The Irish Sea Shipping Archive

About ISSContactContentVoyage ReportsISS Amazon Shop
PhotographsFeaturesShip AISShips on FilmNews
Finished With Engines: Irish Sea Shipping is now closed to new updates - J.H. Luxton Photography - Transport, Industrial History, Regional Photographs UK & beyond



31 January 1999


A quieter week this week as far as news is concerned! However, there are several major updates to the site. Philip Parker has forwarded some more of his excellent photographs, the first of which, were well received last week. The views from the Bridge of ATLANTIC COMPASS battling through a storm in the Atlantic are quite impressive!

Gary Andrews has a history of Norse Irish Ferries Belfast - Liverpool service to which I have added some of my photographs of the various vessels, which have operated on the route. The Query section has also been updated.


SUPERSEACAT TWO remains in Wright and Bayer's dry dock.

SEACAT DANMARK is undergoing refit at Canada Graving Dock, Liverpool.

PEVERIL remains laid up in Vittoria Dock.

ATLANTIC II: You are probably thinking what's that?! Apparently it looks as though ATLANTIC II, the former SEACAT TASMANIA/CALAIS will end her long-term charter in South America and return to Newhaven for lay up in the next few months. However, she apparently lacks the ride control system which was subsequently fitted to the UK based Incat vessels.

Printed timetables for the Isle of Man services are now available and reveal probably the most intensive Douglas - Heysham/Liverpool service operated for some time. The timetable is valid until 11 March 2000. One of the longest running Steam Packet timetables ever?

The new timetable reveals that SEACAT ISLE OF MAN will operate between 31 March and 31 October on Douglas - Liverpool  and from 2 April to 26 October on Douglas - Dublin. From 30 September to 31 October Douglas - Liverpool operates Friday to Sunday only. Douglas - Belfast is operated by SEACAT DANMARK.

SUPERSEACAT TWO will operate Liverpool - Douglas between 18 March and 29 March 1999.

SUPERSEACAT THREE will operate Liverpool - Douglas between November 5 - December 30 as well as some sailings during the TT.

BEN-MY CHREE operates exclusively Douglas - Heysham except for two round trips at Christmas between Douglas and Dublin. She will be withdrawn for refit from 6 January to 2 February 2000. Douglas - Heysham passenger services being covered by the LADY OF MANN. As for freight perhaps we might just see the PEVERIL back in service for old time sake?

LADY OF MANN some additional sailings have been included for the Half Term week in February 1999 beyond those advertised in the winter timetable leaflet. The annual Llandudno - Douglas and Fleetwood - Douglas sailings will run as follows: 

Llandudno - Douglas: Wednesday 26 May - Llandudno dep 10.00, Douglas dep 19.00

Fleetwood - Douglas: Thursday 27 May Fleetwood dep 10.00, Douglas dep 19.00

The Lady then spends the TT operating out from Heysham with one exception - the 18.45 Douglas - Liverpool on 28 May and 01.00 return working on 29 May.

The LADY OF MANN then reappears for the summer operating Friday to Sundays from 23 July to 12 September on the Heysham route. She is then due to operate Douglas - Heysham [Monday - Thursday] and Douglas - Liverpool [Friday - Sunday] from 6 January to 2 February 2000. During this period the BEN-MY-CHREE is withdrawn for her first refit. From 3 February to 11 March the LADY operates Douglas - Liverpool Friday to Monday with an additional sailings over the half-term week.

SEACAT DANMARK will make an appearance on Douglas to Heysham route as will the CLAYMORE during the TT period.

Advanced timetables issued in 1998 for the TT period suggested a much cut down operation from Liverpool; however, this has not proved to be the case, though the service from Heysham has been enhanced.

All in all this must be the most ambitious and interesting timetable operated on the Isle of Man Steam Packet routes for many a year and makes very interesting comparison with that on offer just 5 years ago when SEACAT ISLE OF MAN made her first appearance! Well done Sea Co! The only grouse from enthusiasts is the fact that all scheduled sailings from Liverpool Landing Stage from mid March 1999 to until early January 2000 will be by SEACAT/SUPERSEACAT with just one exception. Though perhaps the weather will be kind [unkind?] permitting the LADY to make some unscheduled appearances?!


An attempt by myself to book a ticket for the Liverpool - Dublin service was not very successful on 30 January. The Liverpool office was closed. After phoning the Dublin reservations number I was informed that the service would probably not be starting until the end of February. Though freight might be conveyed before then. When I stated that I had heard the service was due to start on the 15th I was told it might, but then gain it should have started last summer. The clerk appeared rather apologetic and pointed out that no definite decision had been made and no bookings could be accepted.

An article in the Saturday evening edition of the Liverpool Echo confirmed that passenger facilities would not be offered until 1 March though it is claimed that a freight will commence on 15 February. The delay is blamed on the late delivery of the delivery of the second vessel BRAVE MERCHANT.

LATEST NEWS - Sunday 31 January Mersey Radio Movements Statement reports BRAVE MERCHANT will arrive at Langton Lock at 19.30 today.


Duke Class Type 23 Frigate HMS MONMOUTH [F235], which was noted in Canada #2 Branch Dock on Saturday 23 January, departed on Tuesday 26 January.

Local press speculation has been mounting that one of the new proposed RN aircraft carriers might be constructed at Cammell Laird on the part of the site retained by GEC-Marconi - successors to the previous proprietors VSEL.


A flotilla of small minesweepers from Norway, Germany, Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands wearing NATO insignia on their funnels berthed at the north side of Canada #1 Branch Dock.

The vessels comprising the flotilla: VIDAR and RAUMA [M352], of Norway; DORDRECHT [M852] of the Netherlands; CROCUS [M917] of Belgium and FRANKENTHAL [M1066] of Germany and SANDOWN [M101] of UK. On Saturday morning they were receiving bunkers from road tankers.

Of these ships the most interesting by far was the unusual looking Alta Class minesweeper RAUMA [M352] from Norway. From the stern she is clearly twin hull but this is not clear from the very blunt flat fronted bow. However, consulting Jane's Fighting Ships confirms that she is indeed a twin hull vessel, she also has a top speed of 25 knots significantly higher than other members of the flotilla.

Photos of the vessels will follow in the next week or two!


This week's movements around Seaforth included.

NORASIA SHEBA arrived on Tuesday afternoon's tide and sailed in the early hours of Wednesday.

ATLANTIC CONCERT arrived on Monday on the eastbound leg from Halifax N.S. Concert is now eastbound to Gothenburg having called at Antwerp and Bremerhaven. The westbound calls commence from Gothenburg then call Antwerp before final call Liverpool 8/9th Feb.

Cast vessels call at Seaforth on either east bound or west bound voyages, this week two vessels worked at the same time during Friday 29th.

Other vessels this week included short-sea Gracechurch Line and regular services for Andrew Weir Shipping to Portugal, Spain and the Mediterranean.


The following item of news does not refer to Irish Sea operations but will be of interest to all enthusiasts and could perhaps have interesting repercussions for the vessels used on P&O's Irish Sea operations when the present north sea vessels are subsequently redeployed.

A press release issued this week by P&O ran as follows:

P&O North Sea Ferries has ordered the world's two largest cruise ferries from the Italian yard Fincantieri. With a gross tonnage of 60,600 grt, they will be built to the same high specification that Fincantieri has applied so successfully to the cruise ships it has built for P&O's Princess subsidiary and other leading operators.

The first cruise ferry will be for delivery in April 2001 and the second in December 2001. The cruise ferries will operate on the route between Rotterdam and Hull. They will have a maximum speed of 22 knots, which will enable them to reduce the journey time by 2.5 hours. They will replace four ships now operating on the route with those ships in turn enabling P&O North Sea Ferries' tonnage on other routes to be upgraded.

Each ferry will cost approximately £90 million. The cruise ferries will be able to carry 1.360 passengers and 136 crew. There will be a specially designed deck for 250 cars that will be reached through a separate entrance on the side of the ship. The three cargo decks will have a capacity of 3,400 running metres. In addition there will be 1,500 running metres for double stacked containers. In total each cruise ferry will be capable of carrying approximately 400 freight units. The freight will be loaded through the stern ramp.

