in 2015, when the ship was sold to Nordic HSC, a shipowner associated with Gotlandsbåten, the new Swedish shipping company wishing to challenge the existing state-subsidized operator Destination Gotland on the routes connecting the Swedish mainland to Gotland. During the 2016 summer season, Express sailed for Gotlandsbåten on the Visby-Västervik and Visby-Nynäshamn routes. While passenger numbers were good, Gotlandsbåten failed to make a profit and the company decided not to resume operations for the 2017 summer season. Instead, it was laid up in Västervik for the winter.

The jobless Express was then chartered to Viking Line, who used her on the Helsinki-Tallinn line for the extended 2017 summer season (April-October), marketed as the "Viking FSTR" (pronounced "Viking Faster", to avoid confusion with the Viking XPRS, pronounced "Viking Express"). Unfortunately, the ship proved poorly suited for Viking's business model and this combined with her high operating costs made the season a failure - in end end, engine trouble forced her to stop sailing two weeks earlier than intended.

After being laid up in Helsinki for several weeks, at the end of November the Express limped to the Turku Ship Repair Yard in Naantali for repairs. While there, the livery received a small amendment, with the first two letters of the company name painted over from the side, creating the previously unheard-of King Line. Just before Christmas, the ship sailed back to Västervik to be laid up again.

In May 2018, the Express left Västervik for Spain. While initial information was that the ship was simply being relocated closer to potential charterers, it soon turned out it had been chartered to Armas in Spain and was headed to Motril. The Express remains in that port at the time of writing, presumably being refurbished for service. As Armas serves Al Hoceima, Melilla and Nador from that port, it seems likely that the Express will sail on those services during the upcoming summer season (at least). Edit 28.5.: Contrary to what I predicted, the ship sailed to take up services in the Canary Isles.

The photos below, however, are slightly older, showing the Express arriving in Tallinn in the evening of 15 April 2017 (it was seriously delayed), photographed from the windows of the departure lounge in Terminal A. As always, click on the images to see them in larger size.

This shot was also the cover of Ulkomatala issue 3/2017.Not the first time I was in the cover, it is always nice when it happens.
Nothing particularly speacial about these shots, but I do like that they show a slightly diffrerent point of view from the usual ones. Plus the Tallinn TV tower in the background immediately tells the viewer where we are.
The colours aren't bad either, even if shooting though a window ever so slightly altered them compared to reality (not that a photo would ever be a 100% accurate reproduction of reality anyway.
Can't say I would miss the ship, to be honest.
Kships will return. Hopefully with some new stuff, but equally likely is that we'll have another blast from the past.

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