April 2013: TransEuropa Ferries is no more: Having taken over Ramsgate/Oostende sailings from defunct Sally Line in November 1998, this inauspicious operator enjoyed a boom period in the early 2000s, with a 'heritage fleet' of former Townsend and R. M. T. vessels offering up to ten round trips a day. A somewhat mysterious company, its vessels were mainly registered in Cyprus, whilst its crews were comprised of Croats and Slovenians. Their original business model was based on buying up old ferries very cheaply and renovating them in-house. The revenue they could earn was said to be in the region of five hundred pounds a truck, and in their hey day they sailed full. TransEuropa were to regret their abortive tie-up with L. D. Lines which cost them dear. In 2011 and 2012 they struggled on with just two vessels. The charter of Ostend Spirit (II) proved to be a false dawn for the twenty six year old ship, which was abuptly repossessed by P. & O. Ferries on Thursday 18/4/13, the last day of TransEuropa services. After several days of silence, it was confirmed that the company was bankrupt, with massive debts. So the future for the Port of Ramsgate looks bleak. It may well suffer the same fate as Folkestone, which quickly declined after the cessation of ferry operations thirteen years ago. Not good news at all.
March 2013: Having received a thorough overhaul and refurbishment at the Remontowa shipyard in Gdańsk, Poland, Norman Spirit emerged as Calais Seaways in full D. F. D. S. Seaways livery. This marked the disappearance of the L. D. Lines brand on the Dover/Calais route. The Newhaven/Dieppe and Portsmouth/Le Havre services of the joint D. F. D. S./L. D. Lines operation also became exclusively marketed under the D. F. D. S. Seaways banner (the Danish company being the dominant partner and having a much stronger brand identity).
March 2013: After her sojourn on the Dover/Calais route for D. F. D. S. Seaways, Barfleur made a celebrated return to service on the Poole/Cherbourg route for Brittany Ferries. This would be the second time she resurrected the conventional passenger ferry link, having previously been withdrawn from service twice due to lack of profitability. This time she would operate the route alone; with the freighter Cotentin being laid up for sale, and the joint service agreement with Condor Ferries being terminated. There were still no guarantees given for the future of the service.
February 2013: Brittany Ferries announced a new seasonal high-speed service on the Portsmouth/Le Havre route, operating Normandie Express four days a week between May and September. This would be effectivly at the expense of Caen (Ouistreham) which would lose its fast ferry service. The last high-speed sailings on Portsmouth/Le Havre were operated by L. D. Lines in 2010 using Norman Arrow.
January 2013: The 'new' Ostend Spirit made a tentative entry into service on the Ramsgate/Oostende route. Sailings were subject to tidal restrictions whilst dredging of the harbour at Ramsgate was still underway. TransEuropa Ferries made no mention of the new addition to their fleet on their website, which had not been updated for some time. It remained to be seen whether the smaller and much older Larkspur and Gardenia would both continue in service.
December 2012: Whilst Pride of Dover was about to be dragged on to the shore at Aliaga, her twin sister, Pride of Calais had won a happy reprieve from the breakers: She was placed on a three year charter to TransEuropa Ferries and arrived at Oostende on 27th December as their second such named Ostend Spirit. She was later sent to Antwerp for repainting in the Company's red, white and buff livery.
December 2012: Whilst Pride of Dover was about to be dragged on to the shore at Aliaga, her twin sister, Pride of Calais had won a happy reprieve from the breakers: She was placed on a three year charter to TransEuropa Ferries and arrived at Oostende on 27th December as their second such named Ostend Spirit. She was later sent to Antwerp for repainting.
December 2012: Having been laid up for sale at Tilbury for two years, Pride of Dover was reportedly sold to "German shipping interests". Due to the state of her engines (she was classified as a "dead ship") she was towed by the tug Eide en route to an undisclosed destination. She had been renamed Pride and many anticipated that she was headed for scrapping. She was eventually beached at the breakers in Aliaga, Turkey on Friday 28th December 2012. She was subsequently demolished. An untimely demise for such a successful vessel.
November 2012: Having been sold to Maltese interests, Molière (formerly Seafrance Molière) was chartered by D. F. D. S. Seaways as a replacement for Deal Seaways on their Dover/Calais service. For this purpose she was registered in Le Havre and renamed Dieppe Seaways. The smaller Deal Seaways was sent to Dunkerque for lay-up.
