Scott Mackey considers the three Stena Superfast vessels now in service on two strategic ferry links between Great Britain and the island of Ireland, their history, development, conversion from night ferries for the short sea trade and the successful introduction and operation in an environment quite di erent to that for which they were originally conceived.
Stena Superfast VII, VIII and X are three of a quartet of identical, ice-classified, fast, conventional ropax vessels built in 2001-2002 by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, Kiel, Germany for Attica Enterprises of Greece, trading as Superfast Ferries. There are a total of fourteen ‘superfast class’ ferries in operation, however, the original Superfast I and Superfast II have both been sold, renamed and replaced with newer ships carrying the same names. The fourth sister in the quartet, Superfast IX, currently sails as Atlantic Vision for Marine Atlantic (on charter from Tallink) between Port aux Basques and/or Argentia, Newfoundland and North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Sleek, impressive, long and narrow-beamed with twin-level bow and stern vehicle access and capacity for 2 kilometres of traffic, the vessels were designed with speed and comfort in mind and are capable of speeds in excess of 29 knots.
Superfast Ferries currently operate solely in the Adriatic Sea between Greece and Italy, but previously operated in several other areas of Europe, including the Aegean, Baltic and North Sea. Superfast VII and VIII were delivered from the yard of HDW, Kiel in 2001 and have spent their entire working life together, with Superfast Ferries, Tallink and now Stena Line. Superfast X has had a much more varied career than any of her three sisters, seeing operation for some seven different operators under six names in the thirteen years since delivery.
VII and VIII, the early years
Both ships inaugurated Superfast Ferries’ Hanko (Finland) – Rostock (Germany) route in 2001. They operated there until 2006, when Superfast Ferries sold their Baltic Sea Operations, along with three ships (Superfast VII, VII and IX) to Tallink, an Estonian company. Tallink was permitted to use the Superfast brand until late 2007. The ships were both changed from Finnish to Estonian registry and they started operating Hanko – Paldiski (Estonia) – Rostock, before removing Paldiski as a port of call shortly afterwards. More route changes took place in 2007 when the ships were to serve Tallin (Estonia) – Helsinki – Rostock, removing Tallin as a port of call in 2008. The third sister, Superfast IX was chartered to Marine Atlantic of Canada in late 2008, entering service in 2009. A period of layup in early 2010 was short-lived with VII and VIII resuming service in the spring of that year between Helsinki and Rostock. In March 2011, Tallink agreed the charter of Superfast VII and Superfast VIII to Stena Line for operation on the Swedish company’s North Channel route between Belfast and a new £200 million purpose built terminal built at Cairnryan, a few miles closer to the mouth of Loch Ryan from the historic rail port of Stranraer in November 2011.
X, a varied career
Superfast X has had a much more varied life than her three sisters, holding six names for five owners and seven operators since her delivery to Superfast Ferries in 2002. Despite having operated with her sisters on the Baltic route from Hanko to Rostock as new, this was to be a short lived existence. After only a few months the ship, along with Superfast IX, started service on Superfast Ferries’ Rosyth to Zeebrugge route. In 2004, Superfast IX and Superfast X had extensions to their passenger accommodation at the aft end of deck 8. The two ships maintained the route until 2005 when Superfast IX returned to the Baltic and, then in 2006, Superfast X was sold to Veolia Transport and renamed Jean Nicoli for service with SNCM from 2007. For a short period in 2007, the ship was chartered to Cotunav for service from Italy and France to Tunisia and then later that year to ANEK Lines for service from Patras – Corfu – Igoumenitsa – Venice, also for a short period.
At the end of 2007, the ship was sold to Seafrance for service on their Dover to Calais route and renamed Seafrance Moliere. In April 2008, the Seafrance Moliere was sent to the ARNO shipyard in Dunkerque for conversion from a night ferry to a short distance day ferry suitable for a 90 minute crossing with associated alterations to cargo loading arrangements to enable berth fits at Dover and Calais. She entered service on the Dover Straits in autumn 2008. In 2011, Seafrance was liquidated and the ship was sold to Scapino Shipping and laid up at Tilbury Docks on the River Thames near London. In 2012, DFDS chartered the ship, which by this stage was just named Moliere, for their own Dover Straits services. She was renamed Dieppe Seaways and entered service on the Calais route in November 2012. In early 2014, Scapino Shipping sold the ship (still under charter to DFDS until November 2014) to Stena North Sea Ltd and following the conclusion of the DFDS charter the ship was sent to the Nauta Shipyard in Gdynia, Poland for refit and conversion to Stena Superfast X for service on the Irish Sea between Holyhead and Dublin.