Not only will the two new ferries be the largest and amongst the fastest in the world, they will introduce a new concept in luxury accommodation and innovative facilities. There will be 546 passenger cabins, all with private facilities. In addition the Suites and StateRooms will have panoramic views and their own sitting areas. There will be a range of catering facilities including a buffet restaurant, an à la carte restaurant with international cuisine and a continental style café. There will be a wine bar and an Irish pub, while our younger passengers will be able to surf the internet in a new Cyber Café. Live entertainment will be provided in a two-tiered Sunset Show Lounge with cabaret style seating. There will be a casino while on the top deck a Sky Lounge will be created to provide spectacular views. There will also be a special

children's play area. The two cinemas, which will feature the latest films, can be converted into conference rooms. For the first time on a P&O North Sea Ferries vessel there will be a business centre with facilities for meetings of up to 12 people.

Our popular shops will offer an even wider selection of articles, ranging from designer label leisurewear to cosmetics, jewellery, CDs, magazines and toys.

Commenting on the announcement, Graeme Dunlop, Chairman of P&O Ferries, said: "These will be the largest and best appointed cruise ferries in the world. Passenger accommodation will be of the same standard as the very latest cruise ships and freight capacity will be vastly greater than any existing ferry. This will enable us to further improve the quality of service that we offer to our passengers and to our freight customers."

Technical Data

Building yard: Fincantieri, Marghera Yard,

Venice Delivery dates: April 2001 and December 2001

Flag: to be decided later

Gross tonnage: 60,600 GRT

Deadweight tonnage: 8850 T

Length: 215 m

Breadth: 31.5 m

Draught: 6 m

Passenger capacity: 1360

Cabins: 546

Cargo: 250 cars; and 285 x 12 m units plus 125 x 12 m double stacked containers or 3400 running metres plus 1500 running metres double stacked

Engine power: 37,800 kW

Service speed: 22 Knots

Stabilizers: 2

Crew: 136

Technical consulting: Three Quays Marine Services, London

Interior designer: Tilbury Design, London office (SMC Design)"


The editorial of 22 January 1998 in Northern Ireland’s leading newspaper The Belfast Telegraph discussed the recent changes announced to the North Channel operation of Sea Containers and posed two important questions.

The first was that "political stability" was vital to the ferry operations of Northern Ireland. The massive expansion of Northern Ireland ferry services can only be supported if the tourist traffic to Northern Ireland grows.

Whilst one doesn’t want to state doom and gloom it is likely that if there should be a return to major terrorist incidents in Northern Ireland it is highly likely this element of the ferry firms’ plans are in trouble. Following the Omagh atrocity last year and the events connected with Drumcree in the past few years, many tourists have cancelled their planned Northern Ireland holidays (unsurprisingly.

Therefore, the ferry industry in Northern Ireland will be fighting two battles (I) Between each other for trade and (II) That matters outside it’s control have minimal effect on business.

The second argument was rather less depressing but very important. Quite simply, perhaps ferry operators need proper price wars on the North Channel.

I have often argued the ferry industry needs low cost operators such as the

Easyjet and Go Airlines. Sally Direct did give this idea a go and it is arguable it was circumstances outside its control that did not allow this experiment to truly come of age. However, I quite confidently say that if I could afford the set up expenses of opening a low budget ferry operation I believe it could be profitable.

Admittedly older ferries would have to be used with mass catering (like Motorway service stations); onboard shops would have a poor range etc and foreign (or at least cheap local) crews used. But come on, somebody somewhere has got to give this a "Go", if it worked for the airlines I don’t see how it couldn’t work for ferries.

Surveys have shown that (especially on short haul crossings) most people choose a service based on 1.Price and 2.Route, other factors such as the range of fast food outlets and crummy pub bands come way down the list!

The rumour mill is back in full grind at P&O, though this time it doesn’t seem impossible. One source at P&O has told me that the firm is building two ro-pax vessels in Japan. One vessel would replace the Pride of Rathlin on the Larne – Cairnryan route and the other (slighter longer version) would operate on the Portsmouth – Cherbourg route. The vessels would be similar to the ro-pax vessels built in recent years by Van der Geissen for Irish Ferries, the Isle of Man Steam Packet etc.

I don’t know how true this rumour is, but the long-term solution for the Larne – Cairnryan service, if a similar service as present is to be offered, are two ships such as those mentioned above and a bigger and more powerful fast ferry. It should be remembered noted that P&O recently publicly stated their intention to introduce new tonnage onto the Irish Sea routes

John Luxton

31 January 1999


24 January 1999


After announcing the reopening the Heysham - Belfast route just over a week ago, Sea Containers has announced that it is to open a Belfast - Troon route. I did post a special news bulletin on 20 January. 

 SEACAT DANMARK: SCD arrived back on Merseyside on 20 January, originally berthing at Canada #1 Branch Dock adjacent to the Canada Graving Dock. On Saturday 23 January she transferred to the graving dock for her annual refit by Wright and Bayer. When I arrived to take some photos at around 10.00 she was just settling onto the blocks as the water was pumped out. Her liferafts and MES were noted to be removed, presumably this had been undertaken whilst she was waiting to gain access to the graving dock.

SUPERSEACAT TWO remains in Wright and Bayer's dry dock.

PEVERIL remains laid up in Vittoria Dock.

PICASSO departed from Vittoria Dock, where she has been resident for around one year locking out at Alfred River entrance on 20 January at 21.30. She is expected to commence operations on the channel with Falcon Seafreight between Folkestone-Boulogne. This service was originally a Falcon/Sea Containers joint venture. PICASSO arrived at Birkenhead when Sea Containers withdrew from the partnership.

BEN-MY-CHREE: Monday's daytime sailing was cancelled, passengers being diverted to the LADY OF MANN for travel via Liverpool.

LADY OF MANN: The Lady had an extra day out this week covering for the BEN-MY-CHREE, which did not operate the Monday daytime sailings due to bad weather. She returned to Alexandra Dock on Tuesday morning.

SEACAT SCOTLAND has recommenced operations on the Belfast - Stranraer service following withdrawal of SEACAT DANMARK for refit.

Last week I was informed that the new timetables would all is available at the end of the month. On 23 January I was browsing round the Albert Dock tourist information centre and picked up a leaflet for the Heysham - Belfast service. However, apart from the timetable and one specimen single fare for a car and driver there is no other information apart from phone numbers is given. An attractive SeaCo Irish Sea route map rather along the lines of those old steamer route maps, which showed the appropriate vessel underway along its route also, appears on the leaflet. Wonder what made the artist place the BEN-MY-CHREE on the Liverpool route along with a SeaCat? The LADY OF MANN is shown on the Heysham route, which she will operate on at weekends in peak summer. On the back is the Liverpool - Dublin schedules.



Not content with rapid expansion in the past few years such as the Dover – Ostend venture and Liverpool – Dublin routes Sea Containers announced two new services last week and then another service this week.

Following intense speculation Sea Containers confirmed that they would be launching a Belfast – Troon service. The service will see a significant scaling down on the Stranraer operation for much of the year and the following sailing pattern will be offered.

From 29 April until 30 September there will be two return trips on the new 2.5 hour Troon route, ex Belfast at 0700 and 1800 and one return trip to Stranraer taking 90 minutes and leaving Belfast at 1330. Whilst the current plan is to revert to a full Stranraer service outside the peak seasons the firm is understood to be willing to consider a year round service if thought to be successful. The SEACAT SCOTLAND will be used on both services.

From my reading of the sailing plan I suspect if Sea Containers were truly committed to the Stranraer service an extra daily round trip to Stranraer could be offered. Currently up to five daily round trips are offered to Stranraer meaning that the craft only has an overnight layover period of 2.5 hours so the firm is certainly not unwilling to keep the vessel busy! I suspect the reality is that the firm doesn’t wish to close the door on a Stranraer operation especially given the long-standing rivalry with Stena.

Hamish Ross, Managing Director of Sea Containers Irish Sea operations today said:

"We are confident that this route with excellent road and rail connections with Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ayr will be a great success".

