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Prins Filip ... Isle of Innisfree

The story starts in 1990 … well in 1846 actually when the first ship, the “Chemin de fer” (renamed “Diamant” in 1855) started a regular crossing between Oostende and Dover to carry the mail between Belgium and England. By the late 1980's the Belgian state company RMT as it was now officially named was better known as the Oostende-Dover Lines and had a nice fleet of ships. However … modernisation was needed and a new ship was ordered, construction started at Boelwerf in Temse in 1990 and in 1992 the ship, called “Prins Filip” made its maiden voyage between Oostende and Dover. The ship sailed from 1997 until the Belgian government decided to close the line in 1997. Other companies took over for a while but eventually the Oostende-Dover and alternative Oostende-Ramsgate route was closed completely by 2012 when the last company to operate the route, Transeuropa Ferries ceased operations. The Prins Filip however is a survivor and is still sailing today (September 2022). Let’s have a look at her career.

As we already know, she was built in 1990 at Boelwerf in Temse (Belgium), a yard that has since been closed and replaced by housing developments. She was designed to handle the growing numbers of trucks and cars sailing between the UK and mainland Europe. She is 164 meters long with a capacity of 600 cars and 2000 passengers, at a speed of 21 knots she can easily compete with other ships on the North Sea and the English Channel.

When RMT closed down she was sold to Stena line for operation as the “Stena Royal” on the Zeebrugge to Dover route under P&O Stena Line from 1998 to 1999, Stena decided to transfer her to the Calais-Dover route and rename her “P&OSL Aquitaine”. When the joint venture of P&O and Stena ended, the ship came in full ownership of P&O and was renamed “P&O Aquitaine” and later in line with the rest of the P&O fleet, “Pride of Aquitaine”. When P&O had 2 of their freighters transformed into passenger ferries that were delivered on the Calais-Dover route in 2005, the Aquitaine wasn’t needed anymore and she was sold to LD lines to become the “Norman Spirit”.

LD initially ran her on the Portsmouth to Le Havre route and later on the Boulogne-Dover route, LD lines chartered her to Transeuropa Ferries for a short while under the name “Ostend Spirit” to run again on her native route of Oostende to Ramsgate, however, this was short lived and the ship was again renamed Norman Spirit and placed on the Calais-Dover route.

This situation was an entry point for DFDS Seaways on the Dunkirk and Calais to Dover routes (a different story). Eventually the ship came into DFDS ownership and was renamed Calais Seaways where she sailed from 2013 to 2021 when the Covid crisis and the arrival of DFDS newbuilds eventually saw her withdrawn from service.

DFDS sold her to Irish Ferries, the newest company to operate the Calais-Dover route. She was put in drydock for a refit and renamed “Isle of Innisfree”. Irish Ferries has benefitted from the problems and bad publicity at P&O Ferries to attract passengers and freight on their initial one-ship fleet with the Isle of Inishmore, so they needed a second ship quickly, the reason why the Isle of Innisfree was placed on the same route. By 2022 they ran both ships and became so successful that a third ship was added, the “Isle of Inisheer”.

The Isle of Innisfree is a popular ship as she is very stable and fast, she also offers a variety of passenger services from a bar, restaurant, truckers lounge, tax-free shop and outside space as well, a very pleasant ship to sail on. She is also the only ship that has sailed all the iconic historic ferry routes on the English Channel, being Oostende-Dover, Zeebrugge-Dover, Calais-Dover, Boulogne-Dover and Dunkerque-Dover. Irish Ferries do not take foot-passengers at the moment so the ship only transports truck and car-drivers right now. It isn’t known how long she will survive and where she will go when is eventually retired but there are groups in Belgium already preparing for when that day arrives, to get her back to Belgium and have her become a museum in Oostende, if that will ever happen, we can only wait and see. Fact is that this is a unique ship and she deserves her place in history and one of my blogs.

In 2022 I finally had the chance to sail on her from Calais to Dover, the photos of her interiors can be seen below. If I ever photograph her again inside or outside, there will be an update to this page as well.

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