Isle of Man Steam Packet Company

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company
Sheshaght Phaggad Bree Ellan Vannin
Industry Transport
Founded 1830
Headquarters Douglas, Isle of Man
Key people
Mark Woodward
(Chief Executive)
Robert Quayle
Owner 1996–2003: Sea Containers
2003–2005: Montague Private Equity
2005–2011: Macquarie Bank
2011–present: Banco Espirito Santo
Route map

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company Limited[1] (abbreviated to IoMSPCo.) (Manx: Sheshaght Phaggad Bree Ellan Vannin) is the oldest continuously operating passenger shipping company in the world, celebrating its 180th anniversary in 2010.

The company provides freight, passenger and vehicle services between the Isle of Man Sea Terminal, in Douglas, Isle of Man, and five ports in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

User Agreement

The Steam Packet Company is required to fulfil the terms of a User Agreement negotiated with the island's Department of Transport. Under the 2004 extension of the Agreement, the following minimum service levels are required:

Compliance with the above requirements gains the sole user rights to the government-owned linkspan in Douglas Harbour. The Steam Packet Company owns the second linkspan, and thus controls a monopoly on roll-on-roll-off vehicle transport to and from the Isle of Man.

In 2006, the company was under investigation by a select committee of Tynwald, the Isle of Man's parliament. One of the concerns of Tynwald is the annual published profit margins by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company which, according to Hansard, are 36% - almost three times the industry standard for ferry companies throughout the world.


Mona's Queen (IV) in 1961

Beginning of the company

There had been various shipping companies serving the Isle of Man 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 at a time.

Isle of Man Steam Packet Poster.

The Manx people felt it was essential they should have their own dedicated service. A meeting was held in the island's capital Douglas in 1829, from which was formed a committee charged with finding out the cost of acquiring a Steam Packet.

On 30 June 1830, the forerunner of today's 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. From the inauguration of the service until January 1832, the company was known as the Mona's Isle Company. For a brief period the company then traded as the Isle of Man United Steam Packet before assuming its present name in July 1832.

By the turn of the 20th Century, the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company was serving numerous ports in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland.[2] Ports served included Liverpool, Silloth, Whitehaven, Holyhead, Ardrossan, Blackpool, Belfast and Dublin.

War service

Vessels and crews of the company were actively involved in both the First and Second World Wars. One vessel, King Orry, was attached to the British Grand Fleet and led the German High Seas Fleet into Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands at the end of the First World War.[3] Another vessel, Viking, was converted to become a seaplane carrier, serving as HMS Vindex.

During the First World War, eleven out of a total fleet of fifteen Steam Packet ships were requisitioned by the Admiralty. Four of them were lost, three retained by the government and four returned to service. Ben-my-Chree and Manxman also served as aircraft/seaplane carriers.[3]

In the Second World War, 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 (IV) being the first to leave Dover and the first to complete the round trip during the evacuation. Eight company ships took part in this mission, rescuing a total of 24,699 British troops one in fourteen of those evacuated from Dunkirk.

Sadly though, the Dunkirk evacuation also saw the company's blackest day, when three of the line's ships were lost.

Mona's Queen (III) pictured shortly after she struck a mine on the approach to Dunkirk, May 29, 1940.

The anchor from Mona's Queen (III) was raised as part of the 70th anniversary commemoration of Operation Dynamo at Dunkirk. It is sited at Kallow Point in Port St Mary as a memorial to the company's crew who took part in the war.[4]

Vehicle transport

Four side-loading RORO car ferries were introduced, beginning with Manx Maid in 1962, and followed by Ben-my-Chree (1966), Mona's Queen (1972) and Lady of Mann (1976). Mona's Isle (VI) was the Steam Packet Company's first stern loader in 1984-85.

The 1980s were tough times for the company, with declining passenger numbers. Strong competition from Manx Line's Manx Viking brought them close to collapse. In February 1985, they announced a merger with Sealink who had, by now, taken over Manx Line.[5] The main UK port switched from Liverpool to Heysham, thus ending (albeit temporarily as it turned out) an association lasting back to the company's origins.

