About Steam Packet Ferries - Information on Routes, Services and Vessels
In 1996, The Steam Packet Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Sea Containers Ltd headed by James Sherwood, who had pioneered the fast craft operation. In July 2003, the Company was sold to Montagu Private Equity for £142 million, previously named HSBC Private Equity Ltd.
In 2005, the company was purchased by major Australian finance firm Macquarie Bank for £225 million, who also bought Wightlink, the Isle of Wight ferry company for £230 million.
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Steam Packet Ferry Fleet
The company originally started utilising wooden paddle steamers, which soon gave way to the steel "screw" vessels. The "screw" vessels were superseded by turbine steamers, the first being the 1905 Viking. The company then replaced the passenger-only steamers with sideloading car ferries, the first diesel car ferry being the 1972 Mona's Queen. Fastcraft then became the next generation of vessels to operate for the company, the first being the HSC SeaCat Isle of Man. The company now operates a mixed fleet of two fastcraft and one RO-PAX conventional ferry, the Ben-my-Chree. In 2009, the Viking fastcraft was recently replaced by HSC Manannan.
The MS Ben-my-Chree is a Ro-Pax vessel that is operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet. The vessel is the company's flagship.
The ship is registered in Douglas, Isle of Man and is the only company ship to sail under the Manx flag. She is the sixth vessel to carry the name.
The Ben-my-Chree was ordered in 1997 by Sea Containers for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, costing around £24 million. She was built by van der Giessen de Noord of the Netherlands. She was brought around to the island from Holland by the late Captain Vernon Kinley.
The 'Ben' was the first new ship built for the company since 1976 and the sixth vessel to be called Ben-my-Chree. The vessel was launched on April 4, 1998 and entered service on Tynwald Day (July 5), and at around 12,000 GRT, she was the largest ship to enter service with the company. The vessel received a lot of criticism due to her low passenger capacity of 500, (carrying no more than 350 per sailing), and the fact she had no open deck for passengers. The Company insisted this was a "comfort level" for the vessel's size. Since then, the island has come to warm to the vessel.
In 2004, the Ben-my-Chree received a major refit, which included a new passenger accommodation section, creating an open deck for passengers, and her stern door was modified. This refit now allowed the Ben-my-Chree to carry her full capacity of 650. On April 2, 2008, the Ben-my-Chree went in for another refit, and it will include a new interior and a new livery. The work is expected to take two weeks.
HSC Manannan is a high-speed catamaran car ferry owned and operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. She arrived in Douglas on 11 May 2009 after a major refit in Portsmouth. As the Joint Venture she saw service in Operation Enduring Freedom around the Horn of Africa. It was renamed after Manannán mac Lir, the Celtic god of the sea, and made its maiden service voyage with the Steam Packet Company on Friday 22 May 2009 sailing from Douglas to Liverpool.
The HSC Snaefell is an Incat WPC74 (Wave Piercing Catamaran, 74 metres), owned and operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet. The vessel is the oldest ship in the company's fleet. She is the sixth vessel to bear the name.
Snaefell was launched as Hoverspeed France for Sea Containers, for use with Hoverspeed, in 1991; and operated as the Sardegna Express on charter, before returning to Hoverspeed as the SeaCat Boulogne. In 1994, she was again renamed to SeaCat Isle of Man, and put on charter to the Isle of Man Steam Packet. She brought with her high charter fees and operation costs; and endangered the career of the MV Lady of Mann, the latter being given a much needed lifeline when a freak wave in the River Mersey encountered by the SeaCat Isle of Man twisted the ship's bow and tore off the water-tight visor. The Steam Packet decided not to continue in chartering the ship from Sea Containers, and she was chartered out to ColorSeaCat as the SeaCat Norge.
She returned to Hoverspeed as the SeaCat Norge; and when her owners bought out the Steam Packet in 1996, she returned to the Irish Sea as the SeaCat Isle of Man once again. Briefly going back to Hoverspeed from 1997-8; she returned to the Steam Packet's service in 1998 until 2005.
