|After an hour or so of wandering around photographing this bewildering array, we made our way to the newest arrival, the Scotia Prince. She had moved over from her previous berth at the terminal only the previous night and had still not yet had a gangway positioned for access. This proved to be more of a problem than could have been foreseen and after a while waiting in the company of a port official with papers that needed signing, we found Captain Bo Leewenhagen shouting down from the ship advising that it may be a couple of hours and that we should return a bit later. It seemed that perhaps the Italian dock workers had gone off for lunch thus causing the delay. A walk around to have a closer look at the Tadla seemed a good way to fill the wait but Brucey demurred: he said he wanted to get some pictures of the Marrakech (which was just reversing out of dry dock) although I rather suspect he didn’t think we would manage a visit and was more interested in filling the void in his stomach. So it was just Richard and myself who made the ten minute walk around to the one-time English Channel veteran, her former names and port of registry just about visible beneath layers of paint on her stern. There we were welcomed on board by her friendly captain and ten man lay-up crew, all of whom seemed to have sailed out of British ports, including on the Ramsgate-Oostende operation, at some point. We waited in the forward lounge for the captain to finish his lunch and were kindly treated to liquid refreshments from the crew. Built in 1970 as the Free Enterprise V this ship has lain in Genoa seemingly unwanted since December 2004. She last operated for COMANAV over to Morocco from Genoa but is best known in her original role for Townsend Thoresen and then P&O (as the Pride of Hythe) where she was latterly mostly associated with the Dover-Boulogne run until its premature demise in January 1993. Since then she has been a wanderer, initially under the name Laburnum, spending a lot of time out on charter but most of it in the care of her current owners, Trans Europa Ferries for whom she even saw a Channel return on the Oostende run in 2001/3.
The ship is in really remarkable condition – although much of the fittings are old and date from the P&O era or earlier, everything in the passenger accommodation was sparkling and ready for action. This is not to say that she would be a particularly pleasant ship to sail on: although clearly a much more appealing prospect than her most easily accessible sister, the bedraggled Romilda of GA Ferries, the accommodation on this class of ships is underwhelming with much fixed upright high-back seating in unpleasant open-plan lounges. When you sail on them it’s always a surprise that P&O managed to get away with this product on the English Channel even thirteen years ago and the North Channel yet more recently.
Alas there seems no work for the Tadla and even COMANAV don’t seem to have considered the option of taking her back on charter to cover her old route in lieu of the errant Scotia Prince. That said, she is hardly ideal for the 48-hour crossing and with her thirsty triple-screws and diminutive size her crew admitted that there had been little interest in the ship for either charter or sale, although rumours abounded that the latter may now in fact be near at hand. TEF/Denval have refitted the vessel in some areas with the addition of newer reclining seats in places (a large number of the ship’s standard TT seats with fixed tables have ended up in a lounge on the Eurovoyager). And she has also seen several areas of new cabins added but not nearly enough to make her a true overnight ship – the largest sections of these have been in an area of the old upper garage on Deck 5 (although the bulk of this remains), amidships on Deck 5 and aft on Deck 7 in the location of the old Orient Lounge – incidentally an area where cabins were originally located before being removed by P&O in favour of more lounge accommodation. The Peninsular Bar remains on Deck 6 and the captain informed us that the small tiled section front of the bar counter had been assumed as a dancefloor in her Moroccan days – men only however with the female passengers sitting and watching from the surrounding seating areas. The best location onboard undoubtedly was the Deck 8 Observation lounge, latterly Club Class with P&O and in immaculate condition. If only more of the ship was fitted out in this style then she would be much more appealing and our guide again noted that in service this area had proven much too small for the number of people who wanted to use it.