Brave Merchant / Norman Bridge,
Dawn Merchant / Norman Trader,
Midnight Merchant / European Endeavour (II)
& Northern Merchant
When it seemed the existing Dover ferry operators were concentrating all their efforts on funnelling traffic through Calais, the established North Sea shipping company, Norfolkline, made the surprising initiative to reactivate the route to Dunkerque (Ouest) in 2000. Using a new freight ferry, Northern Merchant, the new service opened from the little-used single deck linkspan at Berth 1, offering sailings to lorries and also car passengers. She was the second in the Spanish-built series of so-called 'Racehorse' vessels ordered by Irish Sea operator, Merchant Ferries (a company subsequently acquired by Norfolkline). Northern Merchant initially could only offer single level loading, but modifications were later made enable her to receive vehicles via double deck linkspans at both ends. This meant awkward looking scaffolding was welded to the prow to allow the ramps to rest on her. Issued with a certificate for just under two hundred passengers, comfortable accommodation was provided for commercial drivers and a small number of tourists. One unfortunate disadvantage was her lack of fin stabilisers. This was particularly noticeable in rough seas.
Norfolkline made phenomenal progress in attracting market share to their new Cross-Channel service and Northern Merchant's identical sisters, Dawn Merchant, then Midnight Merchant were deployed to provide additional capacity. The one sector the company experienced difficulties in accommodating adequately was tourist traffic. This was remedied through the introduction of the vast 'D Class' purpose-built ferries in 2005-6. These were to see the departure of the three 'Racehorses' to service in foreign waters, although this was to be a temporary absence for Midnight Merchant as she was to be later purchased by P. & O. Ferries, making her return to Dover in early 2008 as the second such named European Endeavour. She continues as a relief freight vessel, filling in on the company's North Sea and Irish Sea routes too when required.
Brave Merchant did a very brief spell of relief cover in the early days of the Norfolkline service, but it was not until March 2010 that she returned to Dover on a more permanent basis, now on charter to L. D. Lines as their rather unfortunately named Norman Bridge. She took over the Dover/Boulogne route from Norman Spirit, seeing a dramatic reduction in passenger capacity. Her sister, the former Dawn Merchant, was later taken on charter by L. D. Lines too, and for this purpose she was named Norman Trader. After little over three months of use, she performed the sad duty of operating the Company's final crossing from Boulogne to Dover on Sunday 5th September. These were difficult times for ferry companies, and many belived that, whilst L. D. had the right vessels to develop a fledgling service, they had chosen the worst possible market climate to make their entry.
M. S. Brave Merchant, Dawn Merchant, Northern Merchant & Midnight Merchant
Builder: Astilleros Espanoles S. A. (A. E. S. A.) Factoria de Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain.
Yard numbers: 287, 289, 290.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 179.93 x 25.24 x 6.5 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 22,152, 6,645, 7,360.
Engines: Four 9 cylinder, Wärtsilä-N. S. D. diesel.
Power: 23,760 kW.
Speed (knots): 24.
Passenger certificate: 195.
Lane metres (for vehicles): 2,000.
2.1998: Dawn Merchant launched.
3.9.1998: Delivered to Cenargo International Limited, Nassau, Bahamas.
10.1998: Chartered to Und Ro-Ro, Istanbul, Turkey.
1999: Registered for V. Ships (U. K.) Douglas, Isle Of Man.
15.2.1999: Entered service for Merchant Ferries between Liverpool/Dublin.
4.2002: Transferred to Norse Merchant Ferries between Liverpool/Dublin.
10.2002: Entered service for Norfolkline between Dunkerque/Dover.
15.5.1999: Northern Merchant launched.
26.2.2000: Delivered to Merchant Ferries (Cenargo International Limited, Nassau, Bahamas).
18.3.2000: Arrived at Dover.
20.3.2000: Chartered to Norfolkline. Entered service between Dover/Dunkerque.
6.1.2002: Collided with Rapide off Dover.
9.2000: Midnight Merchant delivered to Merchant Ferries, (Cenargo International Limited, Nassau, Bahamas).
20.9.2000: Arrived at Appledore Shipbuilders, Falmouth for modifications.
5.10.2000: Entered service for Norfolkline between Dover/Dunkerque.