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The Fiesta entered commercial service in 1980 as the deep-sea ro-ro Soca for UMEF on behalf of owners Rederi AB Nordö. Initial plans had been for her to bear the name Ariadne but this was changed just after the vessel was delivered from the Kockums shipyard in Malmö. Along with sisters Zenobia and Scandinavia, the ship ran from Koper in Yugoslavia (now part of Slovenia) to Tartous in Syria. In the event, and after the loss of the Zenobia in June 1980, the Soca and her sister were sold to the Bulgarian company SOMAT in late 1981 where the former acquired the name Trapezitza. For SOMAT she operated on Medlink services from Bulgaria to the Middle East, including a spell operating into Iran and Iraq. By 1986 the ship was being chartered out and in 1987 served the Trieste-Igoumenitsa-Patras freight run.

For 1988, the
Trapezitza spent some time under charter to DFDS for Denmark-UK operations. It was during this charter that the ship and her sister passed to Sealink British Ferries (SBF), assuming the names Fantasia and Fiesta respectively. The intention was to convert the pair into a new generation of passenger ships for Dover operations but the Fantasia soon saw service for her new owners in her existing guise, being renamed Channel Seaway after a refit in Bremerhaven in early 1989. Thus named, and still with her light blue hull, the ship entered service as a freighter between Dover and Calais, operating from Berth No 1 in Dover's Eastern Docks. These additional sailings covered the peak passenger season and ran from May to October at which time the ship headed for Bremerhaven and the massive and complex conversion.

Throughout the planning process of the
Fantasia and Fiesta it was always intended that the Channel Seaway would be allocated to the French part (SNCF French Railways) of the Dover-Calais Sealink pool. In the event, the SNCF Armement Naval became SNAT (Societe Nouvelle Armement Transmanche) on 1 January 1990. This new organisation was owned 51% by SNCF with the balance held by SBF (this share was later purchased by the French, as Seafrance, in 2000). During  the rebuilding process, the names of the converted ships were switched with the Channel Seaway becoming Fiesta rather than the previously planned Fantasia. [continued below]
Above: The Zenobia (centre), Ariadne/Soca and Scandinavia under construction at Kockums in Malmö.
Her conversion complete, the Fiesta arrived at Calais for the first time in her rebuilt guise in mid May 1990. However there followed, rather predictably, an extended period of industrial action from her new crew in a dispute over manning levels. The Fantasia, Côte d'Azur and St Christopher maintained sailings, interrupted by occasional brief sympathy strikes on the 'Côte', until early June when the latter went out on strike fully. After various blockades of Calais and intense pressure put on the British Sealink ships, things were finally resolved on 1 July and the new ship entered
service, initially in a freight-only capacity, on 9 July 1990. In August, SNAT and Sealink British Ferries signed a five year extension to their pooling arrangement on the Dover-Calais run. The new agreement was actually signed on board the
Fiesta in Dover harbour; it would prove to be the final extension of the long-running arrangement which was allowed to cease at the end of 1995.

On 13 December 1990 the
Fiesta collided with the Pride of Dover in high winds at Calais; although there was little damage to the 'Dover', the Fiesta was straddled between two berths and her passengers were forced to spend the night on board until things settled down. Damage to the port sponson from this incident caused the ship to go off service and, with the Fantasia away on refit, the Côte d'Azur promptly broke down leaving the St Christopher briefly as the only healthy regular Sealink unit although the two French ships returned in time for Christmas.

The Summer of 1991 was dominated by further prolonged strike action by the French Sealink crews, this time in connection with the ongoing disputes over the future of the loss-making Dieppe-Newhaven service. Operations of the
Fiesta and Côte d'Azur were suspended from mid-June until mid-July after the local seamen went out in sympathy with their Dieppe counterparts who were faced with potential route closure. In the event Dieppe was saved, for the time being, and services resumed on 18 July. In between times, the British ships had again borne the brunt of things and the Stena Fantasia, the brand new Stena Challenger and Stena Cambria (ex-St Anselm and waiting to be relieved by the delayed newcomer Stena Invicta) were hard pressed to cope, particularly when the port of Calais was blockaded at certain points. At one stage, the Fiesta was despatched to Le Havre to lay up, but after arriving off the port, the ship's crew refused to take her in.

