Overview of BEN-MY-CHREE
The Dutch built RoPax BEN-MY-CHREE was ordered while the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company was under the ownership of Sea Containers, and is the sole conventional passenger vessel operated by the company at present. She was launched in 1998 at the Dutch yard of Van der Giessen-de Noord at Krimpen an den IJssel, near Rotterdam. Purchased at a price of £24m (US$39.5m), BEN-MY-CHREE was purpose-built for Isle of Man services and was not only the largest vessel to ever enter service with the Steam Packet, but also their first new-build vessel for 23 years. The arrival of BEN-MY-CHREE allowed the Steam Packet to withdraw 2 vessels – the freight only ferry Peveril and the vehicle and passenger ferry King Orry (1972, the former Saint Eloi and Channel Entente of Sealink ALA). The current BEN-MY-CHREE is the 6th Steam Packet vessel to carry the name.
The design of BEN-MY-CHREE was somewhat of a departure for the Isle of Man Steam Packet, as she was the first vessel for them designed to act as a backup to a fast-craft and not as a main vessel with regard to passenger operations. BEN-MY-CHREE was designed to fit the constraints of both Douglas and Heysham harbours, and so is smaller than many vessels of similar age with a length overall of just over 125m.
The hull form of BEN-MY-CHREE is a shortened version of that used on the North Sea Ferries (later P&O) passenger carrying freighters NORBANK and NORBAY (which themselves are an evolution of a design used for 5 freight ferries built in Italy and the Netherlands for the Italian Viamare sea motorway project, the first of which was Via Ligure). Adapting this existing design helped keep the design and manufacture costs low. It is said that all Van der Giessen ferries of the same era are based on this common hull form including Irish Ferries Isle of Innisfree (currently KAITAKI) and ISLE OF INISHMORE, STENA JUTLANDICA (III), the aforementioned North Sea Ferries freighters, COMMODORE CLIPPER (which many consider a part-sister to BEN-MY-CHREE by many), and even Brittany Ferries MONT ST MICHEL. During the 1990’s, Van der Giessen became a popular choice of yard with ferry companies due to their ability to build vessels to a good standard quickly and at an attractive price. This was due in no small part to the yards use of modular construction and standardised design.
The main propulsion on BEN-MY-CHREE is provided by two Mak 9M32 medium-speed diesel engines producing a total of 8640kW running at 600rpm. These drive twin controllable pitch propellers at approx 160rpm via reduction gearing. 2 x Leroy Somer shaft generators producing 1160kW each at 1500rpm are also driven from the main engines via a step-up gearbox. For manoeuvring at low-speed 2 x LIPS 900kW bow thrusters are fitted. Normal service speed is around 18-19kts.
Although originally designed to carry a maximum of 500 passengers, following a number of passenger complaints this was limited to around 350 for passenger comfort. This capacity was boosted to 636 passengers (limited to 500) during a major refit costing £1.5m in 2004, when an additional passenger module requiring some 150 tonnes of steelwork was fitted to BEN-MY-CHREE at Northwestern Ship Repairers, Bidston (now Cammell-Laird). In addition to increasing passenger capacity through the addition of a new 100 person bar area and 100 person quiet lounge, this refit also included adding outside passenger space to the vessel for the first time. While the accommodation module and supporting steelwork were fitted during the month long refit, outfitting of the new accommodation took place while the vessel was back in service.
Vehicles are housed on deck’s 3 and 5 were a total of 1235 lane metres is available. Access to these decks is via a single stern ramp. All passenger accommodation is on decks 7 and 8.
Area of operation
BEN-MY-CHREE principally operates between the Manx capital of Douglas to the Lancashire port of Heysham and Birkenhead, however during the summer season she has also operated to Belfast and Dublin. On 21st May 2016 BEN-MY-CHREE conducted berthing trials at Holyhead in order to assess the suitability of the Anglesey port as a backup option to Heysham and Birkenhead. Following similar berthing trials at Larne for MANANNAN earlier in the year, BEN-MY-CHREE briefly visited the County Antrim port in the early hours of 30/7/17 for her own berthing trials. Following successful trials of both BEN-MY-CHREE and MANANNAN at Larne, the IOMSPCo opened a public consultation towards the end of 2017 about switching ports from Belfast to Larne. The result of this consultation came back in favour of keeping Belfast as the port used by the Steam Packet in Northern Ireland however.
Between 17th April and 8th May 2018 BEN-MY-CHREE will be taken out of service for her biennial overhaul. A sum of £1.6m is expected to be spent on this work which will be both above and below deck.
The Isle of Man Steam packet have announced a proposal to replace the BEN-MY-CHREE by 2019/21 with a new 140m long vessel designed to carry around 800 passengers. When that vessel enters service it is planned that BEN-MY-CHREE will be relegated to providing backup duties as third ship.
- BEN-MY-CHREE is a traditional Steam Packet name, the first ship to bear the name was an iron paddle steamer launched in 1845. The current BEN-MY-CHREE is the 6th vessel to carry the name which is of Old Manx Gaelic origin and means ‘Woman of my heart’.
- Although BEN-MY-CHREE has no direct sisters, at least 3 other ferries have been constructed to a very similar design and had a similar profile as-built. These are Commodore’s COMMODORE CLIPPER (also built at the same yard, but with additional passenger accommodation) which serves the Channel Islands, and BornholmTrafikken’s HAMMERODDE and Dueodde (Dueodde is now STRAITSMAN of New Zealand operator Bluebridge) built for operation to the Danish island of Bornholm. HAMMERODDE was built by Van der Giessen’s successor company IHC Merwede at Hardinxveld-Giessendam, whilst Dueodde was subcontracted by that company to the Volharding shipyard at Harlingen. The Royal New Zealand Navy multi-role vessel HMNZS CANTERBURY is also directly based on the BEN-MY-CHREE design. During November 2017 HAMMERODDE was purchased by Stena RoRo. She will be employed on the Gothenburg – Fredrikshavn route as STENA VINGA in place of STENA GOTHICA in the second half of 2018.
Title image: Ben-My-Chree arriving at Douglas in 2015. Copyright © Scott Mackey.
Last update: 22/09/17