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Cruise Ship Reviews

More images and info of the "Black Watch" at December 30, 2011:
Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

"Black Watch" come back

The Norwegian owner Fred. Olsen has bought a new cruise ship, that has been renamed last year "Black Watch," and entered service at the end of 1996 as the third ship with such name.
The first "Black Watch", built in 1938, was lost during W.W. II and the second, designed for North Sea service and the carriage of passengers and fruit between the Canary Island and the UK, appeared in 1966

by Arturo Paniagua Mazorra (06-05-97)

A market in expansion
With this acquisition, Fred. Olsen approach to the current strongly improvement that has experienced the English cruise market, that grew a 25 % last year in number of passengers.
Keep in mind the entrance in service in 1995 of the new "Oriana," for the P.&O. another operator, Airtours, entered in this market with the "Carousel" and the "Seawing," acquired second hand from Caribbean based owners.

This year , Airtours also buys another cruise ship from RCCL, the "Sundream" (ex "Song of Norway"), after the big succes of her western Mediterranean cruises the last couple of years.

The big tour operator, Thomson Tours also entered in the cruise market last year chartering the old "Ocean Islander," renamed "Sapphire" and also carried out cruises from Palma of Mallorca during the last summer.
In 1997, Thompson chartered two former Caribbean vessels, the "Emerald" (ex "Regent Rainbow") and the "Island Breeze" (ex "Carnivale").

Also, other minor English tour operators, Saga Holidays and Lowline, have purchased second hand cruise ships in the last months.

However, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines attempts, with the acquisition of the new ship, to improve its presence in a particular market: the cruises that depart from a British port.
330,000 Englishmans carried out a cruise in 1995, the third part of them preferred cruises that began from a port of their country.
This means that the direct competition for Fred. Olsen is P.&O.

The best of Fred. Olsen is offer deluxe cruises to long distances and varied destinations, departing from Dover.
This year, for example, the "Black Prince" (the other ship of Fred. Olsen) cruises last even one month of duration.
The differences: the ships of the Norwegian owner offer atmospheres more intimate, but also sport and a greatly call selection, because of their lower draught.

A singular ship
The "Black Watch" began her life as "Royal Viking Star."
She was the first of a trio of ships built by the Finnish yard O/Y Wartsila (the world leading builder of large passenger ships) for a consortium of Norwegian owners, which formed the Royal Viking Line.

They were de-luxe ships, worldwide cruising, destined to a selected clientele constituted mainly of couples of top-rank American or European executives (mainly middle aged), of enough seniority to afford both the time and money to enjoy everything Royal Viking Line could offer.

The itineraries of these ships were very varied, and their duration very long, including the Round the World cruise three months last.
These ships are very roomy, with an attentive and numerous crew, among them their always highlighted scandinavian waitresses.

These well balanced liners was gifted with a pronounced clipper bow surmounting a bulbous forefoot, the sunning spaces are amidship and the stern (which houses the pool) is magnificent, with terraced decks that finishes in an extended cruise stern. The aerodynamic funnel had a big Q.E.2 influence.

The "Royal Viking Star" sailed quietly in her ten first years. In her decks went for a walk the people whom John Maxtone Graham defined like Old Guard: senior financiers, artists, professionals, etc.

However, trying to attend the development of the cruise market, at the end of the seventies their owners increased the size and passenger capacity of the three ships adding 200 passengers with the introduction of a new 28 m. bow section.
The advantages were clear: the cost of the three lengthening operations (100 million $) was the same of a fourth ship, but the building time was reduced from two years to three months.
The crew costs of that fourth ship was eliminated and the seafaring conditions improved notably, as also the aesthetic of these three ships.
The fuel expenses rose 20% for each ship, but increased their capacity 40%.

The "Royal Viking Star" undergoes this operation in 1981 in the German yard AG Weser.

This transformation was not well accepted for her traditional clientele, that liked the intimacy of the small ships.
And a deluxe ship needs a deluxe clientele in order to survive, and that began to have other options like the twins "Sea Goddess," the "Europa," and so on.
The logical consequence was the sale of these ships. After a failed attempt to U.S. interest, they were sold in 1984 to the Norwegian owner Kloster Cruises, that already owned Norwegian Caribbean Line.

