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Ro-ro twins with different fate

The Norwegian owner Fearley & Eger entrusted the construction of two ro-ro ships in 1973, the Fernbay and Fernhill destined to the charter market in the then incipient traffic of rotated loads to the Norwegian yard Kristiansands Mek.Verksteds A.S.

by Arturo Paniagua Mazorra (12/08/97)

The Origins
Fernbay and Fernhill were built from a design of the Trosvik group, also of Norway.
They were ro-ro ships with a single shelter deck and were equipped with bow visor and ramp, stern ramp and trailer lift between the main deck and the weather deck, where there was also trailer stowage.
The two ferries had 1,000 lane meter of ro-ro capacity and the free height of the main deck was 5,80 metre.

Begonia and Gardenia
Before their delivery the two ships were transferred to the Dutch company N.V.Stoomv. Maats. Ostzee - controlled by Fearley & Eger - which registered them as Begonia and Gardenia under the Netherland Antilles flag.

The Ro-Ro days
Begonia was chartered to transport trailers between Florida and West Indies.
Later, both ships operated in Baltic waters, and between 1977 to 1979 also in the Mediterranean.
In 1980, the Begonia returned again to trade between Florida and West Indies, while the Gardenia remains in Europe.
In 1984, in an apparently complex arrangement, the shipowning division of the German yard Lloyd Werft purchased both sisters for their conversion in cruise ships.
The Begonia didn't change her name, while the Gardenia was renamed Ro-Ro G.

The Ro-Ro G
The order for the second conversion was cancelled, and the Ro-Ro G was sold in 1989 to Badia Shipping Corp, and renamed Skarboy.
In 1992 the Skarboy was acquired by Fairmark Ship. Co, remaned African Trailer and laid up in Cardiff.
The same year she was sold to the Spanish owner Antonio Armas Curbelo and in July carried out her first sail from Canarias to Mauretania.
The African Trailer was later used in the Las Palmas-St. Cruz de Tenerife trade, than she returned twenty years later to the Caribbean, chartered to trade between Mayaguez and Santo Domingo.
The first of February 1996 she went aground in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Declared CTL, she was later sold to Telgar Industries Inc, repaired and renamed Star of Puerto Rico.

The Conversion of the Begonia
The conversion project to transform the Begonia in a cruise ship was developed by the Norwegian naval architect Petter Yran, and the complete work was done within nine months by Lloyd Werft.
The reported price was 34,8 m$.
The old forward superstructure, twin funnels aft, whole machinery plant (with propellers and shafting), stern ramp and wheater deck were removed and scrapped.
The bow visor were permanently sealed.
Six new decks (from 3 to 8), as well as new bulkheads had been built with much of the new upperworks prefabricated in aluminium.
124 cabins (for only 250 passengers) allotted in five decks were built, positioning them forward far away the engines noise.

A complete new propulsion system was installed, consisting of two Wichmann WX28V10 medium speed engines, each of 2,750 kW at 600 rpm.
New controllable pitch propellers, clutch couplings, and reducing gears (each with a 1,600 kW shaft generator, which was also capable to act as electric motor) were installed.
Auxiliary power was supplied by one Wichmann WX28V8 engine with an output of 2,080 kW.. The ship speed was 16 knots.
The steering gear and bow thruster were retained, and new fresh water generators, stabilisers, incinerator and sewage plant were installed.

The Design
Concerning the exterior design, the tall twin funnels give a squat profile, and most people think that the bow should be longer to give a sleeker appearence.
I think that the ship look like a ferry (mainly at the stern, which houses a sports platform) and not as one of the most luxorious cruise ships.
The Seabourn trio, also a Petter Yran design, were the logical evolution of the Begonia's cruise conversion project, with the same main configuration but with an extremely raked stem, streamlined superstructure and rounded stern and funnels.
The Begonia was also fitted with a big aluminium tender, water jet propelled, named Baby Starship, which was used to carry passengers ashore to explorer remote, shallow areas.

The Explorer Starship
The ship, under the Bahamas flag, was delivered in 1986 to Exploration Cruise Line, that introduced her, renamed Explorer Starship, as the newest ultra-deluxe small cruise ship in the world.
Exploration Cruise Line identified passengers as explorers, and programmed itineraries with more wild life, more glaciers, etc. than the bigger ships of the other operators.
This cruise company began operations in 1980 with the 80-passenger Pacific Northwest Explorer, a US flag vessel designed for coastal cruises, then entered the deep sea cruise industry first with the North Star and later with the Explorer Starship.
The vessel sailed the two first years between the American West coast and Alaska in summer and the Caribbean in winter.
In her first Alaska season (1987) the Explorer Starship carried out eighteen weekly cruises from Prince Rupert to Anchorage, visiting the Hubbard Glacier, which at that days was forming an immovable ice dam.
Passengers' satisfaction was very high, but some cruise itineraries were more successful than others.
However, the cruise world was taken in complete surprise when the November 16th 1988, Exploration Cruise Line filed for protection from its creditors under Chapter 11 of federal Bankruptcy Act.
The eight small ships fleet, six of them with the American flag, were involved in the collapse.
The Explorer Starship returned to Fearley & Eger, whom in that days was planning to build eight new 116-passenger ship (the Renaissance fleet) and so the vessel was laid up at Willemstad (Netherland Antilles) awaiting a buyer.