Tourist chiefs have welcomed the development with Ian Henderson of the Northern Ireland Tourist Board commenting:" This is one of the most exciting developments of a fast ferry route between the traditional Scottish and Northern Ireland market".

Sea Containers say the new service is based on market research that shows demand for ferry services that get people closer to where they want to go. It has to be said the Troon service will prove very popular being so close to the seaside town of Ayr, a very popular destination for Northern Ireland tourists.

An introductory offer on the service will see a three-day return for a car plus four passengers costing just £125.

In response to the new operation Stena say they are not concerned and feel that passengers prefer a longer drive and shorter ferry crossing. With Sea Containers arguing the converse I believe that both operators are correct. Quite simply you will save little actual time using the Troon or Heysham services over the Loch Ryan operations. If you used either of the two (depending on whether you heading North or South) instead the Loch Ryan services you’d probably end up at your destination at the same time as if you’d used Stranraer or Cairnryan.

However the choice is therefore not overall journey time but the hassle factor. If you find travelling by sea a hassle, use Loch Ryan crossings, if you hate long journeys by car then use the new Seacat services. It’s simply all about choice!

It is also fair to say the Loch Ryan services (and the Port of Larne) have suffered from a poor road network and it was inevitable this would happen sooner or later.

As a result of the changed service the SEACAT SCOTLAND will be based in Belfast instead of Stranraer. Around fifty crew affected by the change will be invited to keep their jobs if they are willing to move to Belfast. In my experience this hasn’t really proved a problem for other operators with many Scottish crew on the Jetliner willing to stay in local guesthouses during their working period.

It may be useful at this point to recap on the Heysham service. The SEACAT DANMARK will open a new Belfast – Heysham service on 31 March, running initially to 27 September. Sailings will be offered from Belfast at 0730 daily and 1715 Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Sailings from Heysham will be offered daily at 1215 and Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 2200. The Belfast - Douglas route will operate on Thursdays and Sundays at 1715 ex Belfast and 2115 return with a roundtrip offered at the same times on Tuesdays during the peak summer period.

Interestingly the SEACAT DANMARK has been quoted as having a capacity for 500 passengers and one wonders whether this means that firm plans to increase capacity from the current level of 432.

Belfast Harbour Commissioners have welcomed the news of the Heysham service. Gordon Irwin, Chief Executive of the Port of Belfast said the development would consolidate Belfast’s position as the centre of fast ferry operations. Mr Irwin said: "We are delighted to the see the old Heysham route being reinstated, and think this seasonal service will prove popular."

The new service will create 100 jobs; 20 at the Belfast terminal and 80 aboard the SEACAT DANMARK.

Seacat have already been advertising these posts in the Northern Ireland press. The service is currently due to run from 31 March until 27 September, however, speculation today suggested that the service may be made year-round if proved a success.

The Heysham service was one of the ferry industry’s worst kept secrets with most newspapers having revealed details months ago. A travel supplement with one newspaper published two days after the announcement included a holiday that would include travel on the new service, either quick planning or many people had already been made aware of the plans.

The final doubts about a change to the North Channel operations came when asked on television about whether the Heysham service would affect the Stranraer route, Hamish Ross said:

"We remain committed to a Scottish service [from Belfast]".

Whilst the Troon service clearly affects the Stranraer services, both recently announced routes place a long-term question over the future dominance of North Channel operations. If both routes prove a success we may well see Stena and P&O moving in that direction. In the past Stena have been linked with a Belfast – Birkenhead or Belfast – Holyhead operation instead of the current Stranraer route.

Meanwhile, P&O European Ferries are again being linked with a Clydeport route (my understanding is that this rumour originates from the fact that the Ardrossan service could already be considered a Clydeport route and if any new improved port was built it is likely the service would move). There will always be a place for the Loch Ryan routes; it is purely a question about future capacity."


Commencement of operations has been postponed until 15 February due to late delivery of the second vessel BRAVE MERCHANT.

On Friday evening DAWN MERCHANT was seen bow on to the berth at Canada #3 Dock with bow doors lightly open and the interior ramp just visible, whilst on Saturday morning workmen where seen with jackhammers breaking up the concrete recently laid on the modified quay edging. Presumably there must be some need for modifications.


Duke Class Type 23Frigate HMS MONMOUTH [F235] was noted in Canada #2 Branch Dock on Saturday. In Canning Half Tide basin the 1998 commissioned Sandown Class Minesweeper HMS PENZANCE [M106] was berthed.


Clive Jackson sent the following news from Fleetwood:

European Pioneer returned to Fleetwood on 14.1.99. She now sports 2 angled pipes extending from her funnel.

The fence around the former [IoM Terminal] car park adjacent to the ro/ro berth reported last week appears to have two large gates at the northern end (IOM berth end). At least one of the gates will be for access by tankers bringing bunkers.

On Merseyside an advertisement appeared in the Liverpool Echo which suggests P&O are to begin promoting cars and accompanying passenger traffic on the Liverpool [Seaforth] - Dublin route. Under the heading "Plain Sailing with P&O's Value Route" the company claims to offer "A no frills crossing saving miles of motorway driving ... with fares from as little as £60 per person based on a car plus two passengers." Bookings on 0151-802-1442


Apparently the British Nuclear Cargo ships operated by PACIFIC NUCLEAR TRANSPORT Ltd which are managed by James Fisher and Sons are to be fitted with naval guns in a bid to deter seaborne terrorist assaults on deadly weapons grade material.

Some equipment may be of similar calibre to that carried on Royal Navy frigates, including Oerlikons and heavy machine guns.

Recently the US Maritime Administration warned American vessels that Osama bin Laden, the Islamic Fundamentalist Leader could pose a threat to shipping.

As an additional precaution, Pacific Nuclear Transport's vessels will in future travel in convoys of two when carrying plutonium or mixed oxide fuel from Europe to Japan.

Whilst the arming of red ensign flagged merchant shipping was common practice in WWII and on china routes during the Chinese Revolution it something rather unusual these days.

This decision could entail substantial costs for the world's only operator of nuclear cargo carriers - in which state-owned British Nuclear Fuels has a controlling interest - as one of the vessels will have to sail in ballast if no cargo is available. Though because the step is being taken to comply with Japan's diplomatic obligations, the majority of the cost will probably be borne by the customer.

The refit work involved has already been allocated to a suitable shipyard, though its identity has not yet been released at this stage.



SeaTruck Ferries MOONDANCE departed Cammell Lairds shortly after 22.30 on Monday 18 January.

Current vessels in the wet basin: P&O's PRIDE OF RATHLIN, crane barge LM BALDUR plus the two Fisher tankers. PEREGRINE VII remains in #5 Dry Dock. The company's share price surged to record levels on Friday 22 January closing at £7.25 its highest ever since the company's stockmarket floatation in Summer 1997.

John Luxton

24 January 1999

Home Up Next


20 January 1999

The following is an extract from a Sea Containers Press release concerning the commencement of a Belfast - Troon SeaCat service.

"The fast ferry revolution is set to arrive at Troon, in Ayrshire, in April.

A new 2½ hour service direct to the heart of Belfast, Northern Ireland by SeaCat, the £20 million wave-piercing high speed catamaran, was announced today by Sea Containers.

The route will open for business on 29 April and marks a further expansion of Sea Containers' Irish Sea Operations which now offers the largest network of services with nine routes.

Managing Director of Sea Containers Irish Sea Operations, Mr Hamish Ross, said: "We are delighted to be launching this new service from Troon. We now offer the widest choice for ferry travel on the Irish Sea and are confident the route, with excellent road and rail connections with Glasgow, Edinburgh and Ayr, will be a great success. SeaCat with its dedicated terminal will ensure passengers are just minutes away from Belfast City centre and the motorway and rail connections to the rest of Northern Ireland.

"We continue to be at the forefront of ferry travel and are sure this latest development will boost tourism on both sides of the Irish Sea," he said.

Sea Containers pioneered fast ferry travel on the Irish Sea when it first introduced SeaCat in 1992. It had a major impact on the market for ferries between Scotland and Northern Ireland and for the first time day trips became a practical reality.

