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The HSS Discovery (R) is passed by sister Stena Explorer, 1 October 2009. © Ronnie Roberts

HSS Discovery

The third of the HSS 1500 series, the Dutch-flag Stena Discovery entered service between Hoek van Holland and Harwich on 6 June 1997. The vessel's maiden voyage was actually between Belfast and Stranraer, entering service on 26 April 1997 and remaining there until 24 May.

Primarily due to high operating costs on her relatively long North Sea passage, the Stena Discovery was withdrawn from Stena Line service on 8 January 2007, her final in-service crossing being the 10.40hrs ex-Harwich. Taking a route via Portsmouth she arrived in Belfast for lay-up on 24 January 2007.

In 2009 the craft was sold to the new Venezuelan company Albamar for service between the ports of La Guaira, Estado Vargas and El Guamache, Estado Nueva Esparta (Margarita Island). The craft was dry docked in April of that year for maintenance before sale and renamed HSS Discovery.

After numerous false departure dates the HSS Discovery finally left Belfast on the morning of the last day of September 2009. Arriving in Holyhead that afternoon, the craft berthed on the port's HSS linkspan before spending the night on the Anglesey Aluminium jetty. After the departure of sister Stena Explorer for Dun Laoghaire the following morning the "Discovery" returned to the linkspan for final bunkers and stores. She left the port for South America at 15.30hrs, exchanging a farewell whistle salute with her inward bound sister in the Outer Harbour.

The HSS Discovery's new operation should succeed as Venezuela is an oil producing country and consequently fuel costs are signifcantly lower than in Europe.

Having been laid up La Guaira, since arriving in Venezuela in 2009, the former Hook fast craft shifted to Curacao, arriving at Willemstad on 27th November 2011.

Progress towards her entering Ferrymar service is apparently being made and certainly the HSS Discovery’s $5.5 million refit is a positive sign. With a demand for additional fast craft following the demise of Conferry, one would suspect the Stena Voyager to be subject of some negotiation.

In September 2011, the family- owned Conferry was nationalised following what the government called its record of bad service and high prices, and the need for more reliable transportation to Margarita Island. President Chavez said the expropriation was necessary due to a number of irregularities and low quality of service. “Enough already, the Conferry ferries are a disaster,” Chavez said on national television.

In August the Institute for the Defence of People’s Access to Goods and Services (Indepabis) applied a one-month sanction to Conferry for overselling and for delays. Conferry had previously enjoyed a monopoly on the link between the Venezuelan mainland and the island. Calling the monopoly “chaotic” former defence minister, Orlando Maniglia, said “the nationalisation of Conferry brings a new model of maritime transport to Venezuela. Strategically, it’s important that the state participates in the use of such an important means of mass transport”.

The move applied to all of Conferry’s capital, which includes seven ferries – four of which are fast craft - the terminals, as well as everything related to the administration of the company.

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