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Håkan Johansson, CEO of Gotlandsbolaget, and Torben Carlsen, CEO of DFDS

Håkan Johansson, CEO of Gotlandsbolaget, and Torben Carlsen, CEO of DFDS

Transaction of historic route: A stand-alone project for both parties

FerryGotlandsbolaget's latest step in expanding into the cruiseferry segment will not involve the Åland joint-venture partner in Gotland Alandia Cruises. At the same time, DFDS emphasizes that it still has long-term plans to develop the only remaining route in the network currently based on cruiseferry tonnage, following the news of a Danish-Swedish transaction of the historic Copenhagen-Oslo route.

The future of DFDS' historic cruiseferry route between the Danish and Norwegian capitals will be anchored in a Danish company, fully owned on Gotland, says Gotlandsbolaget's CEO, Håkan Johansson, to Shippax.

Therefore, there will be no further expansion of Gotland Alandia Cruises, the recently introduced joint venture between Gotlandsbolaget and the Åland cruiseferry operator Viking Line, with DFDS' current cruiseferry route between Copenhagen and Oslo.

"In this project, we have determined that we should be the sole owner. DFDS' Copenhagen-Oslo route is a perfect match for our strategy to expand in the cruiseferry market, based on our nearly 160 years of experience with passenger shipping to and from Gotland. The joint venture makes a lot of sense for the specific operation in Gotland Alandia Cruises, but the takeover of the Copenhagen-Oslo route is a stand-alone project, fully controlled by us."

"Overall, our entry into the Copenhagen-Oslo route should be understood as part of our strategy to get closer to our core business, the passenger ferry segment, after we have sold our assets in the product tanker sector," explains Håkan Johansson.

Rebranding and new visual identity

Earlier this year, Gotland Alandia Cruises launched a revitalization of pure passenger minicruise operations from Stockholm to primarily Mariehamn with BIRKA GOTLAND, which had been laid-up since the COVID-19 pandemic under the name BIRKA STOCKHOLM by the previous owners. One year earlier, in November 2022, Gotlandsbolaget sold its last three Gotland Class product tankers.

Håkan Johansson will not comment on whether Gotlandsbolaget is facing more acquisitions in the Baltic Sea region as part of pursuing the company's growth strategy within the minicruise segment.

"Now it's about focusing on being ready for 1 November, when the transition of the Copenhagen-Oslo route into our ownership and control takes place," emphasizes Håkan Johansson.

He mentions that a rebranding of the route, both in terms of visual appearance and brand name, will need to be carried out, but it is still too early to be more specific about that.

DFDS has in public considered possible scenarios for a green transition of the Copenhagen-Oslo route for several years, but apparently without being able to point to an obvious solution. What is your long-term plan for a zero-carbon future on the Copenhagen-Oslo route?

"Clearly, we do not see the route's two current ships as a long-term solution when it comes to a green transition. The first point is to maintain and further develop the route commercially under our ownership. It is on a solid commercial foundation that the green transition must take place. I can't be very specific at this point. However, we are already well advanced in developing our future tonnage for the routes from Gotland, and I can confidently say that the same high level of ambition will also apply to the Copenhagen-Oslo route under our ownership," promises Håkan Johansson.

Gotlandsbolaget is far along in developing both conventional and high-speed ro-pax tonnage for an upcoming contract period with the Swedish state for the ferry service to Gotland.

The hydrogen ready Gotland Horizon projects. Gotland Horizon: Ro-pax, top speed 28 knots, 1,900 passengers + 600 cars. Gotland Horizon X design: Catamaran, top speed up to 35 knots, 1,550 passengers + 400 cars

The hydrogen ready Gotland Horizon projects. Gotland Horizon: Ro-pax, top speed 28 knots, 1,900 passengers + 600 cars. Gotland Horizon X design: Catamaran, top speed up to 35 knots, 1,550 passengers + 400 cars

A better match for the route

The Copenhagen-Oslo route, currently operated by the two cruiseferries PEARL SEAWAYS and CROWN SEAWAYS, built in 1989 and 1994, respectively, is a historic route that has existed throughout DFDS's 158-year history. The route, originating from the Danish capital where DFDS also has its headquarters, is today the most well-known part of DFDS's increasingly international business to the general public.

Therefore, the sale of the route is one of the more significant decisions that DFDS CEO Torben Carlsen has led, he explains to Shippax.

"Clearly, one cannot be aware of our history and not feel a bit heavy-hearted when making such a decision. We have assessed that it is better to bring in someone willing to allocate capital to such a route. Gotlandsbolaget sees the route as a good match for their core interests going forward and is therefore willing to invest in the route to secure its long-term future. It is not just a historic route we are talking about - it is also a workplace for up to 800 people. Our core focus is on our freight network and how we can develop and expand it," explains Torben Carlsen.

A long-time future for the North Sea route

A total of 675 seafarers, the vast majority of whom are Danes, are employed onboard the two cruiseferries. The remaining approximately 125 employees work in the commercial and technical organizations onshore around the route. PEARL SEAWAYS and CROWN SEAWAYS sail under the Danish flag in the DIS (Danish International Register of Ships). Gotlandsbolaget states in connection with the purchase of the route that the ships will continue in DIS and that all current employees will not be affected in their employment by the new ownership.

Can the sale of the minicruise-oriented Copenhagen-Oslo route be seen as a prelude to the potential sale of the operation with the similarly aging cruiseferries between IJmuiden and Newcastle?

"Absolutely not. IJmuiden-Newcastle is a far more transport-oriented route. Unlike the Copenhagen-Oslo route, it has a consistently high freight demand while the majority of its passengers have a genuine transportation need. Therefore, IJmuiden-Newcastle belongs to our core business, and we have long-term plans for it, not least in relation to the green transition of our network," emphasizes Torben Carlsen.

In 2023, DFDS’s Copenhagen-Oslo route and IJmuiden-Newcastle, both benefiting from lucrative onboard duty-free sales, together generated 11% of DFDS’s total revenue in the Ferry Division which also includes the ro-ro and conventional ro-pax operations. The company does not disclose specific figures for the Copenhagen-Oslo route. Both routes differ tonnage-wise from DFDS’s other network in that the involved ferries were purpose-built as cruiseferries for the Baltic Sea before the EU ceased duty-free sales on ferries between EU countries in 1999.

Gotlandsbolaget currently holds the concession for ferry traffic between Visby on the Baltic Sea Island of Gotland and the Swedish mainland to the ports of Nynäshamn and Oskarshamn. The two parties state that Gotlandsbolaget has paid 400 million DKK for the Copenhagen-Oslo route, including the two ferries PEARL SEAWAYS and CROWN SEAWAYS. The Copenhagen-Oslo route also includes several weekly calls in Frederikshavn in the northern part of Denmark. This third leg of the route was established after Stena Line chose to discontinue its Frederikshavn-Oslo route with the cruiseferry STENA SAGA during the COVID-19 pandemic. The port facilities, including the passenger terminal from 2003 in Copenhagen are owned by the respective port companies.

© Shippax/ Søren Lund Hviid

PEARL SEAWAYS © Maritime Photographic

PEARL SEAWAYS © Maritime Photographic

Jun 11 2024

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