In 1988, was changed their Norwegian flags for the Bahamas register.
Unexpectly their new owners not only retained the original spirit of the Royal Viking Line, but rather they also constructed a fourth ship, the larger "Royal Viking Sun", also delivered by Wartsila O/Y in 1988, and later entrusted a fifth, the small "Royal Viking Queen" (1992).

This was the first of a chain of mistakes that drove the new owner in financial troubles that still exist in our days.
In that time, the competition in the de luxe sector was even but inflamed: new operators (Crystal Cruises, Renaissance Cruises, Prestige Cruises, etc.) with magnificent ships like the "Crystal Harmony" and the twins "Seabourn," entered the market.

The logical consequence was a reduction of the Royal Viking Line capacity (never an expansion) and in the first years of the nineties took place the first financial crisis of Kloster, that balanced it transferring the former Royal Viking Line's trio to other Kloster branches: The "Royal Viking Star" and the "Royal Viking Sky" to the Norwegian Cruise Line (the two ships were renamed "Westward" and "Sunward" in 1991) and the "Royal Viking Sea" to Royal Cruise Line (that had been taken over in 1989) that renamed the vessel "Royal Odyssey".
"Royal Odyssey" was later subjected to a deep refit in Singapore.

A ship built for the deluxe market never operates well in the mass market.
So, the utilization of the old guard ships of the swift Royal Viking was revealed like another mistake.
In 1992 the "Sunward" was sold to Finnish owners, that after dedicating it, during a short period, to Baltic day cruises (another lamentable mistake) bare boat chartered the ship to Princess Cruises, that renamed it "Golden Princess".

The "Sunward"'s twin ship "Westward" was renamed "Star Odyssey" following her passage to the other Kloster branch, Royal Cruise Line.
Between 1993 and 1994 "Star Odyssey" was subjected to a long refit, for 42.75 million dollars, carried out by the German company Lloyd Werft in Freeport.

During the last two years she carried out cruises with high occupation level, with calls to Spanish ports (thephoto shows her in Barcelona the 2-5-1995).
However at the end of 1995 the last financial crisis of Kloster took place, that was liquidated again with the sale of the residual two Royal Viking Line's twins (now Royal Cruise Line managed) to a group of American investors.
The "Star Odyssey" was at least bought by Fred. Olsen the 21-12-95.

The future "Black Watch"
The Berlitz guide of Cruises of this year concedes four stars (114 points on a maximum of 150) to the new "Black Watch," very high for a ship with almost a quarter of century of existence and also manged from many hands.
This publication highlight her width, the new decoration product of the refit above mentioned (either in public spaces and in cabins) and the functionality of these last.

She was also fitted with magnificent sport installations, homogeneous to the "Black Prince", with the exception of the stern marine.
The first months after the ship was delivered in Piraeus the 8-10-96 were quite complex.
After the 6 million $ refitting in A&P Southampton, the first cruises (which began the 15th November 1996 from Dover) had a bad press because of the unexperienced crew.

Later, the 1997 cruise calendar was altered, and the "Black Watch" this summer will be operating two short cruises in place of a previously planned three week Eastern Mediterranean voyage.
This change has come out as a result of slow booking for the longer Mediterranean cruises, and high demand for weekly Scandinavian and Baltic cruises.

The February 26th the "Black Watch" had bearing failure on one engine in Marmaris, Turkey.
On the next day a second engine overheated, so the Master reduced to just two engines from the four normally used.
On arrival in Malta on 2nd March, Fred. Olsen took all the passengers home while engineers made a full study of the ship's engine. It was found that all four Sulzer engines required new main bearings.

Accordingly the programmed four weeks Caribbean cruise were cancelled, and repairs were made. The ships resume cruising from Dover last April.

The Fred. Olsen cruise ships have always highlighted for their maintenance and for the family pride in their administration.
We are sure that this ship will have the same level of repeated cruisers like the "Black Prince" and will increase notably the competition between the English cruise ships operators.


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