October 2012: The twenty-five year old Pride of Calais performed her last commercial sailing for P. & O. Ferries on Saturday 20th October 2012, leaving Dover for the final time three days later for lay-up at Tilbury.
Happily she lives on as Ostend Spirit (II) on a three year charter to TransEuropa Ferries. Sadly, her twin sister, Pride of Dover, met with an untimely demise, beached at the breakers in Aliaga, Turkey. She arrived, under tow, at her final resting place on Friday 28th December 2012. She has since been demolished.
September 2012: D. F. D. S. Group announced on 26th September: "D. F. D. S. and Louis Dreyfus Armateurs (L. D. A.) have today completed a joint venture agreement and formed a new company combining D. F. D. S.’ Channel operations and L. D. Lines’ ferry operations. D. F. D. S.’ ownership share of the new company will be 82% and L. D. A. will own 18%. The planned integration process has now been kicked off and is expected to be completed by the end of 2013, including integration of all business systems".
August 2012: MyFerryLink made an inauspicious debut on Monday 20th August. The new Dover/Calais operator declared its aim of achieving profitability within two years. However it had made virtually no attempt to market its service on the English side of the Channel.
June 2012: On 11th June the Paris Commercial Court announced that the wholly-owned assets of Seafrance had been sold for sixty five million euro to Eurotransmanche, a recently created subsidiary of Eurotunnel. The condition of the sale was that the three vessels, Berlioz, Rodin, and Nord Pas-de-Calais, would be leased to a co-operative of former Seafrance workers (S. C. O. P.) in order to revive the failed service under the new name of 'MyFerryLink'.
May 2012: The date of the verdict on the bids for Seafrance assets was postponed from 21st to 29th May. Offers had been received from D. F. D. S., Eurotunnel and Stena Line for some or all of the ships for sale.
April 2012: Deal Seaways made her debut for D. F. D. S. Seaways/L. D. Lines on Friday 27th April. After technical difficulties caused delays and cancellations to her first sailings, she settled into regular service. She remained registered in Cherbourg, and her lifeboats still beared her previous name! She was crewed by French L. D. Lines staff.
March 2012: With Spirit of France settled into service, twin sister Spirit of Britain was sent back to her builders in Rauma, Finland, for remedial work on the excessive vibration problems that had plagued the 'Spirit 2'. The layout of the engines was thought to be the cause of the fault: The engines are arranged one behind the other, rather than side by side, in order to reduce the risk of damage to both in the event of a fire or collision (this improves the ability of the vessels to reach port in an emergency situation).
February 2012: Norman Spirit performed the first Dover/Calais sailings for D. F. D. S. Seaways/L. D. Lines on Friday 17th February. Glamour model, Kelly Brook, was hired to promote the launch of the new service. The two companies had already started promoting each other's services. It was reported that D. F. D. S. had a four out of five majority share in the joint venture versus Louis Dreyfus Amateurs with just a one fifth stake. A second French flagged vessel was yet to materialise. The owners of Transmanche Ferries reportedly refused to offer their laid up Côte d'Albâtre for Dover/Calais sailings, although, inexplicably, they would allow her to be used on Portsmouth/Le Havre.
February 2012: On Thursday 9th February Spirit of France departed from Dover at 12:05 for her maiden voyage to Calais.
January 2012: After several months of trials and work to cure excessive vibrations, it was announced that the severely delayed Spirit of France would finally be delivered by S. T. X. Europe shipbuilders to P. & O. Ferries on 24th January. Her delivery voyage from Rauma, Finland would see her arrive for the first time in Dover on Saturday 28th January (subject to further trials being satisfactorily completed). Her first commercial sailings went on sale for 9th February (after previous false starts). Meanwhile her twin sister, Spirit of Britain, was to receive similar remedial work.
January 2012: A day after the demise of Seafrance, D. F. D. S. and L. D. A. declared their intention to start a new Dover/Calais service using French-flagged vessels and around three hundred French employees. The ships in question were said to be sourced from their own fleets or tonnage available on the market. It was widely rumoured in ferry industry circles that L. D. Lines' Norman Spirit and the laid-up Côte d'Albâtre would step into the breach whilst a possible purchase and deployment of Seafrance Berlioz and Seafrance Rodin could be completed later in the year.
