Skenderbeg Lines are perhaps one of the more notorious ferry lines in Southern Europe with their ship, Europa I having been detained on a number of occasions in the past few years, including once in connection with alleged people and drug trafficking. Obviously therefore, this was a ship that had to be sampled and since no-one else appeared willing to brave the trip to Albania we decided that a hot Friday in July 2003 should mark our Albanian debut.

We acquired tickets from the very friendly offices of Skenderbeg Lines in Brindisi, who kindly gave us a free upgrade from deck to cabin accommodation before scrawling 'VIP' on the front of the ticket - it seemed tourist traffic was unusual for this line. We proceeded through police and customs whose presence was notably heavier than for the usual traffic to Greece where by and large such formalities have now been dispensed with. As we approached the vessel, some fairly trashy pop music was blaring out over the PA system and thoughts crossed our minds of the recent
Pride of Bilbao party cruise - could this be a similar proposition?

The departure at 23.00 was fairly prompt by Brindisi standards and, having watched
Media V (ex-Thoresen's Viking I) depart ahead of us for the same destination (Vlore) we slowly headed out of the harbour. Most reports have said that these ships actually carry little traffic and are involved in more sinister trades. However, once aboard it became apparent that the passenger load was to a large extent comprised of Albanian families returning home, and the childrens' play area in the main lobby was getting some good use.

Discreetly looking around the ship, we discovered that she was in most places unchanged from her incarnation as DFDS'
Skipper Clement, right down to the deckplans in Danish with the profile of the ship in the old DFDS black and red funnel colours. The main deck consists of cabins forward, a reception area amidships and a large cafeteria/snack bar aft. On either beam, there are 2 reclining seat lounges, although that forward to starboard has been converted into a
video games room, whilst the one aft of this appeared to be derelict and used as a dumping ground for tatty old mattresses and the like.

Further cabin accommodation is found on either side and beneath the car deck.

On the upper passenger deck, forward is an intimate wooden-panelled bar, complete with upright piano, low level lighting and elegant fittings. Aft of an upper lobby was a fabulous 1960s restaurant complete with apparently largely original fittings. Crew accommodation/messes were found aft of this and spacious outside deck space was found encircling the aft part of the ship on this deck.

Moving up, was an upper external deck complete with heavy wooden deck chairs and several dead potted plants, including one intriguingly planted in the middle of a liferaft. Several of the liferaft canisters had 'CANBERRA' written on them and were supplied from a firm in Southampton, spurring speculation that these could possibly have been bought second-hand from the P&O Liner.

As built, the ship had an observation lounge in her forward dummy funnel. The windows in this have now been plated over and the area is not accessible to passengers.

Generally, the ship appeared in poor condition - the plumbing seemed to have long given up the ghost; none of the toilets seemed to be able to flush any more with one lucky crew member being given the job of 'flushing' these out with a hosepipe during the crossing. Throughout the accommodation, the vessel was roasting hot despite the vain efforts of air conditioning units. The complimentary cabin therefore saw little use as we spent much of the crossing lounging in the deck chairs on the upper deck, having made a close mental note of the shipboard escape instructions.

We arrived in the morning off Valona/Vlore to find
Media V and the other ship on the run, Gabrielle bathed in glorious sunlight in the deep natural bay off the harbour. Europa I is a ship that does not perhaps have that long left to run in this part of the world, so sampling her unique charms is something to do sooner rather than later - if you dare!
EUROPA I (ex-Slavija (I), Skipper Clement, Jens Kofoed)
Skenderbeg Lines (formerly Jadrolinija, DFDS, Bornholmsfærgen)
Above: Europa I making a sluggish departure from Vlore in July 2003. The ship seemed to be somewhat underpowered and in this instance appeared to have difficulty leaving the harbour.
With her Scandinavian appearance (comparable in some respects to the likes of the Viking I, not to mention the rather larger Ouranos (ex-Tor Hollandia of 1967) berthed behind her in the picture below) it is somewhat surprising to learn that the Europa I was actually built in Sunderland, UK back in 1963 as the Jens Kofoed. Two years later British yards were still producing steam turbine ferries like the Holyhead Ferry I for British Rail, but it is the styling and design as much as anything that makes this surprising - the slender twin funnels plus the forward dummy funnel affair being unlikely features on a British-built car ferry of the time. Despite being a drive-through ship complete with bow visor the aft loading arrangements were unusual - a pair of stern doors being provided, one on each side giving the ship a rather curious profile appearance.