Converting VII and VIII for Stena Line
In March 2011, Stena Line and Tallink announced they had entered into an initial three year charter agreement to place Superfast VII and VIII into service between Belfast and a new terminal built at Cairnryan. Stena Line announced that “Both vessels will be given extensive refits to ensure they deliver a great experience with new attractive onboard concepts for restaurants and public areas and as well as providing complete fl exibility for freight operators. The upgrades will include the provision of extra deck height to cater for the trend towards higher vehicles and hauliers’ increased use of double-deck freight units”.
Until 2011, Superfast VII and VIII had largely retained their original layout and configuration as night ferries with capacity for around 700 passengers and one of the main passenger decks (deck 8) given over to cabins. For short sea service on the North Channel, needs would be very different and a major rebuild was required. Stena Line took over the vessels on charter when they finished service with Tallink in August 2011 and took them to the Rementowa Shipyard in Gdansk, Poland to begin a three-month programme of works to rebuild passenger areas. The scope of the conversion also included major engineering to raise the free height on deck 5 (upper vehicle deck) to enable the carriage of high-sided double deck trailers. At the same time, on the technical front, new fuel-efficient propellers were fi tted in place of the originals and a third bow thruster was installed to aid manoeuvrability.
The 128 cabins occupying deck 8 were entirely removed as was the casino, conference room and reclining seat saloon from deck 6. Figura Arkitekter redesigned the main passenger spaces and MJM Marine (“a company with considerable experience in the global cruise ship industry…”) was responsible for the conversion work (“fitting the ships out to the highest standards in order to provide customers with a unique top quality ferry travel experience”) which saw decks 7 and 8 totally remodelled, including the creation of a large self-service ‘Taste’ Restaurant, a larger shop and refurbishment of the existing Bar area on deck 7. It was on deck 8, however, that the most major transformation took place with the creation of a luxurious Stena Plus lounge at the forward end, Barista Coffee House and Living Room with a dedicated magazine and news lounge, an interactive Pod Lounge complete with X-Box Connect play stations, a Cinema and a Truckers’ Lounge and Restaurant at the aft end. New toilet blocks were also created and passenger capacity was increased to 1,200 as a result.
Six luxury cabins situated on deck 10 were retained and opened up to passenger use as ‘Superfast Suites’ accommodating up to five passengers, particularly aimed at families. The original Jacuzzi and Spa area, also on deck 10 benefitted from a refurbishment and rebranding as ‘Pure Nordic Spa’ in line with other Stena Line ships in Scandinavia. Larger windows were installed on the forward superstructure of deck 8, in the Stena Plus lounge as well as two pairs of large back-to-back ‘D’ shaped feature windows on both the port and starboard side, also on deck 8, in Stena Plus and the Living Room. In order to enable the carriage of highsided trailers, four lanes on the upper vehicle deck (deck 5) had their free height increased to 5.05 metres. This was a major engineering task and involved the re-direction of pipework and the creation of supporting pillars. Many of the UK supermarkets use double-decked trailers on the Scotland to Northern Ireland routes and this was a trade Stena Line had not previously been able to accommodate with HSS Stena Voyager and the two conventional ships that operated between Belfast and Stranraer.
The Rementowa Shipyard at Gdansk (Poland) has undertaken a number of major projects for Stena Line and commented “Superfast VII and Superfast VIII arrived at Rementowa SA in Tallink livery together in late August (2011). Some significant modifi cations and refurbishing of the passenger spaces were carried out during refit in Gdansk. Also car decks have been modified and all necessary changes or upgrades to general ship’s systems performed. Tallink livery has been replaced, so the ships left the yard rebranded to Stena Line standards with new “wavy” design on their sides. After refit and modifi cations the two sister vessels each carry 1,200 passengers, 660 cars or 110 trucks.” The conversion work was completed on time, taking just twelve weeks, and both ships arrived in time to commence service between Belfast and the new Loch Ryan Port terminal near Cairnryan on 21st November 2011.