The Cap Finistere has a 790 passenger / 500 vehicle capacity and the vessel will operate two round trips weekly with each crossing taking 24 hours. Interestingly an additional en-route call to Roscoff is scheduled on Sunday sailings bound for Bilbao which will take 33-hours. This is to facilitate a crew change, as the Cap Finistere does not operate on any of the company routes from France.
In 2009 the P&O service carried 180,000 passengers and 193,000 in 2008 but closed due to "unsustainable losses". There were 800 redundancies but some 150 staff jobs were secured through transfer. Click here for a previous posting. The company were in direct competition with Brittany Ferries existing two routes between Plymouth and Poole to Santander.
The Bilbao route brings the Brittany Ferries operations to five sailings weekly between the UK to Spain, two from Portsmouth to Santander and a single round-trip to Plymouth.
The Pride of Bilbao was sold late last year by ICG to the Baltic Sea based St. Peter Line at a profit of €9.4m. The vessel underwent refurbishment and was renamed Princess Anastasia and next month starts a new St. Petersburg-Stockholm service, with Russian bound sailings calling en route to
the Estonian capital of Tallinn. Click here for more details.
Pride of Bilbao's return to the Baltic is nearly full-circle as the 2,553 passenger / 600 vehicles vessel, built in 1986 as Olympia for Viking Line's also operated out of Stockholm to Helsinki, and at the time was one of the largest overnight passenger capacity ferries in the world.
The Irish Continental Group (ICG) which is the parent company of Irish Ferries, has warned of 'uncertainty' in 2011 due to higher fuel costs and the effects of the austerity measures in both the Irish and UK economies.
ICG secured a 61% increase in pretax profits in 2010 following an increase in passenger numbers and the sale of their MV Pride of Bilbao to St. Peter Line (click here) after a long-term charter to P&O Ferries. The 37,583 gross tonnes cruiseferry is to open a new second route for the Baltic Sea operator between St. Petersburg and Stockholm, starting next month.
To read more about ICG's end of year results, click the report in today's Irish Times.
For the last 17 years the Pride of Bilbao has operated between Portsmouth and Bilbao under charter to P&O. Built in 1986, she was launched as Olympia for Viking Line between Stockholm and Helsinki, then the Baltic Sea ferry was one of the largest overnight passenger capacity ferries in the world. At 177 metres long the vessel can accommodate 2552-passengers, 600-vehicles and space for 77-trucks. She has a sister, the Mariella, which currently operates on Viking Line's Stockholm-Mariehamn–Helsinki service.
In 1993 the vessel was renamed Pride of Bilbao and launched a new service on the Bay of Biscay, under charter from her Scandinavian owners. The following year ICG purchased the Pride of Bilbao from Viking Line and she was re-registered to the Bahamas. The vessel was subsequently entered into a British bare-boat charter arrangement between P&O Ferries and ICG. Due to unsustainable losses the route closed on 28 September this year but rivals Brittany Ferries soon shortly announced they would reopen the route in Spring 2011.
Throughout the Pride of Bilbao's career under ICG (parent company of Irish Ferries), the cruiseferry has only once visited Ireland. In between Spanish sailings, she was sub-chartered for a three-day Christmas mini-cruise from Portsmouth to Dublin in 2004, where the Pride of Bilbao berthed at the ferryport close to the ICG headquarters.