Jens Kofoed was actually fitted out by Bremer Vulcan in Germany, entering service on Bornholmsfærgen's overnight service between Copenhagen and Rønne in August 1963. Typical of those early days of twin funnel ships with dummy forward structures, in an attempt to convince the public that this was a real, balanced-looking ship after all, it was the latter which received the company funnel colours of red with a thin black top, the real funnels being merged into the superstructure with a plain white paint finish.

Slightly over a year after her debut, the ship was acquired by DFDS, becoming their
Skipper Clement and operating on several of that company's routes for a number of years. In addition, she was chartered to BP at various times in the 1970s for work in connection with the then fledgling North Sea oil industry. In 1976 a charter was arranged to Croatia's Jadrolinija where the ship was named Slavija. A further charter to Aznar Line of Spain followed, but the previous arrangement with Jadrolinija was resurrected with a permanent sale a few months later - this time the name was Slavija I. There followed a long period operating for this company principally on the international routes from Croatia to Italy, Corfu and mainland Greece. Finally in 1999 Slavija I passed to the mysterious Skenderbeg Lines to operate their Albania-Italy service as Europa I, the actual owners being a company based in Kingstown, Jamaica. She operated from Brindisi-Vlore until mid-2007 when effectively she was replaced by the Red Star I - although the latter ship was operating for a company called 'Red Star Ferries', there had been a clear transfer of some crew members, the two operations shared a website and shared ticket agencies. For 2008, it was announced that the ship would operate a new service from Ortona, south of Brindisi, to Vlore. Publicity material was duly produced, and the ship prepared for service in Brindisi, but in July the Italian authorities announced that she had failed a last inspection and was banned for good; the ship remained laid up in Brindisi thereafter.

See the voyage report below for further details of the ship as
Europa I.
Below: The cafeteria astern on A Deck, looking forward.
Below: Turning off her berth at Brindisi during her first season with Skenderbeg Lines in August 1999, the Europa I shows off her original twin offset stern ramps, which doubtless made loading and unloading at some ports rather difficult. At some stage in subsequent years a more conventional centre-line opening has also been fitted, giving the ship an even more unique triple ramp arrangement at the stern.
Above: Arriving at Brindisi in August 1999 the Europa I passes the Ouranos of Fragline at her berth.
Below: Throughout the ship, Europa I retains deck plans from her DFDS Skipper Clement days - including the old name on the side of the profile.
Below Left: Looking astern in the forward reclining seat lounge on the port side of A Deck.
Below Right: An outside deck shot with the 'Canberra' liferaft containers.
Below: Looking aft in the main restaurant on the upper passenger deck.
Below: Two views of the intimate forward bar - the picture on the left shows the piano in the aft starboard corner, whilst that on the right illustrates the original bar servery to port.
Below: Europa I in Vlore in July 2004 with the Kapetan Alexandros A (ex-Doric Ferry) alongside.
Above & below: Two views of the Skipper Clement including (below) the ship at Frederikshavn.
Below: The relationship between Skenderbeg Lines and Red Star Ferries is slightly unclear; however, here the Europa I and the latter company's Red Star I (ex-Viking III) are seen together being refitted in Perama in May 2007, the adjacent berths being convenient for the transfer of items between the ships. Picture courtesy Nikos Thrylos.
Below: The Europa I at Vlore on 12 July 2007 - the Red Star I made a first appearance at Brindisi that day.
Below: Being prepared for service in Brindisi, July 2008. The work being carried out was in vain however and the ship was subsequently banned by the Italian authorities.