Gianluigi Aponte's Mediterranean Shipping Co (MSC) has been widely reported as buying two large P&O Ferries ropaxes that have been laid up since January.

The sales are some of the very few deals that have seen ropaxes sold for further trading since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 31,800-gt sisterships Pride of Bruges and Pride of York (both built 1987) are said to have been sold to an MSC-linked company based in Cyprus that will in turn charter them to the Swiss liner giant’s Italian ferry arm Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV).

Citing an internal email distributed by P&O Ferries to staff on Thursday, news website NIFerry reported that the Pride of York was handed over to GNV earlier this week and a new Italian crew had embarked for a delivery voyage to Naples, where the ship will be renamed GNV Aries.

The handover of the Pride of Bruges was said to be imminent.

Both vessels, which can carry 1,050 passengers and have 2,230 lane metres of vehicle space, were purpose-built for P&O to operate between Hull, Rotterdam and Zeebrugge.

The duo were withdrawn from service in January this year and laid up in the Netherlands pending a sale.

GNV, with over a dozen ropaxes, is one of Italy’s largest ferry companies, operating both domestic services and long-distance routes linking Italy with Morocco and Tunisia.

MSC bought a controlling interest in the company via Aponte-controlled Marinvest, which holds a 57.4% stake in the company. The rest is held by private equity interests.

Neither P&O Ferries nor GNV could be contacted outside of European office hours.