The idea for a joint service was initially put forward in July 1996 and in October of the same year signed a Memorandum of Understanding for the merger of their ferry interests on the Short Sea routes. The go ahead was given to the merger towards the end of 1997 by UK, French and EU authorities and the new company began on the 10th March 1998 with joint livery being officially unveiled the day before. Ownership of the new company was 60/40 in favour of P&O with all shore and sea management performed by P&O. Voting rights between the two companies was 50/50.
Both P&O and Stena also put various building assets into the merger. An example of which was P&O Stena Lines "Central Preparation" kitchens in the western docks, and their training centre (both ex. British Rail buildings). Channel House, P&O's dover headquarters were leased from P&O Corporate in London to P&O Stena Line.
On completion of the merger, P&O European Ferries volunteered 8 vessels into the newly formed group:
Stena Line volunteered 6 vessels into the newly formed group:
The first two vessels were sailing on the Newhaven to Dieppe route, the following three vessels on Dover to Calais, and the fastcraft Lynx 3 was a multipurpose HSC craft operating primarily from Newhaven, but also capable having done so in the past operating from Dover.
(The name Lynx is rooted in the company's past when operating as Stena Sealink Line - the company's first two HSC Craft were named Stena SeaLynx I and II.)
It was decided due to the freight capacity of the Invicta that she would be unviable in a service that had to cut its tonnage down as part of the merger agreements, so she was laid up in France awaiting Charter and never saw active service with P&OSL. There was speculation that she would return to service with the company during the annual drydocking periods to serve as a relief vessel, but this never happened. Stena Antrim was also withdrawn immediately and was laid up until being sold.
Initially the P&O Stena Line fleet was made up of 12 active vessels, these were:-
While all Dover vessels initially kept their pre-merger names, they were gradually changed during each vessels annual refit and the P&OSL prefix was adopted in 1999 replacing Pride of and Stena prefixes. As a result Stena Fantasia and Stena Empereur received new names of P&OSL Canterbury and P&OSL Provence respectively.
At Newhaven the Stena Lynx III was renamed Elite in advance of the merger, Stena Cambria kept its name until the closure of the Newhaven-Dieppe service at the start of 1999. The Elite fastcraft was returned to Stena Line and regained its original name, the Stena Cambria was sold.
It was originally intended that P&OSL Picardy would transfer to POSL's Newhaven-Dieppe route. It was planned that a central loading ramp between the upper and lower vehicle decks would be fabricated and fitted, as Dover vessel operate with two loading ramps, whilst many other ports only operate with one. However this did not occur and the planned transfer never took place. The P&OSL Picardy remained on the Dover-Calais route until 2001, and then spent several months laid up in France before being sold to a smaller rival firm operating from Ramsgate - TEF Shipping. Today she is the only one of the original three Spirit Class vessel still sailing in UK waters. The other active sister ship, P&OSL Kent is now sailing for a Greek operator. The third vessel was the ill fated Herald of Free Enterprise that capsized off the port of Zeebrugge in the late 1980's.
During 1998 P&O Stena chartered Stena Royal for use on the Dover-Zeebrugge freight service. The ship was later renamed and refitted and renamed P&OSL Aquitaine.
The fleet remained the same until the purchase of Stena Line's share in the company by P&O in 2002. An announcement was made that the Dover-Zeebrugge service would close but the actual closure occurred under P&O Ferries management in December 2002
P&O Stena introduced the Brand World concept now found on many of the current P&O Ferries fleet. Finnegan Consultancy Group developed and implemented the original Brand World strategy which brought about a standard image across the fleet.
The brands were:-
As of 2007, P&O Ferries have begun removing some of their familiar Brand world theming throughout their fleet. The three main affected brands are:
The Dover-Calais service has essentially returned to its pre-merger P&O European Ferries form with no former Stena Line ships remaining. Ships that were to remain in the P&O Ferries fleet either returned to their original "Pride of" names (except PO Canterbury and PO Kent) or gained the prefix. European Pathway and European Highway were converted into multi-purpose vessels and became Pride of Canterbury and Pride of Kent respectively replacing PO Canterbury and PO Kent which after the end of P&O Stena Line lost the '&' and 'SL' from their names. Pride of Provence and Pride of Aquitaine were later withdrawn as part of the review of P&O Ferries operations announced in September 2004.
The Newhaven-Dieppe service was run by Transmanche Ferries but the service has been put out to tender in early 2007 as part of the french operators parent company plan. The successful bid was submitted by Paris based Louis Drefus (LD) Lines who also operate the Portsmouth - LeHarve service.
The POSL logo still lives on today, although across the other side of the globe from the English Channel, in Singapore. Austen Maritime Services is purportedly the last joint P&O/Stena operation, and although nothing to do with the Ferries operations, retains the logo.