2008 rebranding

Ben-my-Chree entering Douglas Harbour

In June 2007, a new CEO, Mark Woodward, was appointed to succeed Hamish Ross, promising 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 latter having now been sold and operating for Atlantico Line as the Hellenic Wind.

The fleet received a brand new livery, replacing the old SeaCo livery. All fleet members received complete internal refits which reflected the company's new colours and the rebranding of the company's on board lounges. The terminals received new signage and new uniforms were made for crew and shore staff.

The company's first class lounge and members club were renamed, with 1st Lounge becoming the Premium Lounge and the Blue Riband Club became the Executive Club. The Quiet Lounge was also renamed, becoming the Niarbyl Reserved Lounge.


In return for exclusive use of the linkspans at Douglas, the Steam Packet Company has made a guarantee of regular services to the Manx government. Ben-my-Chree and Manannan provide regular services to England and Ireland.

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, Steam Packet Holidays.


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 investment bank, Macquarie Bank for £225 million.[6] In April 2011, it was announced that the Steam Packet Company had new owners Banco Espírito Santo.[7]


The company currently has a fleet of three vessels - a year-round conventional RO-PAX vessel, a chartered RO-RO freighter [8] and a fastcraft which operates on a seasonal basis.

Picture Name Built Commissioned Route(s) Tonnage Port of Registry Notes
August 1998
April 2014
Douglas - Heysham
7,606 GT
Isle of Man Douglas
On long term charter from Seatruck Ferries [9]
Ben-my-Chree [VI]
April 1998
July 1998
Douglas - Heysham
Douglas - Birkenhead
Douglas - Dublin
12,747 GT
Isle of Man Douglas
Fleet flagship
November 1998
May 2009
Douglas - Liverpool
Douglas - Belfast
Douglas - Dublin
5,743 GT [10]
Isle of Man Douglas

Present day operations

The Steam Packet Company operates services between:

Historic fleet

See also list of ships below

The company started with 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 side-loading car ferries, the first diesel car ferry being the 1972 Mona's Queen (V). Fastcraft then became the next generation of vessels to operate for the company, the first being the SeaCat Isle of Man.

Pre-war steamers

The company built five steamers over ten years from 1927. They were the replacements for the various second-hand steamers that the company purchased to replace its First World War losses.

Image Ship Built
Route Tonnage Notes
Ben-my-Chree [IV]
April 1927
(June 1927)
Douglas various
2,586 GT
Scrapped at Ghent in 1965
Lady of Mann [I]
April 1929
(June 1930)
Douglas various
3,104 GT
Scrapped at Dalmuir in 1971
Mona's Queen [III]
April 1934
(? 1934)
Douglas various
2,756 GT
Sunk at Dunkirk in 1940
December 1936
(? 1937)
Douglas various 2,376 GT Sunk at Dunkirk in 1940
Tynwald [IV]
December 1936
(? 1937)
Douglas various 2,376 GT Sunk off Bougie in 1942

The "Six Sisters"

A class of vessel derived from pre-war steamers Fenella and Tynwald affectionately known as the Six Sisters. These were all built by Cammell Laird in Birkenhead and were in service between 1946 and 1982. No two vessels were identical and all had their own (albeit minor) differences. The last vessel to be withdrawn was Manxman in 1982 - at the time it was the last vessel of its type in service in the United Kingdom. Despite preservation attempts the vessel was finally scrapped in 2012.

Image Ship Built
Route Tonnage Notes
King Orry [IV]
November 1945
(January 1946)
Douglas various
2,485 GT
Scrapped at Strood in 1979
Mona's Queen [IV]
February 1946
(June 1946)
Douglas various
2,485 GT
Sold for further use as Fiesta
Scrapped at Perama in 1981
Tynwald [V]
March 1947
(July 1947)
Douglas various
2,487 GT
Scrapped at Aviles in 1975
Snaefell [V]
March 1948
(July 1948)
Douglas various
2,489 GT
Scrapped at Blyth in 1978
Mona's Isle [V]
October 1950
(March 1951)
Douglas various
2,491 GT
Scrapped in the Netherlands in 1980
Manxman [II]
February 1955
(May 1955)
Douglas various
2,495 GT
Scrapped at Sunderland in 2012

Side-loading car ferries

The company developed a design of side-loading car ferries, with a spiral ramp at the stern. These could operate (as car ferries) from ports which were not equipped with linkspans. This design is unique to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company still today.