SeaCat Isle of Man became Sea Express 1, and operated for Irish Sea Express in 2005. The next year, she returned to the Steam Packet fleet. In February of 2007, the vessel was involved in a serious accident, being badly damaged. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in the accident, but the Sea Express 1 had taken on water quite quickly. Fortunately, by the next day, the ship was stable. The first attempt to tow the ship across the river to drydock had failed, but the second succeeded. In December of 2007, the vessel was renamed Snaefell whilst still under repair. As of 22/12/2007, it looked likely that the Snaefell would be the first vessel to be painted into the new livery for 2008, however this vessel turned out to be the Viking.
Steam Packet HSC Viking (No longer operating)
The HSC Viking, yard number 6000, is a high-speed craft (HSC) operated by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. She is currently operating the Isle of Man - Liverpool route, returning from repairs on 16 March 2007, with Snaefell taking over her Irish duties. She is the second Steam Packet vessel to carry the name. HSC Viking was replaced by HSC Manannan in 2009.
Isle of Man Steam Packet History
Beginnings of Steam Packet Ferries
Isle of Man Steam Packet Ferries originated, as its name suggests, in the Isle of Man, a self-governing democracy located in the Irish Sea at the geographical centre of the British Isles. Although it is not part of the United Kingdom, the Island is a Crown dependency.
There had been various shipping companies serving the Island before the formation of this company in 1830, but such crossings were irregular and vessels used were unreliable. As a result the Island could be cut off for weeks. The Manx people began to feel it was essential that they should have their own dedicated service and eventually a meeting was held in Douglas (the capital of the island) in 1829 from which was formed a committee charged with finding out the cost of a Steam Packet.
On June 30, 1830, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company was born when the brand new vessel, Mona’s Isle, built at a cost of £7,250, sailed from Douglas to Liverpool on its very first sailing. Since that time, the Company has attempted to adhere to its founding principles of providing a dedicated and reliable sea service for the Isle of Man and its people.
Vessels and crews of the company were actively involved in both the World War I and World War II, acquitting themselves with honour in both instances. One vessel, King Orry, which was attached to the British Grand Fleet, had the distinction of leading the German Fleet into Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands at the end of World War I.
During World War I, eleven out of a total fleet of 15 Steam Packet ships were requisitioned by the Admiralty, four of which were lost, three retained by the Government and four returned to service. Another vessel, Viking was one of the first (if not the very first) vessel to be converted to an aircraft carrier, serving as HMS Vindex and, in so doing, making a significant contribution to aviation and maritime history. Ben-my-Chree and Manxman also served as aircraft/seaplane carriers.
In World War II, ten of the fleet of sixteen ships were commandeered for active duty, four of which were lost. The Dunkirk evacuation was perhaps the company's finest hour, with ‘Mona’s Isle’ (not the original ship) being the first to leave Dover and the first to complete the round trip during the evacuation. Eight company ships took part in this historic mission, rescuing a grand total of 24,699 British troops, 1 in 14 of those evacuated from Dunkirk, from surrender or death.
The Steam Packet Company introduced a number of car ferries beginning with the Manx Maid in 1962. It now also operates a fast ferry service with the HSC Viking and the HSC Snaefell.
The Steam Packet Company Today
The company still provides regular services. Both high speed craft and a conventional vessel make up the current fleet. In return for exclusive use of the port areas at Douglas, the Steam Packet Company has made a guarantee of regular services to the Manx Government. In addition to the regular routes, the Company operates a small number of special day excursions to other destinations or round the Isle of Man during the summer months. Extra sailings are scheduled during times of high demand such as the TT period. The company also operates its own in-house travel agency.
In June of 2007, a new CEO, Mark Woodward, was appointed and since then has promised to improve the company's services and to return to the classic livery and promote the Island's culture.
The first part of the rebranding was first exercised with the Sea Express 1 becoming Snaefell and SuperSeaCat Two becoming Viking. The fleet received a brand new livery, replacing the old SeaCo livery, much to the delight of enthusiasts. The vessels received complete internal refits which reflected the company's new colours and the rebranding of the company's on board lounges.
The terminals also received rebranding, with the announcements being accompanied by "Moghrey mie" (Good morning) or "Fastyr mie" (Good afternoon/evening), obviously depending on what time it is. The company's first class and members club were renamed, with 1st becoming the Manannan Premium Club and the Blue Riband became the Manannan Executive Club respectively.
Isle of Man Steam Packet Company - Related and Alternative Ferry Companies