HSC Albayzin was the class leader of the “Mestral” class high speed monohull ferries, commenced in 1993 for Compañía Trasmediterránea at Empresa Nacional Bazán shipyard in San Fernando (Cadiz). During construction the ownership changed to Los Cipreses SA of Argentina, trading as Buquebus operating ferry services between Argentina and Uruguay. There were three Mestral class ships, the other two were called Alcántara and Almudaina and were kept in the ownership of Trasmediterránea to begin with. They were 95 metres long, 15 metres wide and gross tonnage was around 3300 tons. They had capacity for 450 passengers and 84 cars, and were powered by four Caterpillar 3616TA engines each 5400 kW connected to waterjets, producing a service speed of 36 knots, and could be operated by a crew of just 16 people.
The first operator of Albayzin was Sea Shuttles (NZ Ltd), a New Zealand company incorporated in April 1994 in Christchurch. The shareholders were Juan Carlos López Mena (60%) (a principal of Los Cipreses), Roger Swolf (30%) and Brooke McKenzie (10%). The latter two were Christchurch businessmen and McKenzie in particular was known for his involvement in the unsuccessful Pacifica Shipping freight ferry service between Christchurch and Wellington in the early 1980s (subsequently improved under new ownership). All three shareholders were also directors of the company. Albayzin was delivered to New Zealand on its passing out from Bazan in October 1994 and entered service on the Cook Strait run between Wellington and Picton for the summer season. The ship experienced significant reliability problems on the operation and the Sea Shuttle service ceased to run in 1995, when HSC Albayzin sailed for Argentina, joining the Buquebus domestic ferry fleet. Prior to that occurrence, conflicts between majority and minority shareholding directors saw López Mena buy out all of the other holdings to take 100% ownership. The company closed down in 2002 and their activities in the intervening years are presently unknown. (McKenzie and Swolf had another go in 1999 incorporating Fast Cat Ferries Ltd in which at time of closure, Swolf had 59% and McKenzie 3% of shares with an investment firm holding the balance. FCF operated an Incat ferry on charter but in 2001 the vessel’s owner forced the company into receivership and subsequent liquidation.)
In addition to New Zealand and Argentina, Albayzin also worked at various times in Gibraltar, Denmark and Turkey. Its operations came to an end with Buquebus in the mid/late 2010s (exact date unknown but possible as early as 2013) when it was mothballed in South America. Most of Buquebus’ current fleet in Argentina are dated from the 1990s except for the newest fleet member HSC Francisco inaugurated in 2012. If the 2013 date for Albayzin being taken out of service is correct then the introduction of Francisco would appear to be connected with the mothballing but the fact that Los Cipreses still keeps three other ships of similar or older age to Albayzin in its active fleet tends to imply Albayzin was less favoured by this time.
In October 2022, various sources reported that HSC Albayzin was towed to the port of Colonia del Sacramento, Uruguay where some of its machinery was removed as spares for Buquebus’ other ships, and it was then towed to Montevideo for scrapping. Marinetraffic.com logged its last position report for Albayzin at Montevideo in October 2022. It looks to be beached at nearby Punta de Sayago in February 2023 as per picture below.
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