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P&O Portsmouth was the trading name of P&O European Ferries (Portsmouth) Ltd between 1999 and 2002


P&O's operations at Portsmouthmarker prior to 1998 were marketed as part of the P&O European Ferries brand that included services from Dovermarker, Portsmouthmarker and Cairnryanmarker. After the merger of P&O European Ferries (Dover) Ltd and the Dover and Newhaven operations of Stena Line in 1998 the remaining parts of P&O European Ferries adopted different brands, the Portsmouth services becoming P&O Portsmouth. P&O Portsmouth became part of a unified P&O Ferries in 2002.

Fleet and Routes

At its peak the P&O Portsmouth fleet was made up of six ships including one fastcraft with these the company operated three routes. These were:-

Portsmouth - Cherbourg

Operated by conventional ferries Pride of Cherbourg (II) and Pride of Hampshire. A fastcraft service had begun on the route in 1998 using the Austal Ships 81m catamaran Superstar Express and this continued under the P&O Portsmouth brand. The highly successful Superstar Express was replaced in 2000 by the larger Incat 91m catamaran Catalonia which was marketed under the name Portsmouth Express. The change to the larger vessel did not go smoothly and the new ship suffered a number of technical problems forcing P&O Portsmouth to recall the Superstar Express for a short time from its new home on the Carinryan-Larne route until the problems were solved. The Portsmouth Express gained a reputation of being unreliable and services were frequently cancelled due to technical problems and the weather but her larger size and long term charter agreement meant she remained on the service for a number of years.

In 2002 P&O Portsmouth announced they had chartered the Irish Ferries ship Isle of Innisfree. After a number of onboard modifications were made she entered service in September as the Pride of Cherbourg replacing the Pride of Cherbourg (II) which had become Pride of Cherbourg A a short time before to free the name for the new vessel. At the end of the month the Pride of Hampshire was also withdrawn leaving the new Pride of Cherbourg as the only conventional ferry on the route. Many disliked the new timetable offered using the new ship and despite a similar timetable being successfully used by Brittany Ferries Poole-Cherbourg passenger service during the summer for many years it is seen as a contributing factor to the eventual downfall of the route.

Portsmouth - Le Havre

This route was operated by twin ferries Pride of Portsmouth and Pride of Le Havre (II). These were known by many as the Olau Twins or Olau's after their previous operators who were responsible for their building.Heavy competition from the rival Portsmouth-Caen route of Brittany Ferries eroded the market share of this route over the years P&O Portsmouth was in operation.

Portsmouth - Bilbao

Launched by P&O European Ferries in 1993 the Bilbao route and the Pride of Bilbao continued as they done in the pre-P&O Portsmouth days. The service operated twice weekly with the Pride of Bilbao running a party cruise to Cherbourgmarker on Friday nights returning on Saturday afternoon.

Pride of Bilbao was frequently used to cover the refits of the Le Havremarker ships and also the Pride of Cherbourg (III).

It is of note that P&O Portsmouth did not own any of its ships, all were chartered, either from other shipping companies or financial institutions.

Former P&O Portsmouth Operations Today

P&O Portsmouth became part of a unified P&O Ferries in 2002 managed from Dovermarker. The ships were refurbished in the same way as the Dover ships with the adoption of the 'Brand World' concept. During 2004 a business review was conducted of the entire operation. It was known that the Portsmouth services were running at a loss but no one predicted the outcome of the review announced on the 28 September 2004. Many rumours had circulated beforehand including the transfer of the Le Havre services to Caen with either Pride of Portsmouth or Pride of Le Havre operating alongside the recently introduced Caen Express. The introduction of a converted European Seaway to passenger service on the Cherbourg route with the Pride of Cherbourg moved to Portsmouth-Caen allowing the Le Havre route to close and the return of the ships to their owners. None of these rumours and theories turned out to be correct.

It was announced that the Portsmouth-Cherbourg and Portsmouth-Caen routes were to close. The Le Havre route and the charter of the ships were to be transferred to Brittany Ferries. Brittany Ferries later pulled out of the deal. The P&O fastcraft services to Cherbourg and Caen ended at the end of September 2004. The last sailing of the Pride of Cherbourg was on January 14 2005 from Cherbourg to Portsmouth. The Le Havre route held on until the 30 September 2005 carrying record passenger numbers that year leading many to believe that P&O had made the wrong decision in closing all the Portsmouth-Francemarker routes.

The Portsmouth-Cherbourg route is now in the hands of Brittany Ferries who run a seasonal fastcraft service using the Normandie Express. Brittany Ferries have not yet succeeded in matching the passenger numbers carried by P&O on the route. The same fastcraft operates one round trip to Caen on Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings.

The Portsmouth-Le Havre route was taken over by LD Lines a few days after the last P&O sailing. The service is operated by former P&O Dover vessel Norman Spirit.

Portsmouth-Bilbao remains the only P&O Ferries route out of Portsmouth. Its frequency increased from 2 sailings a week to 3 thanks to the Cherbourg party cruise no longer taking place. The service remains popular and it is expected that the Pride of Bilbao will be replaced by a newer ship in the next 2 years.

See also

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