Stretched ferry becomes world's largest

EUROPE'S largest ferry operator Stena Line has earned itself a place in the record books by extending the length of its ship Stena Hollandica by more than 30%, making it the largest vessel of its class in the world.

EUROPE'S largest ferry operator Stena Line has earned itself a place in the record books by extending the length of its ship Stena Hollandica by more than 30%, making it the largest vessel of its class in the world.

A giant new mid-section was manoeuvred into place between the aft and forward sections of Stena Hollandica at the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven, Germany, last week.

Formerly a 188-metre ropax (roll-on roll-off passenger and cargo) vessel serving the Hook of Holland to Harwich International Port route, Hollandica will now measure a mighty 240 meters.

Pim de Lange, Stena Line's area director for the North Sea told, told guests invited to witness the manoeuvre that the lengthened Hollandica would carry double the amount of passengers. “The extended Stena Hollandica will be able to carry 900 people, rather than the 440 it handled in the past, and the number of cabins will increase from 192 to 398,” he said.

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The £70million decision to “stretch” and refurbish the Hollandica and her sister ship Stena Britannica, which has already been lengthened to 240 metres at Lloyd Werft, came after the decommissioning of the HSS Discovery, Stena's high speed catamaran, after spiralling fuel costs and competition from low cost airlines made the service unviable.

Now, says Mr de Lange, instead of having the fastest service, Stena will offer the most comfortable crossing between Harwich and the Hook.

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“We needed to protect our share of the passenger market, which is very important to us, and at the same time increase our freight capacity,” he said. “In that situation there are three things you can do. You can build new ships, but that takes a very long time; you can look to see if any other vessels are available to buy or to charter, but there were not. The third option is to lengthen your existing ships. The capital cost for doing that was also much lower than buying new ships and it is much quicker.

“The Britannica, which also went through this yard and came back into service on March 11, has already done better than expected. The highest number of freight units we used to take on the Britannica was 180. During her first week back in service she took 222 units on Monday, on Tuesday 221 and Wednesday 233. So that is a good start and if that is a sign for the future then I am a very happy man.

“We have invested heavily in order to improve our Harwich service,” he said. “As well as carrying more passengers, the modified ships have excellent new passenger facilities, including bars, restaurants and lounges, so that those on board can enjoy a relaxed and leisurely journey. We expect this will be great for British travellers but also make a substantial contribution to bringing more passengers to the UK.”

The investment also includes the complete refurbishment of both vessels with an emphasis on comfort and choice. After consulting its passengers, Stena decided that freight drivers and other passengers should have their own facilities.

Sailing times have been altered slightly to ensure perishable goods, flowers and other “just in time” deliveries make their markets in time. On board, there is a commitment to offering high quality, fresh food from a choice of outlets and the cabins offer more comfortable accommodation.

“This investment of £70million is the largest in Stena Line's history of rebuilding ships and, together with the extension of our contract with Harwich International Port to 2020, reaffirms Stena's commitment to its North Sea route,” added Mr de Lange.

Among delegates at the shipyard was David Gledhill, chief operating officer of Hutchison Ports (UK), which owns and operates Harwich International Port, who said he was thrilled at Stena's investment in the ships serving Harwich.

“We are delighted that Stena has demonstrated its long term commitment to the Harwich - Hook of Holland route by lengthening the Hollandica and Britannica,” he said. “The modernised passenger facilities on both of these vessels will increase the number of car and foot passengers and Harwich International Port is making significant investments in upgraded passenger walkways as well as improved mooring and berthing facilities.”

Stena Hollandica is due to come back into service on May 8. In addition to the investment in the two superferries, Stena Line has also invested in two new ships on the Killingholme-Hook van Holland freight route. The new ships will offer better sailing schedules for freight customers and a substantial increase in capacity.

Stena Line yesterday reported its strongest financial performance since the mid 1990s, with a profit for 2006 of 540million Swedish krona (around £39.8million), more than double the total for 2005.

“We are very pleased with our progress in 2006. Reporting increased profits for the fourth year in a row is proof that we have chosen the right strategy. Our performance also gives us a stable foundation on which to develop our business even further,” said Stena Line chief executive Gunnar Blomdahl.

Freight volumes continued to increase during the year while passenger and vehicle numbers stabilised compared with 2005, said Mr Blomdahl.

Pim de Lange added that the North Sea business had achieved a break-even performance, despite the heavy fuel costs associated with running the HSS Discovery throughout the year, which was “a good improvement” on 2005.

With encouraging trends in both passenger and freight volumes, combined with the lower fuel costs of the two newly extended ships on the Harwich-Hook route, the outlook for 2006 was very positive.

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