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.