Image Ship Built
Route Tonnage Notes
Manx Maid [II]
January 1962
(May 1962)
Douglas various
2,724 GT
Scrapped at Garston in 1986
Ben-my-Chree [V]
December 1965
(May 1966)
Douglas various
2,762 GT
Scrapped at Santander in 1989
Mona's Queen [V]
December 1971
(May 1972)
Douglas various
2,998 GT
Sold for further use as Mary the Queen
Scrapped at Alang in 2008
Lady of Mann [II]
December 1975
(June 1976)
Douglas various
3,083 GT
Sold for further use as Panagia Soumela
Scrapped at Aliaga in 2011

RO-RO ferries

The company has operated a number of RO-RO passenger and freight ferries in its history, the pioneering vessel being the Peveril [IV] in 1981, in response to Manx Line's Manx Viking.

Image Ship Built
Route Tonnage Notes
Mona's Isle [VI]
May 1966
(April 1985)
Douglas Heysham
4,657 GT
Sold for further use as Al Fahad
Sunk off Jeddah in 2004
Tynwald [VI]
April 1967
(October 1985)
Douglas Heysham
3,762 GT
Sold for further use as Lauro Express
Scrapped at Alang in 2007
King Orry [VI]
February 1972
(February 1990)
Douglas Heysham

Douglas Liverpool
4,649 GT
Sold for further use as Moby Love
Still in service
Peveril [IV]
January 1971
(May 1981)
Douglas various
1,975 GT
Sold for further use in 2000
Believed scrapped
Manx Viking
August 1974
Douglas Heysham
3,589 GT
Scrapped at Sault Ste. Marie, Canada
April 1979
(November 1993)
1,599 GT
Sold for further use as Muirneag
Still in service


The company has operated fastcraft since 1993.

Ship Built Entered service Route Notes
Emeraude France
October 1990
(March 2007)
Douglas Liverpool/Belfast/Dublin Chartered in 2007
Currently laid up at Tilbury
SeaCat Danmark
January 1991
(May 1998)
Douglas Liverpool/Belfast/Dublin Chartered between 1998 and 2000
Now operating as Golden Blaze
SeaCat Rapide
February 1996
(June 2004)
Douglas various Chartered in 2004
Now operating as Jaume II
Snaefell [VI]
April 1991
(May 1994)
Douglas Liverpool/Belfast/Dublin Chartered to Sea Jets in Greece in 2011
Now operating as Master Jet
SuperSeaCat Three
March 1999
Douglas various Now operating as Speedrunner III
Viking [II]
June 1997
(March 2003)
Douglas Liverpool/Belfast/Dublin Chartered 2003-8
Now operating as Hellenic Wind
(May 2009)
Douglas Liverpool/Belfast/Dublin Currently operating services from Douglas to Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin.


2007 Sea Express 1 accident

On 3 February 2007, Sea Express 1 (formerly SeaCat Isle of Man) collided with the cargo ship Alaska Rainbow in heavy fog in the River Mersey. None of the 294 passengers and crew was hurt, and the ferry was moored at Liverpool Pier Head while water was being pumped from the engine room, a number of cars remained on board. She was later towed to the Cammell Laird basin in Birkenhead where all cars remaining aboard were offloaded. On 14 March 2007, the Sea Express 1 was relaunched. In the meantime alternative service was provided by Ben-my-Chree to Birkenhead during the weekends. In December 2007, the vessel was renamed to become the sixth Snaefell.

2010 Ben-my-Chree accident

On 26 March 2010, while embarking passengers and loading vehicles at Heysham, England, the ro-ro passenger ferry Ben-My-Chree moved approximately eight metres along the quayside, causing serious damage to the passenger access structure. The foot-passenger walkway detached at both ends and collapsed onto the quayside, and the gangway detached from the vessel’s side shell door and was left hanging on a single rope. Fortunately, there were no injuries. Eight passengers were trapped in the gangway compartment of the shore structure and were later rescued by the local fire service.[11]


2010 competition with Mezeron

On 1 November 2010, it was reported on the Isle of Man Newspapers website, that the Steam Packet had lost two major freight customers to rival company Mezeron who had just set up a new freight service between Douglas and Liverpool a week or so earlier. In February 2011 Mezeron withdrew the service citing lack of growth in the market. Previously the Steam Packet Company had reported a loss of 15% of its total freight business to Mezeron.

