Freight and passenger vessel Stena Mersey has been operating on the Birkenhead to Belfast route for more than a decade but is now heading off for a new life in the Baltic Sea. Tony McDonough reports
Irish Sea ferry Stena Mersey departed the river it is named after for the final time this weekend as it headed off for a new life on the Baltic Sea.
At 10.30am on Saturday morning 26,500-tonne vessel sailed from the Twelve Quays terminal at Birkenhead to embark on its last scheduled eight-hour journey to Belfast, carrying cars, lorries and foot passengers.
For most of the past 15 years, Stena Mersey has operated on Stena Line’s Birkenhead to Belfast route, which offers up to two return sailings a day, along with sister ship, Stena Lagan.
However, as part of a £40m overhaul and new investment on its Irish Sea operations by Stena, both vessels are being replaced by the Swedish company with two of its new generation E-Flexer ferries. This will increase capacity on the route by 20%.
Stena Edda replaced Stena Lagan early in 2020 and now, with the newly-built Stena Embla having arrived in the Irish Sea from a shipyard in China in January, Stena Mersey will also head off to pastures new.
It will shortly join Stena Lagan at a shipyard in Turkey where both vessels will undergo overhauls to extend their lives. They will be fitted with extra cabins, have the ability to roll-on and roll-off and will be redeployed on routes in the Baltic Sea. It is likely they will be give new names.
Stena Mersey was originally called Mersey Viking. It was built in Italy by family-owned shipbuilder Cantiere Navale Visentini. It was completed and embarked on its maiden voyage in December 2005. It was equipped to carry up to 980 passengers, was fitted with cabins to sleep 480 passengers, had four vehicle decks and had a maximum speed of 27 knots.
Norse Merchant Ferries deployed the vessel on the Irish Sea. A few months later the company was taken over by Norfolkine and, in July 2010, Norfolkline was bought by DFDS. During a refit in August 2010 the ship was renamed Mersey Seaways.
Later that same year, DFDS sold its Irish Sea operations to Stena Line and the vessel was renamed Stena Mersey. In 2012, both Stena Mersey and Stena Lagan were given complete interior and exterior refits at Harland and Wolff in Belfast.
In 2019, Stena Line and Peel Ports, owner of the Twelve Quays terminal at Birkenhead, jointly invested £17m in an upgrade of the facility to prepare it for the introduction of the new Stena Edda and Stena Embla vessels.
Speaking in January, Stena Line’s Irish Sea trade director Paul Grant, said: “We have now invested over £400m in our ferries and port facilities on the Irish Sea in recent years. The Birkenhead to Belfast route is one of the most popular Irish Sea crossings for both freight and leisure traffic.
“In March 2020 we launched our new build Stena Edda onto the service and the feedback from our freight and leisure customers was extremely positive. Now we will have two ships offering identical services and facilities which will help take our service levels on the route to new heights.
“We have real confidence in the future of our Belfast services and our Irish Sea routes in general, which is why this region has attracted three brand new ships in the last 12 months alone.”