The schedule, which includes a revised timetable for the 90 minute Belfast-Stranraer service, is as follows.

Depart Belfast 0700 Arrive Troon 0930

Depart Troon 1015 Arrive Belfast 1245

Depart Belfast 1330 Arrive Stranraer 1500

Depart Stranraer 1545 Arrive Belfast 1715

Depart Belfast 1800 Arrive Troon 2030

Depart Troon 2100 Arrive Belfast 2330

An introductory fare offer for the service will start at £125 for a 3-day return for a car plus four passengers (valid until 31 May). A special 'early bird' introductory offer of 25 per cent discount off brochure fares for travel between 21 June and 31 August if booked and paid for before 26 March is currently available. The offer cannot be used in conjunction with any other offer. Foot passenger fares start from £20 for a 3-day return.

The timetable for the service will operate seven days a week until 30 September. Reservations can be made by calling 08705 523 523.

Port Manager of ABP's Ports of Ayr and Troon, Douglas Morrison, said: "I am delighted to welcome SeaCat to the Port of Troon, providing a natural and strategic gateway to Northern Ireland from Central Scotland. I believe that this business will be of great benefit to the port and the local community."


17 January 1999


The major news this week is the company's announcement that the Belfast to Heysham route will reopen on the 31 March. Closed on 5 April 1975 by British Railways the route was once the preserve of the turbine steamers DUKE OF LANCASTER and DUKE OF ARGYLL. As this was a major news story I did update the News Bulletin page on Monday 11 January with a news bulletins supplied by Gary Andrews. Given below are further details taken from the press release.

"An historic Irish Sea ferry route is being restored after nearly a quarter of a century. Sea Containers announced today (11 January 1999) that it would launch a new direct SeaCat fast ferry service from Heysham in the North West of England to Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 31 March 1999.

The announcement marks a further expansion in Sea Containers' considerable network of Irish Sea routes, which includes services between Liverpool and Dublin; Douglas and Heysham, Liverpool, Belfast, and Dublin; Stranraer and Belfast and Campbeltown and Ballycastle.

SEACAT DANMARK, a wave-piercing catamaran capable of speeds of 36 knots and of carrying 80 cars and 500 passengers, will operate on the route. The schedule will be as follows, with a crossing time of just four hours:

Depart Belfast 0730 (Daily) Arrive Heysham 1130

Depart Heysham 1215 (Daily) Arrive Belfast 1615

Depart Belfast 1715 (Mon,Wed,Fri,Sat) Arrive Heysham 2115

Depart Heysham 2200 (Mon,Wed,Fri,Sat) Arrive Belfast 0200

The vessel will also operate a service between Douglas and Belfast. The schedule will be as follows, with a crossing time of 2 hrs 45 minutes.

Depart Belfast 1715 (Sun,Thur) Arrive Douglas 2000

Depart Douglas 2115 (Sun,Thur) Arrive Belfast 2359

[An additional return journey will be operated on Tuesdays during the summer peak season]

Hamish Ross, Managing Director of Sea Containers' Irish Sea Operations, said: "This service will provide a dramatic boost for tourism on both sides of the Irish Sea. We fully expect this service to be a great success. Both Belfast and Heysham have excellent road and rail links making access to the ports easy and saving journey time for passengers.

"There is great potential to capitalise on the 'peace dividend' in Northern Ireland, whilst on the English side the service will give easy access to the Lake District, Blackpool and the local Lancaster/Morecambe areas which are all popular tourist destinations. Our network of routes on the Irish Sea give our customers great choice and flexibility."

Heysham Port, which is owned by Sea Containers, has become one of the busiest ports in the North West. Last year 300,000 freight vehicles and 200,000 passengers passed through the port.

The new ferry services will run until 27 September. Reservations and ticket prices are available by calling 08705 523523."

The timings are very attractive. Obviously new day excursion facilities are opened up for visitors from Ireland wishing to visit the Lancashire resort of Morecambe or the historic town of Lancashire. For weekends, short breaks and longer holidays Blackpool is only a short journey away and is made much more easily accessible to a large area of Ireland.

Enhanced travel opportunities are also available for those living in the North West of England with the reopening of this historic route. Thus providing alternative travel options to the great way round via Stranraer, or to the facilities offered by Norse Irish from Liverpool or P&O from Fleetwood which has recently started to promote the carriage of passengers and private cars. English enthusiasts will be pleased to note that the timetable does permit "there and back" day trips from Heysham to Belfast on four days per week! 

SEACAT DANMARK: An Onchan resident was fined £350 and ordered to pay £50 costs by Deputy High Bailiff Michael Moyle in Douglas last week. Norman Osbourne was seen by the Douglas harbour master to ride his jet ski alongside SEACAT DANMARK as it left Douglas Harbour bound for Liverpool at 16.00 on 13 September 1998 despite the vessel sounding its horn in warning. The defendant claimed not to have initially seen SCD and when he did he decided to accelerate to get out of the way.

SUPERSEACAT TWO remains in Wright and Bayer's dry dock. Figures reveal that between start of service on 12 March and 31 December, 1998, the vessel carried 309,000 passengers and 58,000 vehicles. SUPERSEACAT TWO will reopen the service on 11 March. Timings on the Liverpool - Dublin route will be slightly revised from last year with Liverpool departures at 08.00 and 17.45 and Dublin departures at 12.45 and 22.45. She is likely to be withdrawn from Irish Sea operations around 7 April and will probably proceed to Newhaven to reopen the Newhaven - Dieppe route currently operated by P&O Stena Line service which is closing on 31 January 1999. It appears that Sea Containers may extend the service to year round operation before the end of the advertised timetable.

SUPERSEACAT THREE is likely to enter service between Liverpool and Dublin around 7 April. She will have enhanced shopping and catering facilities, a larger duty free shop, improved bar area and an extra food outlet.

SEACAT ISLE OF MAN looks as though she will be returning to the Irish Sea to operate the Douglas - Liverpool and Douglas - Dublin routes.

PEVERIL & PICASSO remain laid up in Vittoria Dock.

BEN-MY-CHREE: An announcement made at a local WSS branch meeting has revealed that we will not be seeing the BEN on Merseyside this year.

LADY OF MANN: Its pleasing to note that it does not look as though the Lady will be going away for a summer holiday in 1999 and will operate as follows:

January - March Liverpool - Douglas [Friday to Monday]

After Easter: Student Games sailings

Pre TT: Fleetwood and Llandudno specials [subject to confirmation]

TT duty: Heysham to Douglas mainly

July - September: Friday - Sunday: Douglas dep 12.00 - Heysham dep 16.30

SEACAT SCOTLAND will recommence operations on the Belfast - Stranraer service currently being operated by SEACAT DANMARK. She is currently laid up at Belfast.

CLAYMORE will operate Campbeltown - Ballycastle

Enquiries at the Liverpool terminal revealed that the main 1999 printed timetables should be available at the end of January.

Apparently no services will operate on 1 January 2000 according to a report in the Manx Independent. The company denies it has anything to do with the so called millennium bug pointing out it is a bank holiday and the staff will want a day off. Of course the growing number of Y2K conspiracy theorists may think otherwise!

NEWHAVEN - DIEPPE by Garry Andrews

[Whilst outside the immediate scope of Mersey Shipping this is of interest as it effects Sea Containers services.]

P&O Stena Line yesterday confirmed they would close the Newhaven – Dieppe service on 31 January. 80 shore staff in Newhaven, 68 in Dieppe and the 118 French crew aboard the STENA CAMBRIA will lose their jobs.

The final sailing will be at 21.30 from Newhaven on Sunday 31 January. The news has been met with tears amongst those working on the service. The future of the STENA CAMBRIA is unknown but with her crew being made redundant her future with P&O Stena Line does not look good. The vessel’s refit has been brought forward from 22 February to immediately after the service ceases. The announcement has been criticised by local politicians.