Ellan Vannin Line

In early 2013 Sea Alliance announced plans for a new shipping company to serve the Isle of Man.[12] The company planned to use a 32-year-old vessel MV Cometa.[13] However the venture failed and nothing has been heard since.


Steam Packet ships have been used in a number of films. Examples include Chariots of Fire where the team travel on a Steam Packet vessel with the Liver Building clearly visible. In the Barbra Streisand film, Yentl the ship carrying emigrants to the United States at the end of the film is the Manxman. The Ben-my-Chree [6] was used in 2004 as a double for an English Channel ferry in the film On a Clear Day. The Lady of Mann was also used in the 2004 film Mickybo and Me.

See also



9. ^ 10. ^ http://www,


  • Basnett, Stan (2008). Ferries of the Isle of Man: 1945-Present Day (2nd ed.). Ramsey, Isle of Man: Ferry Publications. ISBN 9781906608033. 
  • Blackburn, Charles John; Leach, Frederic (1923). How the Manx Fleet helped in the Great War: The story of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Boats on service. Douglas, Isle of Man: L.G. Meyer. OCLC 557031509. 
  • Chappell, Connery (1980). Island Lifeline. Prescot, Merseyside, UK: T. Stephenson and Sons Ltd. ISBN 090131420X. 
  • Collard, Ian (2013). The Isle of Man Steam Packet through time. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Amberley Publishing. ISBN 9781445614281. 
  • Cowsill, Miles; Hendy, John, eds. (2005). Steam Packet 175: 1830-2005: the official anniversary book of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Ramsey, Isle of Man: Lily Publications. ISBN 1871947774. 
  • Cowsill, Miles; Basnett, Stan (2011). Steam Packet: the album. Ramsey, Isle of Man: Lily Publications. ISBN 9781906608477. 
  • Danielson, Richard (1996). So Strong and So Fair: Story of the Side-Loading Car Ferries of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and their people. Laxey, Isle of Man: Maritime Publications. ISBN 0951315595. 
  • Dearden, Steven; Hassell, Ken (1999). Ships of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Ochiltree, Ayrshire, UK: Stenlake Publishing. ISBN 1840330783. 
  • Evans, Ron (December 1999). "The loss of the "Ellan Vannin"". Bulletin of the Liverpool Nautical Research Society. 43 (4): 1–11. OCLC 841925080. 
  • Evans, Ron (September 2000). "From short sea liner to blockade runner: a history of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's paddle steamer 'Douglas' (1) of 1858, as the Confederate blockade runner 'Margaret and Jessie', and as the Union Navy warship U.S.S. 'Gettysburg'". Bulletin of the Liverpool Nautical Research Society. 44 (2): 1–11. OCLC 841928207. 
  • Henry, Fred; O'Friel, F. B. (1977). Ships of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. Ltd. (4th ed.). Glasgow: Brown, Son & Ferguson. ISBN 0851742823. 
  • Howarth, Noel (1980). A Pictorial History of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Ships: 32 postcards. Birghton, UK: Motor-in-Mann Publications for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. OCLC 224505681. 
  • Moore, A.W. (2005) [1st. Pub. (1904) Manchester: R. Johnson and Sons, for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. Limited]. Historical account of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Co. Limited: 1830-1904. Ramsey, Isle of Man: Ferry Publications. OCLC 212430547. 
  • Shepherd, John (1994). The life and times of the Steam Packet. Kilgetty, Pembrokeshire, Wales: Ferry Publications. ISBN 1871947251. 
  • "Widow Lady" or "Little Alice" (1881). Little Alice; or a narrative relating to the origin of the Isle of Man Steam-Packet Company. Isle of Man: The Author. OCLC 223170020. 

External links

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