January 2012: After a protracted period of administration, an E. U. block on recapitalisation by its parent company, and failed bids by rival operators and a workers' co-operative to takeover most of its assets, the Paris Commercial Court delivered its final verdict on the future of Seafrance on Monday 9th January: The Company was to be liquidated with immediate effect and was ordered to cease commercial activities. The Seafrance website was updated with the following announcement: "On 9th of January 2012, the Commercial Court in Paris informed us of their decision to liquidate SeaFrance. From now on we are prohibited to continue trading. Customers who have a valid reservation which has not yet been used will be refunded in full as soon as possible. Customers who have a reservation which has been used one way will be transferred on arrival at the port to another company for the return journey". The Company had not sailed since 15th November 2011, with its three passenger vessels moored at Calais, and the freighter Seafrance Nord Pas-de-Calais laid up in Dunkerque. The immediate task was to sell the ships and pay off as much of the Company's debt as possible. Meanwhile over a hundred employees in Dover and nearly a thousand in France faced redundancy.
December 2011: On the day of the deadline for improved bids to buy Seafrance, D. F. D. S./L. D. A. issued the following statement: "Since the decision of the Commercial Court of Paris to liquidate Seafrance and set 12 December 2011 as a deadline for the submission of new bids, D. F. D. S. and Louis Dreyfus Armateurs have conducted an extensive process to enable the submission of a new offer. The main focus has been to address the social concerns voiced by the involved stakeholders and to increase the number of employed staff in the offer. In the course of this process, D. F. D. S. and Louis Dreyfus Armateurs have had a constructive dialogue with several of the involved parties, but unfortunately it has not been possible to establish a dialogue with the union representing the majority of Seafrance’s employees. As a consequence hereof, and taking into account the social and operational significance of constructive and stable relations with all unions representing the employees of Seafrance, D. F. D. S. and Louis Dreyfus Armateurs have decided not to submit a revised bid. We sincerely regret this decision as the underlying industrial logic of D. F. D. S. and Louis Dreyfus Armateurs’ joint venture remains intact. Furthermore, we believe that the joint venture is in a unique position to create a sustainable, attractive, and profitable workplace for a majority of the present employees of Seafrance, including the deployment of French flagged ships. We will continue to monitor the situation and evaluate any future opportunities that may arise for the joint venture".
December 2011: Experience has shown that it's best to expect the unexpected from L. D. Lines, and they continued to deliver, with the sudden transfer of their Norman Spirit from Portsmouth back to Dover, albeit on charter to their would-be partner, D. F. D. S. Seaways. In the absence of Seafrance, demand was outstripping capacity on the Dover/Dunkerque service. After a two day break in sailings, Norman Voyager took over the Portsmouth/Le Havre route, her place on St. Nazaire/Gijon 'Motorway of The Seas" being covered by her sister, the hastily re-chartered Norman Asturias.
November 2011: Reports suggested that Eastern Light and Western Light (formerly Seafrance Renoir and Seafrance Cézanne) had indeed been sold on for scrap and had arrived at Alang beach in India for breaking in the third week of November.
November 2011: The long-awaited verdict on the future of Seafrance by the Paris Commercial Court was delivered on Wednesday 16th November. The two remaining bids for the Company (from D. F. D. S./L. D. A., and a workers' co-operative calling itself S. C. O. P.) were rejected in favour of liquidation. A deadline was given for the submission improved bids, this time by 12th December. The Company was to be allowed to continue operating until January 2012 whilst a possible sale or winding-up process could be finalised. In anticipation of sabotage by militant union activists, the fleet was taken out of service the day before the Court's judgment. Services remained suspended indefinitely after the announcment was made. The Company's online booking facility was closed. The signs were Seafrance had already performed its very last sailing.
October 2011: On Tuesday 25th October the fate of Seafrance became clearer with the confirmation that a proposed multi-million euro recapitalisation by S. N. C. F. would be not be allowed by E. U. competition authorities. Wednesday 16th November was the date set for a decision by the Commercial Court in Paris on whether to liquidate Seafrance or sell it to a preferred bidder. The joint D. F. D. S./L. D. Lines offer had previously been improved to just under five million euros. However, their bid did not include paying off the enormous debts of Seafrance. They were simply promising to keep some of the workforce employed in return for taking Seafrance's considerable assets for a nominal sum well below market value. With this factor in mind, there was the serious possibility that the Court would decide to wind up the business and sell the ships for a realistic price instead.
