#P&[email protected] – Before another year sails by, it should be highlighted P&O's 180th anniversary took place during this year, with celebrations marking the world famous shipping company that was founded in 1837, writes Jehan Ashmore.
Operating 20 ferries and employing almost 4,000, P&O Ferries is a household name in the UK with services connecting Ireland and Europe. In total they operate 8 routes across the Irish Sea, English Channel and the North Sea carrying more than 10 million passengers, 1.6 million cars and 2.2 million freight units.
The Irish operations involve Cairnryan-Larne and Liverpool-Dublin, from where the Irish capital can be traced historically to P&O’s foundation, which is briefly outlined below.
As this is the festive season, Afloat reflects on a previous Christmas, back in 2004, when notably a historic once-off first visit to Dublin Port of P&O Ferries chartered-in 37,583 gross tonnes cruiseferry, Pride of Bilbao took place. This unique visit was due to a three-day mini Christmas Cruise, though too detailed to be included in the ferry factsheet (pdf) accessed through the link above.
The Christmas Cruise to Ireland took place prior to the festive day, enabling ‘cruise-goers’ of the 2,552 passenger/600 vehicle ship, to shop in Dublin. Pride of Bilbao had sailed from Portsmouth albeit based upon a sub-charter from P&O to a UK travel excursions company.
The Pride of Bilbao's then shipowners, Irish Continental Group (ICG) whose headquarters are sited close to the Dublin ferryport is where Pride of Bilbao docked for this only call. Otherwise the impressive giant cruiseferry which ICG had bare-boat chartered to P&O since 1994, operated P&O Ferries Portsmouth-Bilbao route until the UK-Spain service closed in 2010, however rivals Brittany Ferries took over.
For 10 years of P&O's 16 year charter of Pride of Bilbao, the cruiseferry also undertook in between Spanish sailings, Portsmouth-Cherbourg crossings at weekends. An opportunity was taken to make such a crossing from France in 1997. This was a proud moment to be on board given the Bahamas flagged ferry was then the largest in the P&O fleet.
During the Pride of Bilbao’s career, the ferry never directly served ICG’s division Irish Ferries, so the visit to Dublin further added to the unique occasion. The arrival of the former Scandinavian serving Viking Line giant launched in 1986 as Olympia, was clearly recalled as the ‘Bilbao’ entered Dublin Bay.
It was in the Swedish capital of Stockholm where Olympia originally connected to Finland’s capital, Helsinki. An elder sister Mariella remains in service with calls via Mariehamn, Åland Islands.
In 2010, the cruiseferry returned to Baltic Sea routes but as a cruiseship following ICG selling the ship to St. Peter Line for €37.7m Renamed Princess Anastasia, the ship began a new career operating between St. Petersburg-Helsinki-Stockholm and Tallinn, Estonia. Last year SPL sealed a joint-venture with Italian operator, Moby Lines, to form Moby Line SPL, which saw fleetmate ship, Princess Maria transfer to the Meditterranean this year out of Nice where Afloat previously reported on a Corsica serving ferry, Moby Zazà.
As for the Pride of Bilbao’s Bay of Biscay-Iberian connection this is also apt not just because of the ship’s name, but what P&O stands for the: ‘The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company’ which is alluded below and as for the Orient connection is explained through the P&O Heritage website. Noting, Afloat’s coverage of further historical links between P&O and the B+I Line.
In the 1830’s steam power was still in its infancy but it was the founders of P&O that was the key to revolutionising commerce and communication by sea. It was down to the Irish to lead the way in such a revolutionary innovation, as Dublin shipowners, Charles Wye Williams and Captain Richard Bourne, had already successfully run paddle-steamers in the 1820s. The venture in operating such ships was a costly business but both Captains realised the future lay ahead through larger steamships serving on longer voyages that included operating the subsidised ‘mail’ services.
As the P&O Heritage history timeline website (note montage incl. Pride of Bilbao) adds, by 1834 Bourne had chartered a steamer to the London ship brokers and agents, Willcox and Anderson, who were running speculative services to Spain and Portugal. Like Bourne, Brodie McGhie Willcox and Arthur Anderson had ambitious plans to operate regular steamers to rival the Government’s existing ‘mail packet’ service to the Peninsula. But, unlike Bourne, Willcox and Anderson had neither their own steamers nor any experience of mail contracts. Joining forces was an obvious solution.
Three years later, on 22nd August 1837, Bourne secured a Government contract for the Peninsular mails to be managed by Willcox and Anderson under the aptly named ‘Peninsular Steam Navigation Company’. Traditionally regarded as the Company’s foundation date, the first mail contract marks the start of our P&O story.
For much more on the subsequent 180 years! of this world famous shipping company which in 2006 was sold off into two divisions, ferry and cruise click this link.
In addition to those researching the numerous P&O ships, not just paddle-steamers, ferries, ocean liners, cruiseships but also containerships and more, type the name of ship and or shipping division here to bring a link directly to your required vessel.