Sea Containers have announced a SuperSeaCat service will operate on the route from 10 April to 31 October with a year-round operation considered before the service ceases at the end of October. With Dublin’s SUPERSEACAT TWO due to be replaced by the SUPERSEACAT THREE around 7 April it is envisaged the former vessel will be used on the service.


Local press reports indicate that the periscope on U-boat U534, which is preserved by the Warship Preservation Trust at Birkenhead, has been made moveable again for the first time in 54 years.

The periscope had been corroded into place when seawater penetrated the interior of the submarine following its sinking by the RAF in May 1945 just prior to the end of WWII. This summer it is hoped to fit a new conning tower to the vessel. Apprentices at the Laird Foundation are currently constructing the new conning tower.

The Warship Preservation Trust hopes to engage the German manufacturers of the periscope in its full restoration, which will enable visitors to operate the periscope mechanism.


What is believed to be the largest cargo of fertiliser has been discharged in the port of Liverpool. The IRAN MOTAHARI [35,000 tonnes] arrived from Bahrain with the first export shipment to Europe from a new fertiliser plant. Part of the cargo was discharged at Gladstone Dock, the vessel conveyed the remainder across the river to Cavendish Quay, Birkenhead.

The Iranian national shipping line IRSL operates the IRAN MOTAHARI. With a length of 197 metres, 24.6 metres beam and 8.5 metres draft IRAN MOTAHARI is one of the largest vessels to enter the Birkenhead Dock system.


The DAWN MERCHANT has remained at the company's Canada Dock terminal during the week.


PRIDE OF RATHLIN arrived at Cammell Laird on the morning tide of 13 January and is currently is the wet basin.

Clive Jackson has sent some notes on P&O operations at Fleetwood. With EUROPEAN PIONEER in Cammell Laird for refit she was replaced on the Fleetwood - Larne service by EUROPEAN NAVIGATOR which maintained the service whilst EUROPEAN SEAFARER was in Wright and Bayer's yard at Birkenhead. EUROPEAN HIGHLANDER operated an extra sailing on the route on 30/12/1998.

Clive also states that the car park adjacent to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Terminal at Fleetwood is now being used as a trailer park by P&O and is being fenced off.

As the car park was used by passengers travelling to Douglas and for marshalling vehicles prior to boarding this action probably does signal the end of any prospect of IoMSPCo services recommencing on a regular basis. The SeaCat gangway and LADY OF MANN vehicle ramp remain at Fleetwood.


Current vessels in the wet basin: SeaTruck's MOONDANCE, P&O's PRIDE OF RATHLIN, crane barge LM BALDUR plus two Fisher tankers. One is the WESTGATE, can't identify the other. PEREGRINE VII remains in #5 Dry Dock  

John Luxton

17 January 1999

Home Up Next

11 January 1999


Hamish Ross, Managing Director of Sea Containers Irish Sea Services today announced in Belfast that a Belfast – Heysham service would commence on 31 March 1999.

The service, using the SEACAT DANMARK, will initially be seasonal and operate until 22 September 1999 with a firm possibility that if the service is a success it may become year round. The crossing is expected to take around four hours and there will be 2 round trips per day 4 days per week with 1 round trip per day 3 days per week.

On those days where only 1 round trip is offered to Heysham a round trip will be offered from Belfast to Douglas. From my reading of this information I suspect the SEACAT DANMARK  will therefore not be serving Dublin. It also means there will be more Belfast – Douglas sailings than ever before, who says Sea Containers aren’t committed to the Isle Of Man routes?

100 jobs will be created, mainly in Belfast, as the fast ferry will be locally crewed. Prices on the service will start from £189 each way for a car and driver and the firm says that prices are approximately 10 – 15% higher than the Stranraer service due to the increased costs. However, given the savings in time and petrol it will be very competitively priced compared to the North Channel services.

Hamish Ross stated that extensive market research has shown great support for the service and along with the "peace process" in Northern Ireland there is a hope of much traffic originating from Heysham. Stranraer bound passengers heading south of the England/Scotland border questioned by the BBC indicated support for the new service. One can expect that the North Channel services may lose some custom to the new service. Although there is also likely to be considerable "new custom" developed. For example, I would suspect many Blackpool holidaymakers will use the new route (Blackpool being very popular with Northern Ireland people). Put simply, a majority of those tourists using the Stranraer and Cairnryan routes are not going to Scotland and the new route will save a 150-mile drive. Interestingly the TV pictures showed the SEACAT DANMARK arriving in Belfast with the SEACAT SCOTLAND (understood to be re-entering service on the Stranraer route very soon) laid up.

I’m sure much to Stena’s disappointment, the Stranraer service has been given a quiet vote of confidence by today’s announcement that shows that the current service will continue without change (at least for the time being).

Despite much prediction there was no mention of a service to a port on the Clyde. There had been rumours of a Glasgow/Ardrossan/Troon service instead of or as well as the Stranraer route.

It is worth remembering as long ago as 1995 top Stena brass were talking about a Belfast – Heysham service, and it looks like they’ve been beaten to it. If this service is a success (which I personally feel it will be) then

I suspect other operators may wish to get a share of the trade. One thing is for sure, the over-capacity on the Irish Sea will be EVEN WORSE this year. Alongside last year’s capacity will be the new Merchant Ferries ro-pax service, the additional capacity of the Stena Lynx III over the Stena Lynx at Rosslare, much increased services overall by Sea Containers and Irish Ferries new high speed service. I wish all the new and old operations well, especially the service announced today, however, I really wonder how long it will be before someone has to cut back services.



10 January 1999


With the Christmas and New Year holidays out of the way we can all look forward to what 1999 has to offer shipping enthusiasts. Some years ago I was rather interested in railways though during this period I noted that though annual changes to timetables nearly always occurred, there were no substantial changes year on year due to the fixed nature of rail routes. The only major changes came with the closing or occasional reopening of a station or route.

Passenger shipping is very different. There are no fixed routes. Everything is subject to change, often at fairly short notice. Over the years long standing routes have been abandoned, some permanently and others for varying lengths of time. There is no reason why this pattern should not continue. Perhaps this is one of the aspects of following the passenger shipping scene which adds interest, the almost continuous speculation as to what the next season will bring often in the light of the current season's operational experience! This week it looks as though major changes in Sea Containers' Irish Sea operations will be made public at a press conference due to be held in Belfast.

An example of a casualty of such sudden change is illustrated on one of the new Gallery Pages this week - "Liverpool's Lost Sea Terminal" is a well illustrated survey of the former state of the art B&I terminal. Opened in 1972 it was abandoned in 1983 and has existed in a state of limbo ever since.

Other photo galleries this week feature the first Merchant Ferries arrival - MERCHANT BRILLIANT on 23 December, the BEN-MY-CHREE's first [and only!] trip to Dublin in December. These are all accessible via the What's New Menu in the first instance. 

Finally once again I am very grateful to those who have supplied news again this week both acknowledged and anonymous. Several articles appear from Gary Andrews' Ferry News. Gary does state that his material is sent in good faith but can take no responsibility for the accuracy or legality of the material contained within his reports. He does suggest that Editors using his information are recommended to make their own enquiries before relying on information contained within his reports. I must make it clear that given the nature of Mersey Shipping, the fact its is produced to a short time scale  and uses up much of my free time at weekends it is seldom possible to make further enquiries as Gary suggests and this should be kept in mind. All material presented on Mersey Shipping is done so in good faith. If anyone is aware of any misleading errors please notify as immediately and it will be corrected as soon as possible.



SUPERSEACAT TWO Her sailing to Dublin on Sunday January 3 turned out to be her last before the close of the season. Adverse weather resulting in the sailing scheduled for 4 and 5 being cancelled. SSC2 proceeded Wright and Beyer's yard for her refit during the week. The linkspan pontoon has been removed from Liverpool Landing Stage.

I have received figures for SSC2 cancellations:

Total of crossings lost to 20 September 1998: 81 - [11.3%]

Crossings cancelled October: 56 [46.66%]

Crossings cancelled November: 25 [27.17%]

Crossings cancelled December: 20 [22.73%]

Total cancellations for 1998 were 182 crossings out of 1,056 or 17.23%.

It would be interesting to see comparative figures from other Irish Sea routes.