The ship followed
Fantasia for a substantial refit in Gothenburg in early January 1992 - at this stage major work was carried out with the benefit of hard experience to improve manoeuvrability. The work included a new bow thrust unit (replacing the underpowered original and matching the second added during the conversion) and another unit astern. From this stage onwards neither sister encountered anything like the handling problems they had faced in their first two years of service. Unlike her sister however, the Fiesta did not receive significant alterations to her public spaces,
although at some stage a Business Class lounge was fitted, as on the
Stena Fantasia, in the location of the former quiet lounge, adjacent to the Rock Box.

The closure of the SNAT-run Dieppe-Newhaven service in April 1992 caused a few brief sympathy stoppages on the
Fiesta and Côte d'Azur, but these were, somewhat surprisingly, relatively limited. [continued below]
In the early 1994 refit at Le Havre, the ship underwent some fairly major onboard changes. The most significant of these was the installation of a new bar in the previously void space directly beneath the dome on Deck 8. This was the Galaxy Bar which, with full-height windows and the dome above fully exposed became a particularly pleasant place to spend the channel crossing. Other changes affected the forward Motorists' Haven Lounge which became the Globetrotter Cafe.

More industrial escapades followed in February 1995 when the SNAT ships were again strikebound, this time in protest over the employment of non-EU seafarers by start-up Meridian Ferries on their Folkestone-Boulogne run although there was also a related argument over new manning agreements on the Calais ships themselves. The
Fiesta found herself being used as strike headquarters and crew from the SNAT ships went to Boulogne to express their view of things. As part of the ensuing riots, the Meridian ship Spirit of Independence (the former Innisfallen of 1969) was firebombed with one rocket hitting her upper lounge and completely gutting it. By the conclusion of the dispute Meridian were successfully sent out of business.
Above: The Trapezitza during her period operating for SOMAT under the Medlink name. Her surviving sister, later converted as the Fantasia, carried 'MEDLINK - II' markings. (Picture courtesy Roy Thornton Collection)
Above and below: The Channel Seaway on Dover's berth number one during her successful initial 1989 Summer season operating additional freight sailings to Calais. (Pictures courtesy Bruce Peter)
Below: The Channel Seaway seen off Calais in Summer 1989. (Picture courtesy Bruce Peter)
Below: The Channel Seaway arriving at Bremerhaven for her conversion into Fiesta, October 1989. (Picture courtesy Roy Thornton Collection)
Below: Seen from the bottom of the Kaiserdock at Lloyd Werft, the Fiesta nears the completion of her conversion in early 1990.
Below: The finished product. The Fiesta seen just prior to her hand-over to SNAT and with work still visible ongoing on the aft outside passenger deck. (Picture courtesy Roy Thornton Collection)
Below: The Fiesta seen during her first days in service for SNAT.
Below: The Fiesta arriving at Calais with the Stena Invicta visible departing in the background. (Picture courtesy Ferry Fantastic)
Below: Again rostered to run on adjacent sailings, the Fiesta and Stena Invicta are captured together at Dover in July 1994, with the former ship's new Galaxy Bar visible through the new windows installed in the dome at Deck 5 level. The Galaxy Bar was a brand first introduced with the arrival of the 'Invicta' in 1991.
Below: The Fiesta arriving at Dover. (Picture courtesy Mark Leiper)
Below: The Fiesta at Calais Berth 6. (Picture courtesy Joe Canavan)
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Below: Detailed arrangement plan for the new Fiesta. (Click for full-size image; Image courtesy M Fournet)