The Song of Flower birth
The Explorer Starship remained inactive for a short time, as a matter of fact she was acquired in mid 1989 by the Japanese operator Meiyo Corp.
Meanwhile the ship underwent another major refurbishment in Norway, a new cruise company was formed in order to operate the ship: Seven Seas Cruises.
The ship was rechristened Song of Flower Mamiko Matsunari in February 1990 in Singapore.

In her first year, she was marketed primarly in Asia for the Japanese market offering fly cruises departing Singapore, but in January1990, K Line gained 70% ownership in Seven Seas Cruises and switched the marketing efforts to North America and Europe.
In her Alaska summer season the passenger balance was of about half Japanese, half Americans. The itineraries in that days were a mixture of short and long cruises in order to satisfy both market In 1993, the Song of Flower was repositioned for the first time in Europe with a clientele mainly composed of European and US citizens.
It is suitable to say that although the ship has Japanese owned, she sailed under NIS flag, with Norwegian officers, an international crew, and western cruise and enterntainement staff.

But the cruise market was in a rationalization process, and in 1993 took place the merger with Diamond Cruises who operated the luxury SWATH cruise ship Radisson Diamond, forming Radisson Seven Seas Cruises, based in Fort Lauderdale.
This company also began to market in USA the exploration cruise ship Hanseatic.
In March 1996, K Line announced his withdraw from the cruise market, with the sale of the Song of Flower to Tailship, Hong Kong, and the closing dawn of their Seven Seas branch in Bahamas, after an accumulated lost of $74.7 million.
Radisson Seven Seas Cruises continued to operate the ship on bareboat charter from Tailship. That year was also announced that the Bremen and the Paul Gauguin (which will be delivered in 1998), will be operated by Radisson Seven Seas Cruises.

The Itineraries
The Song of Flower is one of the most rewarding and recommeded cruise ship experience, with intensive itineraries in a relaxed environment philosophy.
Her classic cruise schedule, South Asia in winter and Europe in summer, offers some of the most fascinating destinations in the cruise industry.
She begun 1997 with six Singapore to Rangoon sailings, and some Vietnam, Indonesia and China cruises.
Later, the ship sailed the Persian Gulf for the first time since the war (the itinerary was so successful that she will repeat it on November 11, 1997, and two times netx year) and then to the Red Sea and Mediterranean.
In June and July, she moved to the Baltic and Norwegian fjords, and will be back in the Mediterranean in autumn, then again to Asia in late October.
The turn of the milleniun cruise itinerary of the Song of Flower will be an unmatched experience: on Dec 29th1999 she will set sail for a 10-day cruise with calls at Penang, Bangkok, Manila, Kota Kinabalu, and Bali.

Visiting the Ship
The deck 3 (Galaxy) accommodates aft the Galaxy dining hall with 200 passenger capacity, with tables for two, four and eight people (always set with fresh flowers), as well as twenty one double and four berth cabins.
The Main deck (4), houses twenty-seven cabins, as well as the main lobby area, the shopping arcade, a purples and pink night club for 85 passenger (which now also houses the casino), and a 30-seat alternative restaurant (designed by Vincent Kwok Interiors), added during its last drydock and open for lunch and dinner by reservation.
The vessel capacity was also increased to a maximun of 180.
The Promenade deck (5) houses nineteen double cabins forward, the Main Lounge and the 2,000 book library aft, with a spiral staircase connecting it to the deck below.
The Main Lounge, made of pastel tapestry opholstery, is capable of accommodate all passengers and has a bar at the rear.
A further twenty three double cabins are to be found forward on Sun deck (6), which also houses the ship's outdoor pool and other sport facilities aft.
This deck also features casual ootdoor dining with deck tables and chairs with big blue and white umbrellas. Also forward is located the bridge where guests are welcome as observers during daylight hours.

Ten cabins on Observation deck (7) are the ship's top passenger accomodation (30 square metre), each fitted with private verandas and full sized bathtubs.
Forward on deck 7, directly atop the wheelhouse, is an observation lounge for 60 passenger, with floor-to-ceiling windows.

The ship offers single, open seating dining, and maintains the highest culinary standards.
She cruises with only 172 passengers onboard. Her ratio of crew members (144) to guests is one of the highest in the industry: 1 to 1,2.
Also her passenger space ratio is very high: 48.15.
All the gratuities are included, no further tipping allowed, but port charges are extra.
The Song of Flower is a very lovely vessel. It is unpretentious, friendly and accesible, throughout her pastel fabrics, beige marble and polisehed wood.
A lot of people, specially in the Far East, thinks that the Song of Flower is the best cruise bargain among five star plus vessels.
The ship is very well maintained and cared for, and spotlessly clean.
The owner has invested $75,000 in a low level lighting system and in a sprinklers installation in order to fulfill the latest SOLAS regulations, that are going into effect this year.
For these reasons, the ship will stay in the vanguard of the deluxe cruise market for the next years.

For further information: Radisson Seven Seas Cruises

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