It is easy to  say this is not a particularly good record but perhaps better weather and improvements to the vessels deployed on the route will mean much improved performance in 1999? One thing is for certain, despite much adverse comment in the media and complaints from inconvenienced passengers, the overall service has proved very popular.

I undertook 41 single journeys on SUPERSEACAT TWO. [The odd number is due to the fact one turned out to be a Liverpool Bay Cruise due to a combination of poor weather and engine problems in early September!]. On most of these sailings she was very well loaded - perhaps even too well loaded for comfort in the main saloons [Thank goodness for the Blue Riband Lounge where one can escape!] This is testimony to the fact that despite the problems passengers are prepared to use the service in large numbers. 

Sea Containers has been the target of many complaints because of problems with SUPERSEACAT TWO. However, in my opinion we should remember that this company did have the foresight to recommence passengers sailings on the Liverpool - Dublin route. We should not forget the other operators who in the past were only too willing to retreat to remote ports and concentrate on the shortest of sea crossings or just handle the more lucrative freight traffic and give no thought to providing passenger facilities between Liverpool and Dublin.

Not everyone wishes to be crammed into an aluminium tube and hurtled through the sky at several hundred miles per hour, besides you can't take your car! Its also interesting to remember that airlines too, are subject to delay and cancellation in certain weather conditions. Cheap air fares? Well we have all seen offers of cheap airline fares - but these are significantly more subject to limits and restrictions than those applied to discount fares on ships. Three years ago I purchased a day return with Manx Airlines to the Isle of Man and had just a few pounds change out of £140! Try and get a reasonably priced day return across the Irish Sea by air on a weekday! 

Whilst personally , I enjoy flying I would far sooner be crossing the sea by ship and thanks to the ever improving services from Liverpool I have been able to indulge in my hobby much more in the last two years without having to drive to other ports and at significantly reduced expense. In the days of the old Isle of Man Steam Packet Company one could forget day trips from Merseyside outside of the period May to September! Thanks SeaCo - you may be the object of grumbles from time to time but I think on the whole many enthusiasts in the North West have a lot to thank you for!

PEVERIL & PICASSO remain laid up in Vittoria Dock.

BEN-MY-CHREE: It was anticipated earlier in the week that the new passenger gangway linking the BEN-MY-CHREE to the #1 linkspan berth at Heysham would be completed this week. This will enable the "bussing" of passengers from the terminal to the Ben which has been using the #3 former Douglas linkspan to be discontinued.

LADY OF MANN: The Lady is now back in service following her unfortunate encounter with a fender at Dublin on 29 December. She returned to Merseyside on 5 January being recorded inward bound at Langton at 10.30. She made the crossing on 1 engine. The tug WATERLOO was in attendance to assist her berthing.

However the Lady wasn't ready in time to work the 08.00 Liverpool - Douglas or 13.00 return sailing, nor the 18.45 sailing Liverpool - Douglas on 8 January. However, she unlocked at Langton around 02.00 sailing light for Douglas from where she was in position to work her 07.30 sailing to Liverpool.


Following much speculation in the last few months, Sea Containers have announced that a news conference will be held in Belfast on Monday (11 January). The firm refuses to comment on the subject of the news conference but it is expected that major changes will be announced to Northern Ireland services with the Belfast; Stranraer service possibly being dropped in favour of Belfast - Heysham and/or Belfast - Glasgow.

A SeaCat spokesman is reported as saying:

"I can confirm that we are holding a press conference in Belfast in order to announce a major development on our Irish Sea routes. Unfortunately I cannot say any more at this stage but all will be revealed on Monday".

Poor traffic levels on the North Channel routes in 1998 leading to major traffic downturns on both Belfast - Stranraer services have led to speculation that the firm will ditch the Stranraer route in favour of a Belfast service to Glasgow and or Heysham. The Heysham service seems almost certain. However, at this stage it is not clear what the situation is with regard to the Scottish service, whether Stranraer will be axed in favour of Heysham, in favour of only Glasgow,

Glasgow and Heysham be offered but not Stranraer, Glasgow, Heysham and Stranraer offered or just Heysham!

The Press Conference will be held at the Belfast Harbour Commissioners Office and it is understood Hamish Ross, Managing Director of All Sea Containers Irish Sea Services, will make the announcement.

I will put my head on the line and suggest that only a Belfast - Heysham service will be offered initially with potentially a Glasgow service within a few years. There are several reasons for my assessment:

1. Sea Containers have been heavily criticised in Stranraer for shelving plans to replace their Stranraer terminal (meant (in 1992) as a temporary building with a long-term terminal to be built at a later stage).

2. The Belfast - Stranraer route suffered poor traffic levels in 1998. In the full report of the announcement, in the next full update, I will highlight this by showing traffic levels since the service began in 1992. It seems that with similar pricing and similar crossing times Stena have done much damage. Don't forget that in 1993 two fast craft were used on the service.

3. Heysham offers real possibility for growth. One fast craft operator must leave the North Channel for the other two to even have a chance of survival. By dumping Stranraer in favour of Heysham, SeaCat have the opportunity to "grow" their business. Norse Irish Ferries passenger business is likely to be affected by a four hour Heysham crossing.

4. A Glasgow service is highly unlikely given that at present it is highly unlikely suitable facilities would be available for at least one season.

If Stranraer is retained I believe it will be axed in the long-term if current patterns continue. Although, there may be logic at Sea Containers of seeing who "breaks first". The current situation is also bad for Stena whose losses are likely to be much greater, SeaCat may try to hold on knowing that in the current conditions Stena can't last for ever. However, if SeaCat do pull out of Stranraer the future of the HSS service seems much more secure.

Interestingly it appears the Belfast - Stranraer service will not cease for refit this year. The SEACAT DANMARK is continuing to sail whilst THE SEACAT SCOTLAND remains laid up beside the Belfast berth. It is not clear whether the continuation of the service is due to a possible pull-out from the Stranraer service or if it is simply because of the fact that there are currently two Belfast based craft meaning that if one goes for refit the other can continue the service.


The Stena Voyager was out of service for refit from 5 to 9 January (inclusive). The HSS service resumed with the 0740 sailing from Belfast on 10 January. It is not clear whether the fast ferry was formally dry-docked or merely received maintenance that could not possibly be done in the normal course of events.

It has been suggested that the Stena Voyager will undergo a more significant refit later in the year. The Stena Explorer was observed at Harland and Wolf, Belfast.

Instead of the fast ferry option, the STENA GALLOWAY and STENA CALEDONIA accommodated all passengers. Sailings were offered at 0200, 0700, 1030, 1630 and 1945 ex Belfast and 0230, 0630, 1200, 1530 and 2130 (Saturday only) ex Stranraer. Following the return of the Stena Voyager the local conventional vessels will refit (at Swansea) and it is expected the STENA CALEDONIA will cover the overhauls of the STENA CHALLENGER and KONINGIN BEATRIX.


I am thankful to one reader who has provided some more details about the STENA ROYAL following last week's story. Apparently technical teething problems have now been resolved and were the result of the vessel being laid up for around 18 months.

Meanwhile the standard of accommodation is said to be very good for drivers (if perhaps not quite up to the standard of the usual vessels which would be very difficult given the usual Zeebrugge vessels offer some of the best standards available on any UK ferry). Along with excellent cabins, drivers have been further catered for with the provision of video screens in the main bar area.

The STENA ROYAL is loading in a stern-loading only mode, as her bow arrangements are only suitable for the berth at Ostend that was built for her, but she is so wide that U-turns are not proving to be a problem. However, with no open vehicle accommodation, some loads will have to be excluded and have to wait until the next departure. It was apparently originally planned to run her to Calais as a straight replacement for the Pride of Burgundy (now returned with the EUROPEAN PATHWAY's gearbox and renamed the P&OSL Burgundy). However, when berthing trials were conducted it was found that her stern ramp was too wide for the linkspans at Calais, so the European EUROPEAN PATHWAY had to be brought into the equation.

