Prinses Maria Esmeralda / Wisteria,
Princesse Marie-Christine / Primrose &
Prins Albert / Eurovoyager

A pre-1985 scene at Dover's Western Docks as Princesse Marie-Christine departs for Oostende in her original shape. Note that her masts were painted with her yellow funnel colours. Even the air conditioning plant under her mainmast was treated too, creating a rather odd appearance.
Photo: Brian Fisher.

After the delivery of Prins Philippe and Prince Laurent by 1974, R. M. T. saw the need to quickly build more new vessels to accommodate the growing vehicular traffic on the Dover/Oostende route. The result was another pair of identical vessels, Prinses Maria-Esmeralda and Princesse Marie-Christine, which entered service during 1975. They represented a complete departure from the elegant, sleek lines and opulent interiors of the past. All the prestige of the bygone Oostende ferries had well and truly disappeared. A third sister was ordered in 1977 for delivery the following year. Named Prins Albert, she was built to a slightly modified design, featuring a passenger lounge in the space previously used as an additonal garage. She also had wider stern doors and a larger funnel 'fin'. By the mid-1980s demand from freight hauliers was exceeding capacity again, but R. M. T. lacked the necessary funds to build new larger tonnage this time. So instead they opted for the much cheaper solution of 'stretching' the three sisters. The process involved removing the superstructure and building an additional lorry deck on top of the hull before replacing the passenger accommodation on top. As much taller ships, they required unattractive stability 'blisters' to be attached to their hulls.

The delivery of R. M. T.'s final vessel, Prins Filip, saw Prinses Maria-Esmeralda retired from the R. M. T. fleet and laid up for sale in 1992. She spent three long years gently decaying at Oostende before the owners of TransEuropa Ferries purchased her. Having been renamed Wisteria she moved to warmer climes in the Mediterranean sphere of the Company’s operations. Upon the demise of R. M. T. in 1997, Princesse Marie-Christine and Prins Albert were laid up at Dunkerque for well over a year before they too were purchased by TransEuropa. The latter was renamed Eurovoyager (oddly out of keeping with the company's flower naming scheme) and chartered to Sally Freight's Ramsgate/Oostende service. This venture folded in late November 1998, with Sally Line completely withdrawing from ferry operations. However TransEuropa Ferries saw life left in the route and took over Eurovoyager's operation the day after Sally withdrew. Princesse Marie-Christine emerged from a thorough refit as Primrose and joined her erstwhile sister back at Oostende in the spring of 1999.

TransEuropa continued to expand its Cross-Channel division over the next decade, buying up more second-hand vessels. Primrose was chartered for service in the Mediterranean in the summer of 2009. A combination of rocketing fuel prices and recessionary effects on traffic levels saw her surplus to requirements. She was to return, however, unlike the poor old Wisteria which latterly saw service between Spain and Morocco as Beni Ansar before being broken up for scrap.

Well into their thirties, Primose and Eurovoyager were thought to be in line for disposal in the not too distant future. They had served their owners well and had been maintained to exceptionally high standards. Unfortunately, with age, the cost of their continued operation became ever greater. In March 2010 Primrose was sold to an Italian shipping line, Blu Navy. A couple of months later Eurovoyager was chartered to another Mediterranean operator, Comarit, for service between Spain and Morocco. She found further employment with Ferrimaroc.

M. S. Prinses Maria-Esmeralda & Princesse Marie-Christine/Prins Albert
Builder: N. V. Cockerill Yards, Hoboken, Belgium.
Yard numbers: 877, 878, 887.
Dimensions (length, breadth, depth): 118.42 x 20.68 x 4.5 metres. After enlargement: 118.42 x 23.3 x 5.05 metres.
Tonnages (gross, net, dead weight): 5,635, 1,474/6,019, 1,325. After enlargement: 6,276, 3,959, 2,039/6,707, 4,340, 1,922.
Engines: Two 18 cylinder, Pielstick-Cockerill diesel.
Power: 18,000 kW.
Speed (knots): 22.
Passenger certificate: 1,200/1,400.
Car capacity: 290. After enlargement: 354.

28.1.1975: Prinses Maria-Esmeralda launched.
5.1975: Delivered to Regie voor Maritiem Transport, Oostende.
25.5.1975: Entered service Oostende/Dover.
1.1985: Returned to N. V. Cockerill Yard, Hoboken, Belgium for the insertion of a new upper vehicle deck.
9.6.1985: Back in service.
1995: Sold to Denval Marine U. K. Renamed Wisteria. Transferred to Trans-Europa Shipping Lines.
1997: Chartered to Limadet Ferries. Renamed Beni Ansar.

8.9.1975: Princesse Marie-Christine launched.
1.12.1975: Delivered to Regie voor Maritiem Transport, Oostende.
30.12.1975: Entered service Oostende/Dover.
26.8.1985: Sent to J. Boel, Temse, Belgium for the insertion of a new upper vehicle deck.
2.1.1986: Back in service.
1.1.1994: Oostende/Ramsgate.
28.2.1997: Service closed.
18.4.1997: Laid up at Dunkerque, France.
27.7.1998: Sold to Denval Marine U. K. Renamed Primrose.
14.4.1999: Transferred to Trans-Europa Ferries. Oostende/Ramsgate.

14.9.1977: Prins Albert launched.
3.1978: Delivered to Regie voor Maritiem Transport, Oostende.
5.3.1978: Entered service Oostende/Dover.
1.1986: Sent to J. Boel, Temse, Belgium for the insertion of a new upper vehicle deck.
18.5.1986: Back in service.
1.1.1994: Oostende/Ramsgate.
28.2.1997: Service closed.
29.4.1997: Laid up at Dunkerque, France.
5.1998: Sold to Hawthorn Shipping Company Limited, Limassol, Cyprus. Renamed Eurovoyager.
12.6.1998: Chartered to Sally Direct. Oostende/Ramsgate.
21.11.1998: Service taken over by Trans-Europa Ferries.

Not a pretty sight; Prinses-Maria Esmeralda swings away from the Admiralty Pier at Dover, displaying the bulk of her heightened profile and the garish orange hull of Townsend Thoresen. The R. M. T. service had defected from Sealink at the start of 1986.
Photo: Brian Fisher.

Another scene from the 1986-7 era of Townsend Thoresen sailings to Oostende, with Prins Albert going astern towards the since dismantled Berth 4 at Dover Eastern Docks. Note the Belgian flag flying at her stern.
Photo: Brian Fisher.

A video clip from the late 1980s showing Prinses Maria-Esmeralda gently backing out of Oostende Harbour on another sailing for Dover.

Princesse Marie-Christine is found at Oostende in the dying years of the R. M. T. service.