Silja Line is a cruiseferry brand operated by the Estonian ferry company AS Tallink Grupp, for car and passenger traffic between Finland and Sweden. The former company Silja Oy - today Tallink Silja Oy - is a subsidiary of Tallink Grupp, handling marketing and sales for Tallink and Silja Line brands in Finland as well as managing Silja's ship employees. Another subsidiary, Tallink Silja AB, handles marketing and sales in Sweden. Strategical corporate management is performed by Tallink Grupp which also own the ships.
As of 2009 four ships service two routes under the Silja Line brand, transporting about three million passengers and 200,000 cars every year. The Silja Line ships has a market share of around 50 percent on the two routes served.
Despite the establishment of Silja, FÅA, Bore and Svea also continued to operate on the same routes with their own ships. This led to a somewhat complex situation where four different companies were marketed as one entiry. In Finland they went by the name Ruotsinlaivat (‘Sweden's Ships’ or ‘Ships to Sweden’) whereas in Sweden the preferred terms were Det Samseglande (roughly ‘the ones that sail together’), Finlandsbåten (‘Finland's Ships’) or Sverigebåten (Sweden Ships). In both countries the names of all four companies were usually displayed alongside the group identity.
Already before the reorganisation Silja had ordered two new ships from Dubegion-Normandie S.A., Nantes, France to begin year-round traffic from Helsinki to Stockholm (up until that point the route was summers only). In 1972 these were delivered to FÅA and Svea as MS Aallotar and MS Svea Regina, respectively. Passenger numbers on the Helsinki route grew fast and already in 1973 it was decided that the three companies would each order a ship of identical design from the same shipyard to replace the current Helsinki—Stockholm ships. The first two of these was delivered in 1975 (MS Svea Corona and MS Wellamo). The last sister, MS Bore Star), was delivered in December of the same year. However, there weren't enough passengers during the winter for all three ships, and as a result the Bore Star was chartered to Finnlines during the winters of 1975-1976 and 1976-1977. In 1976 Finland SS Co changed its name to Effoa (the Finnish phonetic spelling of FÅA). During the latter part of the 1970s Effoa's old ferries MS Ilmatar and MS Regina made cruises around Baltic Sea, Norwegian fjords and the Atlantic (from Málaga) under the marketing name Silja Cruises.
Despite the difficulties Silja's first real cruiseferries MS Finlandia and MS Silvia Regina entered traffic in 1981, which led to a 45% raise in passenger numbers. Late in the same year Johnson Line purchased Rederi AB Svea, and the former Svea ships received Johnson Line's blue/yellow colours. The good experiences gained from the new Helsinki ships prompted Effoa and Johnson Line to order two ships built on a similar principle for traffic on the Turku—Stockholm route, which were delivered in 1985 and 1986 as MS Svea and MS Wellamo. Although similar in proportions and interior layout, the new ships sported an attractive streamlined superstructure instead of the box-like superstructure of Finlandia and Silvia Regina.
In late 1989 Wärtsilä Marine, the shipyard building Silja's new cruiseferries, went bankrupt, which led to the ships being delivered later than had been planned. To ensure the delivery of their ferries Effoa and Johnson Line both purchased a part of the new Masa-Yards established to continue shipbuilding in Wärtsilä's former shipyards.
The year 1990 saw the realisation of an old vision: Effoa and Johnson Line merged to form EffJohn. As a result the seal's head logo gravitated into the funnel, replacing the old colours of each individual owner company. In November of the same year the new MS Silja Serenade made it's maiden voayge from Helsinki to Stockholm, approximately seven months after the original planned delivery date. MS Silja Symphony was delivered the following year. Despiste being highly popular and sporting a successful design, the new ships had also been very expensive. Coupled with the depression in the early 90's EffJohn was forced to cut costs, which resulted in Wasa Line and Sally Cruises being merged into Silja Line in 1992. The year also saw Svea and Wellamo being modernised in Silja Karneval and Silja Festival, respectively.
MS Silja Europa, the largest cruiseferry in the world 1993-2001, was built for Viking Line but chartered on delivery to Silja Line by the shipyard.
MS Sally Albatross was grounded outside Helsinki in spring 1994 and suffered major damage, which prompted Silja to give up traffic on her. September 1994 saw the largest peace-time maritime disaster on the Baltic Sea, the sinking of MS Estonia. Silja Europa, Silja Symphony and Finnjet all assisted in searching for survivors from the disaster. Silja Festival was berthed opposite the Estonia in Tallinn the day before the sinking, but she was in Helsinki when Estonia sank and didn't come to assistance. Sinking of the Estonia led to passenger numbers dropping, which did not help Silja's precarious situation. The company was now the largest on the Baltic Sea, having finally overtaken Viking Line in 1993, but financially it wasn't doing too well. In 1995 Effjohn changed their name into Silja Oy Ab. Three years later the name was changed again, this time to Neptun Maritime.
1999 saw two big changes coming for Silja. Tax-free sales ended on routes between EU countries, which forced the Helsinki—Stockholm ships to start calling at Mariehamn in the Åland Islands. Although the Åland Islands joined the EU along with the rest of Finland in 1994, their autonymous status allowed them to stay outside the EU tax union and hence avoid the end of tax-fee sales. Bigger change than this was Sea Containers purchasing the majority of Neptun Maritime's shares. In 2000 the new owners brought one of their Super SeaCats on Helsinki—Tallinn traffic and Neptun Maritime again changed its name, this time to Silja Oyj Abp. In the same year the route between Vaasa and Umeå was terminated as unprofitable.
By 2004 Sea Containers owned Silja Line entirely. The company was doing well financially and all seemed to be going well. Unfortunately Sea Containers' other operations were not as profitable and in late 2005 they announced their intent to give up their ferry division completely, this naturally including selling Silja Line. In preparation for the sale the unprofitable GTS Finnjet and MS Silja Opera were taken out of service and transferred under Sea Co's ownership. Silja Serenade and Symphony were also rebuilt in early 2006 to make them more attractive to the potential buyer.
May 2006 saw the sale of Silja Line to the Estonian Tallink. The SuperSeaCats trafficking between Helsinki and Tallinn were not included in the sale as their purchase would have given Tallink a dominant market position on the route, which would have resulted in the competition regulators of Finland and Estonia not approving the sale. As a result Sea Containers (that had barely a year ago announced their intention to give up the ferry business completely) continued operating them under the SuperSeaCat brand. In late 2006 the land organisations of Tallink and Silja Line were reorganised in Finland so that Tallink Finland and Superfast Finland were merged into Oyj Silja Abp, which now took care of all Finnish operations of Tallink/Silja. Shortly afterwards Oyj Silja Abp was renamed into Tallink Silja Oy. Similarly the land organisations in Sweden became Tallink Silja AB.
After the requisition of Silja, Tallink stated that it intended to keep the Silja Line brand separated from Tallink. However, most Silja Line marketing in Finland and Sweden has since the takeover been made under the combined Tallink Silja name.
In July 2008, the Tallink ship MS Galaxy replaced the Silja Festival on the Turku—Mariehamn—Stockholm route. The Galaxy was flagged to Sweden and the text Silja Line was painted on her hull sides. The Tallink logo has remained on her funnel and the Navitrolla-designed livery of the ship, which differs from the livery of other the Silja ships, was unaltered. The Silja Festival was in turn moved to Tallink's Stockholm-Riga, her funnel repainted in Tallink colors and the text Tallink on her sides. Silja Festival remained as her registered name even after the transfer.
*1 May be specified in gross tonnage (GT) or gross register tons (GRT).
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