The 'EUROPEAN PATHWAY was chosen because she too had previously had to have a new gearbox fitted. Given POSL couldn't withdraw the Pride Of Burgundy indefinitely until a new gearbox was ready. They obviously had more faith in the replacement gearbox on the EUROPEAN PATHWAY than on the original gearboxes, which the other two ships have - and which may well suffer the same fate as the Burgundy in the near future. Although the Burgundy was the last of the series, her gearbox has probably had more strain than on the other ships being on the Calais service with five round trips a day against two on the Zeebrugge service.

Many involved with the operation would like P&O Stena Line to keep the vessel but it would appear that Stena Line have other plans for her when the charter ends on 17 March. With the Fishguard rumour now slowly dying there are currently two 'rumours' on the vessel's future. The first is that she will operate between Harwich and Gothenburg to replace the Scandinavian Seaways service and the second is that she will operate as backup to the HSS on the Harwich - Hook route.

The former would breach the 'gentlemen's agreement' with Scandinavian Seaways and leave the way for them to establish a Harwich - Amsterdam service. Additionally, given Stena Line reported "financial difficulties" it would seem strange for the firm to be considering a brand new service.

However, given the contraction of the Irish Sea and the problems in Scandinavia and on the English Channel it would appear that if Stena were planning expansion it would have to be either in the Mediterranean or the North Sea. (Obviously of these options the North Sea is much more likely).

However, the "safe bet" would be the STENA ROYAL acting as back-up vessel on

the Harwich - Hook route. The vessel could replace the chartered ROSEBAY and operate to a schedule allowing a sailing from each port between the two HSS sailings therefore being able to pick up much of the traffic in the event of cancellation. Given the situation at Holyhead and Stranraer (with primarily) freight vessels providing back up to the HSS) it appears strange that Harwich does not have the same facility.


Noted on Teletext the service appears to have terminated sooner than the advertised date due to adverse weather conditions. The route will reopen in March following the refit of SUPERFERRY.


MERCHANT BRILLIANT has moved from the MF terminal across to a berth at West Langton where she was observed on Saturday 9 January. DAWN MERCHANT made her debut on Thursday 7 January. She was observed by a correspondent making her way slowly up Crosby Channel at 10.00, and was recorded by Mersey Radio as entering Langton Lock at 11.00.

I went down to get some photographs on Saturday 9 January. She looks very impressive. Her wide beam is very apparent, as is her full width stern ramp, which should enable rapid loading and discharge. She appears to have a vehicle lift to port and a moveable ramp to starboard giving access to the upper vehicle deck.

With the increasing tendency to see ships flagged to ports outside these islands it is pleasing to note that she is registered in Douglas and flies the Manx ensign. Traces of a Nassau registration were visible, below the paint, presumably from her period of charter operation since completion last summer.

Merchant Ferries Timetable is as follows:

Liverpool departures: 11.00 and 22.30 [Daily]

Dublin departures: 09.00 [Daily] 20.00 [Sunday] 22.30 Monday to Saturday


Most advertised fares are shown below




Mar - June

Sep, Oct & Dec


& August

Evening Sailings - Single Fares

Car and up to 4 passengers

Car and 2 passengers inc. cabin


Child [4 - 14]

Berth in two berth cabin

Reclining seat + pillows/blanket






















Morning Sailings - Single Fares

Car and up to 4 passengers


Child [4 - 14]

Day cabin
















Return Specials [Morning Sailings only]

Car and 4 passengers Five day return

Car and 4 passengers standard return


Child [4 -14]
















Introductory Weekday return

[Travel not permitted Friday to Monday]









 The company's little dredger NORSTAR remains in Clarence Graving Dock undergoing refit.



Next Tuesday the Swiss based Norasia Line will inaugurate a new Montreal to Liverpool container service, which claims to offer the fastest Atlantic crossing times. The first sailing, which departs from Canada on Tuesday, will arrive in Liverpool 6 days later. The 5 ships employed will have a capacity of 1,400 containers will all have an operational speed of around 25 knots. After departing from Liverpool ships will then proceed to Egypt, Israel and Turkey and on to Southampton before making the crossing back to Canada. Additional facilities will be provided to Asia and the Far East via links with Zeebrugge and Naples.



The large offshore support platform IOLAIR departed from Cammell Laird on 5 January after completing her refit.


 The 4 January 1999 saw the most significant disruption to Northern Ireland ferry services for some time with both fast ferry and conventional ferry sailings cancelled for a time. It has to be said though that if I was a passenger and the weather was as bad as recently I would be quite relieved to hear my sailing cancelled.

I have been in the situation before where a sailing is cancelled due to severe weather and some passengers start complaining. The lesson for ferry companies is to provide good information and (although not required) free tea, coffee etc, that way there is absolutely no reasonable grounds for complaint.

Something I missed, as I did not celebrate the New Year at home, here in Larne). A friend told me that this year all the P&O Ferries at Larne Harbour "sounded their whistles and fog-horns" at the stroke of Midnight to welcome the New Year.

This had been a regular tradition since anyone can remember, however last year it did not happen and locals were furious. At least one gentleman wrote to Lord Sterling with the result that the P&O boss promised the tradition would not be broken again.

It was quite amusing as when the fuss broke last January, some used the event to vent their anger at the fact that in recent years many of the local crews have been replaced by cheaper nationalities, blaming them for not knowing the custom. Whilst this may have been partly true, I know of one North Channel ferry crew who made sure they were always home for Christmas and New Year. This was achieved by operating a very complicated shift pattern between Scottish and Northern Ireland crew. This would ensure that if the ship was due to lie over at Larne during the holiday period a Northern Ireland crew would sail the final inward trip, as many crew as possible heading home and vice versa. Therefore if that crew had found themselves aboard their vessel in Larne Harbour at New Year they probably wouldn't have been aware of the tradition!

(The actual crew referred to above is no longer together but many still work for the firm in question so I cannot possibly reveal the vessel!)

The Stena Line worker at the centre of the "Dannii Minogue Scandal" has resigned. The off-duty seaman had been accused by the Australian singer of grabbing the star in an "inappropriate way" aboard a late nigh Belfast - Stranraer HSS sailing.

A statement was taken from Dannii and an inquiry was under way. Stena have said that the internal investigation was now been closed.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation, and I am not passing any comment on the story itself for obvious reasons, one has to understand that this man felt he had to resign and put an end to the matter (guilty or innocent).

Every Stena employee (and a vast number of those outside the company) knew who this man was (referred to in the press as the "Ferry Groper"). Additionally, given the public interest in the matter (the story having been in most of the downmarket British and Irish tabloids) one cannot blame this man for just wanting to close the issue.

It's always sad when ferry workers make the press for the wrong reasons yet never seem to get any credit when they do good deeds like rescuing troubled yachts etc.


Keith sent me the following message earlier this week. It is of interest and needs a wider circulation - the subject is those fascinating shipbuilder's models:

These fine builders' models tend to be scattered around the country and have ended in various sometimes dubious hands where their treatment is less than comprehending of the skill and workmanship which has gone into the making.

Here are some of my recollections about those which I have seen. There was a model of Palmers of Jarrow's last steamer (surely this model must be very important historically for its historical connection with the closure of this most famous (infamous) of yards) at a now-closed camp school at Etchinghill on Cannock Chase. This model could now be in the care of Staffs C.C. I wonder if they realise how important and valuable this model should be considered? When I last saw this model, it was located in a boys' common room at the school and subject to all the rough and tumble that such rooms receive! Its present day value, because of its special status could approach or even exceed 75, 000 GBP.

Another model which I remember was of the liner "HOMERIC", (about 9-10 ft long) displayed in the drill hall (and moved to and fro when that place was required for special events) of the Preston Sea Cadet Corps on Preston Docks. I have a feeling this building has been demolished so I do not know the present whereabouts of this model!

The building was located adjacent to the Strand Road Gate to the docks. There were several models of the IoMSPCo Steamers distributed in strategic railway stations, such as Rhyl and Prestatyn, Fleetwood and Blackburn, etc. A few years ago, the turbine steamer (the first for the IoMSPCo)"VIKING" of 1906, was displayed at Blackburn under the leaky overall roof and on an exposed platform open to the depredations of ill-disposed vandals. The value of this model was recognised when insurance had to be considered and it was moved to a safer place (again I do not now know where).

