European Highway / Pride of Kent (II),
European Pathway / Pride of Canterbury (II),
European Seaway & Pride of Burgundy

A quartet of large freight 'superferries' was ordered by P. & O. for their Dover/Zeebrugge service in early 1990. These were designed to replace the 1970s-built 'European Class' vessels which were virtually half their size. The first of the 'Super European Class' series was delivered in 1991 as European Seaway, followed the next year by the identical European Highway and European Pathway. The fourth sister was completed as the multi-purpose ship, Pride of Burgundy, in a change of strategy by her owner (she was originally to be completed as European Causeway in freight-only configuration). They featured an impressive capacity for one hundred and twenty lorries, and accommodation for two hundred drivers. Their twenty four knot service speed reduced the Zeebrugge crossing to less than four hours.

The first attempt by P. & O. and Stena Line to merge their Short Sea operations was blocked by the Monopolies & Mergers Commission. Both companies then decided to step up their competitive battle for traffic instead. Pride of Burgundy was the product of this strategy, and, judging by her awkward appearance, was a quick fix rather than a carefully conceived concept. Her delivery coincided with the closure of the loss-making Dover/Boulogne route in 1993 and the filtration of all tourist traffic through Calais. In her early days of service her interior spaces were fitted out to an attractive standard. She even had a decorative water fountain feature in her lobby area. However, her deck arrangements were something of a 'rabbit warren' and the suspended stern end platform for foot passengers was her ugliest feature.

Five years later, and the stakes in the Cross-Channel industry had altered considerably. The Channel Tunnel had taken the largest share of the market and left the two giants of the ferry industry in dire straits. The Government looked again at their proposed merger and eventually gave the green light for the formation of P. & O. Stena Line in March 1998. Apart from a modification of livery, the 'Super European Class' continued as before. The cost-saving measures saw the departure of some of Stena's smaller and less profitable vessels from the combined fleet. Stena Line was very much the junior partner in this uncomfortable marriage of businesses. They agreed to sell their stake to P. & O. in August 2002, paving the way for further rationalisations to come. The new P. & O. Ferries gave notice of the closure of the Dover/Zeebrugge service as of December that year.

Plans were drawn up for an ambitious conversion of European Highway and European Pathway to multi-purpose capability. They were sent to the Lloyd Werft shipyard in Bremerhaven, Germany, to have accommodation for two thousand passengers added in a rather more sophisticated design than that of the earlier convert, Pride of Burgundy. This was, for all intents and purposes, a major reconstruction, similar in scale to that undertaken twelve years before on Sealink's Fantasia and Fiesta by the same firm. The two vessels emerged in the Summer of 2003 as the new, and second such-named, Pride of Kent and Pride of Canterbury. They took the place of the twenty three year old P. O. Kent (originally Spirit of Free Enterprise) and P. O. Canterbury (formerly Fantasia) on the Dover/Calais route.

The 'Darwins', as they were dubbed (referring to the name given to their reconstruction project), promised a fresh new look to P. & O.'s offer at Dover. Seafrance had stolen a march with their impressive purpose-built Seafrance Rodin of 2001, and perhaps it wasn't just coincidental that Pride of Kent and Pride of Canterbury featured some similarities in layout and external design to their rival. However, whereas the French ship was sleek and curvacious on the outside, and stylishly decorated on the inside, the 'reborn' British-flagged pair were left looking rather utilitarian and lacklustre. There had been a clear departure from P. & O.'s upmarket 'P. O. S. H.' theme of the early 1990s. The 'Darwins' ushered in an era of 'wipe-down' formica, laminate flooring, and consumer outlets at every turn. Gone were the brass fittings and other niceties of the old P. & O. European Ferries. "Motorway Services at Sea" had arrived.

The new Pride of Kent and Pride of Canterbury did not receive great acclaim from ferry industry pundits. Indeed they were considered by some to be the most uninspiring vessels on the Channel of all time! However, it cannot be denied that P. & O. have maintained their market-leading position at Dover. This despite the fact that, in their various forms, the 'Super European Class' quartet represent the forgettable and regrettable in ship design. It would seem the majority of those who travel on them are not interested in aesthetics, just getting from one end to the other.

M. S. European Seaway, European Pathway, European Highway & Pride of Burgundy
Builder: Schichau Seebeckwerft AG, Bremerhaven, Germany.
Yard number: 1,075, 1,076, 1,077, 1,078.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 179.40 x 28.28 x 6.25 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 22,986, 6,895, 5,800.
Engines: Four Sulzer-Jugoturbina diesel.
Power: 21,120 kW.
Speed (knots): 21.
Passenger certificate: 220 (before conversions to multi-purpose capability).
Lane metres (for vehicles): 1,925.

20.4.1991: European Seaway launched.
2.10.1991: Delivered to P. & O. European Ferries (Dover) Limited.
7.10.1991: Dover/Zeebrugge.
10.3.1998: P. & O. Stena Line Limited established.
15.10.2002: P. & O. Ferries Limited established.
12.2002: Dover/Zeebrugge closed to all traffic. Transferred to Dover/Calais.
1.1.2004: Withdrawn from service. Laid up at Falmouth.

10.8.1991: European Pathway launched.
29.12.1991: Delivered to P. & O. European Ferries (Dover) Limited.
4.1.1992: Entered service Dover/Zeebrugge.
25.11.1998: Taken out of service after donating an engine to replace a faulty one in Pride of Burgundy.
22.4.1999: Returned to service after engine replacement.
28.11.2002: Sent to Lloyd Werft, Bremerhaven, Germany for conversion to multi-purpose passenger ferry.
3.2003: Renamed Pride of Canterbury.
12.5.2003: Inaugurated on Dover/Calais.

14.12.1991: European Highway launched.
12.6.1992: Delivered to P. & O. European Ferries (Dover) Limited.
16.6.1992: Maiden voyage Dover/Zeebrugge at 16:15 from Dover.
17.12.2002: Sent to Lloyd Werft, Bremerhaven, Germany for conversion to multi-purpose passenger ferry.
4.2003: Renamed Pride of Kent.
7.6.2003: Returned to Dover.
14.6.2003: Entered service Dover/Calais.