Stena Freighter

A SHIP’S UNUSUAL STORY

Every ship has its own story – but Stena Freighter has a particularly eventful background. From its commission 23 years ago and then its purchase at executive auction via completion in Croatia to serving on several European routes under Stena Line and Stena RoRo operation to functioning as a landing pad for space rockets.

“This is a ship with a very checkered history,” says Robert Almström, Contract Manager at Stena RoRo, who was present back in 1996 when the commission for the vessel was placed with the Italian shipyard Cantieri Societa Esercizio S.p.A. in Viareggio. 

Construction began and at the RoRo conference in Gothenburg in 1998, the ship was named via a video conference, which was very unusual for the time. Before the ship could be finished, the shipyard unfortunately entered bankruptcy, and a long legal process began.

Four years later, a public auction was held for the ships from the bankruptcy. Stena RoRo decided to call in the Stena Freighter, which had been 75% completed.Per Westling, current CEO of Stena RoRo who was the responsible conversion manager at the time, decided that the vessel should be towed to the French city of Toulon, east of Marseille. The Croatian company Elektromehanika became responsible for completing the ship and a new tow brought the ship to Kraljevica in Croatia.

In 2004, the ship was ready, and in March it finally came home to the port of Gothenburg. Mattias Kjellberg, then the construction inspector for Stena RoRo and later first mate and captain, stood on the dock when the ship pulled in to the cruise terminal outside Amerikaskjulet in Gothenburg. The ship was chartered out to Stena Line and Mattias began his first assignment as captain on the Gothenburg – Travemunde route.

2011 saw the boat take up the English flag and sail the Europoort (Rotterdam) – Harwich route and, in later years, various other routes in Europe and in the Mediterranean.

In autumn 2018 Stena Freighter was bought by US spaceflight company Blue Origin, started by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The company develops technology to enable future transport of people to space and the ship will act as a landing platform at sea.

In October, the Stena Freighter completed its first voyage across the Atlantic, and is currently located in Pensacola, USA, where it will be rebuilt for its new task. Blue Origin was looking for a well-built ship with good stability and Stena RoRo was pleased to be able to hand over the ship to its new and exciting challenges.

“There are a lot of great memories of Stena Freighter, but one stands out in particular. It was time for the final test drive before delivery and we had dropped anchor off the coast of Croatia. But there was fog and the taxi boats that were supposed to pick up the 120 people on board, who had been there during the inspection, couldn’t get off the ship. Everyone had to stay overnight and there were people sleeping everywhere – a proper test of the facilities,” says Mattias Kjellberg now Contract Operations Manager at Stena RoRo.

Robert Almström also has many memories about the ship: “I remember when Stena RoRo eventually won the auction in Italy – it was 2002 – and I went through the city with the deposit in a bag from the bank to the court. In the bag was MSEK10 in Lire checks. Never have I held a bag so tightly”! “Buy cheap, raise the value, operate, sell at good profit. That’s Stena RoRo!” concludes Robert Almström.

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