I understand that the insurance value of these models is in the region of 50 - 100 000 GBP each. Main centres for viewing cased ship models are places like the Kelvingrove, Glasgow; the Maritime Museum, Greenwich; the Merseyside Museums (Albert Dock), Liverpool; the Wallasey Museum, Wirral; the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Industrial Museum.

The Merseyside and Wirral Locations would probably have some Blue Funnel Line vessels, though I cannot now recall which, if any! I believe a number of IoMSPCo Models have been repatriated to the Island, but where are they now? Look out for cased models in the most unexpected places. A model of the steam yacht "BRITANNIA" ( Col. Rideaugh's 1890's one) in the Windermere Steamboat Museum; a model of the dredger "FYLDE" used to be in the Harris Museum, Preston; other models at the Barrow Maritime Museum. One could go on, but there are limits, aren't there?

John Luxton

09 January 1999


Home Up Next

03 January 1999



In the quiet period between Christmas and New Year there is not always a lot to report, quite a lot of this week's news has been caused by bad weather which has disrupted most Irish Sea services.

I have taken advantage of the holiday period to indulge in some photography around the dock area, realising that I had failed to record some major changes in recent years, mainly because they were happening gradually. With further large scale changes possible in the next few years with the coming of the on-river link-spans and further redevelopment of abandoned docks much more will be lost and I'd better record the scene as it is now. I hope to get a suitable feature up by mid January. - The other project mentioned a few weeks to create a directory of Maritime Memorials around the Irish Sea has not been forgotten. I just need to take some more pictures.

I have also made some more changes to the presentation of the site. If you have entered via the main menu page or some of the sub-menu pages you will have noticed a new heading which also carries some common menu options. You may also have noticed that the name has been truncated to Mersey Shipping.

The decision to do this was taken for several reasons: The site address allocated when I switched ISPs during the summer is actually Mersey Shipping, the initials MSN happen to be used by Microsoft to promote their Microsoft Network and finally because the site contains more than just news.

Various designs were tried earlier in the week and I finally settled on the wavy title - a little reminiscent of that used, for a brief period of time in the 1980s, by a well-known shipping line operating out of Liverpool! After trying various colours schemes those of the Irish flag appeared the most harmonious and appropriate given that most of the material contained in the site features vessels working on the Irish Sea!

Finally if anyone has not visited the What's New Menu this week - you will find that several additional updates were made on 27 December in addition to the posting made on the 26 December. A little pruning of the site has taken place; four sections, which have been on-line for some time, have now been removed.


SUPERSEACAT TWO Further information suggests that SSC2 did not complete her delayed crossing to Dublin on 24 December and returned to the Landing Stage in the afternoon. SSC2 did not operate Liverpool to Dublin on 27 December or on 29 December. SSC2's 11.00 sailing to Dublin on 29/12 was covered by the LADY OF MANN in Liverpool - Dublin direction only. The LADY OF MANN operated SSC2 21.30 sailing to Douglas on 27 December, and the return 07.30 sailing on 28 December.

I did have a day trip ticket for 30/12. However, at around 21.50 on 29/12 I received a phone call from SeaCo stating that the sailing on 30/12 for which I had a ticket had been cancelled.

However there was obviously a change of mind and SSC2 did sail on 30/12. With the LADY OF MANN out of action, there was no back up for the Liverpool to Douglas route and consequently the 21.30 Liverpool to Douglas on 1 January and the 07.30 Douglas to Liverpool on 2 January were cancelled due to bad weather. The 11.00/16.00 Liverpool - Dublin and return sailings on 2 January were also cancelled.

Surprisingly on 3 January with the weather forecast looking particularly bad I decided to check that SSC2 was running on the Liverpool - Dublin route by phone before I set off down to the Pier Head. Indeed she was and the journey to Dublin ways was accomplished on slightly ahead of schedule whilst the return run from Dublin was a little late. Though the wave height being reported at as high as 2 metres a fairly smooth run was to be had both ways SW winds.

BEN-MY-CHREE the BEN's sailing to Dublin and back from Douglas on 29 December was cancelled due to poor weather. The 02.15 sailing did not leave Heysham for Douglas until later that day. At one point her 20.00 sailing from Douglas to Heysham was in doubt but apparently she sailed at 22.00. She arrived back in Douglas at 09.00 on 30 December. Consequently the 08.30 sailing to Heysham was delayed until 10.30, her return from Heysham being rescheduled to 15.40.

LADY OF MANN operated the 21.30 sailing from Liverpool to Douglas on 27/12 due to adverse weather conditions preventing SUPERSEACAT TWO from sailing. She returned to Merseyside on 28 December. On the 29/12 SSC2 Liverpool to Dublin sailing was cancelled the LADY operated the 11.00 sailing. With Stena and Irish Ferries also cancelled, [as happened during the holiday period last year] the LADY OF MANN became the only ferry to venture across the Irish Sea during the day on 29 December. This says a lot for this sturdy little ship which ventures out when other more modern conventional ferries stay put.

After arrival in Dublin the LADY had been scheduled to operate the BEN-MY-CHREE's sailing from Dublin to Douglas. Unfortunately when departing from Dublin at around 20.00 with 260 passengers on board a Yokohama fender fouled her port propeller. Power was lost and she was brought to a gentle landing a few yards down stream from the terminal. Tugs rescued her brought back to the berth and then to Alexandra Basin. She is due to be dry-docked in Dublin on 02/01/1999.

Hopefully the damage will not prove to be too severe as she is due to commence scheduled sailings on the Liverpool - Douglas route from Friday next week.

Some of the press reports do appear to have stretched a lot out of the LADY's misfortune. The Manx Independent stating she was "towed back to Dublin by two tugs" when really she hadn't actually left the port area! An investigation into the incident [routine in such circumstances] will be carried out for the Ministry of Marine.


Bad weather has disrupted sailings across the Irish Sea this week. On 29/12 operations out of Holyhead were suspended with various other delays noted.


As with Stena Line Irish Ferries sailings were also disrupted this week on 29/30 December.


EUROPEAN PATHFINDER entered Canada Graving Dock after her Christmas lay-up near the West Langton Terminal at around 11.00 on 29/12. She had departed by New Year's Day. EUROPEAN SEAFARER, which had spent the holiday receiving attention at Wright and Bayer's yard, was seen passing out through Alfred Lock, Birkenhead at 10.00 on 3 January.


MERCHANT BRILLIANT has remained at the Liverpool terminal throughout the holidays and was still at the terminal on 02 January.  


The little sand dredger NORSTAR is currently in the Clarence Graving Docks operated by Manning's Marine undergoing maintenance. This little vessel dredges sand which is then off loaded at the company's terminal at Bramley Moore Dock. Featured in a recent shipping video "All in A Days Work" Vol.1 she is credited with having the loudest whistle of any ship on the Mersey despite her small size.


MOONDANCE joined her sister RIVERDANCE in Cammell Laird's wet basin on the pm tide on 27/12. She too is to have an internal lift fitted to replace the existing onboard vehicle lift.


On New Year's Day the yard was bursting with vessels - in the wet basin was P&O's EUROPEAN PIONEER, Seatruck's RIVERDANCE and MOONDANCE, the large crane barge LM BALDUR plus two Fisher tankers. The off shore support platform IOLAIR remains in dry dock's #6 & #7 whilst #5 is occupied by PEREGRINE VII. On 2 January the MD&HC floating crane MERSEY MAMMOTH was at work in the basin. It looked as though it was undertaking work on MOONDANCE.

The Sunday Times reported last week that Cammell Laird Holding's plc was Britain's second fastest growing company during 1998.

John Luxton

03 January 1999 


Visit for Transport, Industrial Heritage & Regional Digital Photographs and Growing Online 35mm Archive

Irish Sea Shipping - What's New July 2008Irish Sea Shipping - What's New August 2009Home Up Next 

Irish Sea Shipping © John H. Luxton 1995-2018. Content © John H. Luxton and Contributors