October 2011: Within days of each other, Eastern Light and Western Light (formerly Seafrance Renoir and Seafrance Cézanne) departed from their lay-up berths in Dunkerque, final destination unknown.
October 2011: Barfleur performed her final Poole/Cherbourg crossing for Brittany Ferries on 3rd October. The Company's advertised 2012 timetable showed that the vessel would not be back in service after the winter. Only the seasonal fast craft service operated by Condor Ferries would return.
August 2011: Further details of the D. F. D. S./L. D. A. bid for Seafrance came to light. Apparently the offer made was to the value of just three euros, with a view to keeping three of the four Seafrance vessels in service and retaining in the region of four hundred of the Company's workers. Seafrance Molière was not included in the bid - which was not a great surprise in view of her operational limitations.
July 2011: On 26th July it was reported that an eleventh hour bid had been submitted jointly by D. F. D. S. Seaways and Louis Dreyfus Armateurs to buy "most of" the assets of Seafrance. The value of the bid was not disclosed. This was made just a day before a revised deadline for bids to buy the Company. The Commercial Court in Paris had previously extended the administration period yet again, this time until the end of October. It was proposed that D. F. D. S. and L. D. A. would form a joint company to operate the combined Cross-Channel fleets of D. F. D. S. Seaways, L. D. Lines and Seafrance. D. F. D. S. would be the majority shareholder. Speculation was rife regarding what vessels would be included in the deal and where they would be deployed. It was also not clear what brand would be used for the joint venture. It was suggested by some commentators that Seafrance Berlioz and Seafrance Rodin would stay on Dover/Calais, operating a intensive two hourly shuttle service. This would fit inbetween the existing two hourly D. F. D. S. service to Dunkerque. Meanwhile Seafrance Molière was tipped to be converted back to overnight service and placed on the L. D. Lines Portsmouth/Le Havre route.
July 2011: European Union regulators decided to launch an investigation into whether a multi-million euro recapitalisation of Seafrance by its parent company, S. N. C. F., could be allowed under state aid rules. The European Commission was quoted as saying that; "Rescue and restructuring aid is one of the most distortive types of state support. The Commission must make sure the company contributes its fair share of the burden and that it is ultimately viable without further state support".
July 2011: Reports suggested that the redundant Seafrance Cézanne and Seafrance Renoir, which had been moored at Dunkerque for over two years, had finally found a buyer. Said to be registered in Belize City and renamed Western Light and Eastern Light respectively, it was rumoured that they had been purchased for re-sale to scrapyards.
March 2011: TransEuropa Ferries and L. D. Lines ended their joint operation arrangement on the Ramsgate/Oostende route. L. D.'s tourist pricing strategy had resulted in a steep increase in passenger fares during 2010, but (not surprisingly) little improvement in carryings. TransEuropa terminated their charter of L. D.'s Ostend Spirit. She departed to Gdansk, Poland for repainting and some refurbishment work. She was to revert back to her previous name of Norman Spirit. Meanwhile the order for the severely delayed Norman Leader was finally cancelled due to breach of contract (in terms of delivery timescale) and unresolved design faults. Norman Spirit was expected to take over from the smaller (but much newer) Côte d'Albâtre on the Portsmouth/Le Havre route from the end of April. This vessel was then controversially laid-up as she was surplus to L. D.'s requirements (her owner, Transmanche Ferries, were said to be furious that she was not returned to service on the Newhaven/Dieppe route managed on their behalf by L. D. Lines). TransEuropa Ferries resumed selling tourist tickets on their own service, operating just Larkspur and Gardenia whilst their other two remaining fleet units were still away on charter.
January 2011: P. & O. Ferries' Spirit of Britain arrived at Dover for the very first time at around 11:00 on the morning of Sunday 9th January. She kept eager followers in suspense having been spotted on A. I. S. tracking hove to off Deal as early as 04:30. She came into sight from the Langdon Cliffs after 10:00 and made a very gentle approach towards the Eastern Docks. She was greeted with celebratory shower from the Dover Harbour Board's two tugs, and a surprising salute from rival Seafrance Berlioz. She docked at Berth 1 and spent the rest of the day there awaiting trials. She performed her first commercial crossing between Dover and Calais on the morning of Friday 21st January.