The new Isle of Man Steam Packet flagship, MANXMAN, has had a disrupted first few days of service with the company. MANXMAN’s first commercial crossing was from Douglas to Heysham on the morning of Thursday 17 August.
Unfortunately, MANXMAN has not performed as many sailings as planned over her first weekend due to Storm Betty. As a new ship, a temporary wind restriction is in place at the Port of Heysham whilst crew get used to the new vessel. This means that MANXMAN was out of service since completing her first round-trip until this morning.
During Friday night, and most of Saturday, MANXMAN was at sea riding out the storm. The ferry only returned to Douglas at around 16:15 UK time on Saturday. The ship MANXMAN is replacing, BEN-MY-CHREE, had stepped in to cover her sailings but also had to miss a round trip to Heysham on Saturday due to weather conditions.
Ben-My-Chree to be sold?
Presently MANXMAN is an additional vessel in the Isle of Man Steam Packet fleet, but the company has applied to the Manx Government to be allowed to sell BEN-MY-CHREE. Under the Steam Packet’s current sea services agreement, which gives the company access to the island’s ro-ro infrastructure in exchange for an agreed minimum service level, BEN-MY-CHREE was to be retained as an additional backup ship.
The Steam Packet already has the ro-ro freighter ARROW as a backup vessel. Presently the company plans to charter ARROW out on a more regular basis than present with BEN-MY-CHREE now spare. This will mean crewing and maintaining two spare vessels rather than one, however. ARROW is currently undergoing routine maintenance in dry dock at Birkenhead.
Keeping BEN-MY-CHREE ready to enter service at short notice will increase costs for the Steam Packet and the sale of the ship would likely raise significant funds. Similar ferry STRAITSMAN, now CONDOR ISLANDER, is known to have attracted interest from at least three operators when put up for sale; eventual purchaser Condor Ferries, CTMA, and CMAL for Caledonian MacBrayne. It is believed all were prepared to pay over the market value of the vessel to secure it for their services.
The funds generated from any sale of BEN-MY-CHREE may be useful for the Steam Packet when it comes to replacing its fast-craft MANANNAN which turns 25 this year. The Steam Packet is also required to acquire a replacement for MANANNAN by the current sea services agreement.
The Isle of Man Steam Packet currently has a fleet of four ships. The MANANNAN mainly provides passenger and car focussed services between Douglas and Liverpool, with some additional trips to Belfast and Dublin. Newcomer MANXMAN will form the backbone of the island’s lifeline ferry service between Douglas and Heysham with some additional trips to Liverpool and Belfast. The trips to Liverpool will only commence once the Steam Packet’s delayed new terminal in the city opens, however. For the first month MANXMAN will sail to and from Heysham during daytime hours only.
The veteran ro-pax BEN-MY-CHREE is to be gradually phased out of scheduled service in favour of MANXMAN. While the ARROW is sometimes chartered out on a short-term basis with a recall clause and provides additional capacity during busy periods, the Spanish-built ro-ro normally spends long periods tied up on standby to cover technical failure at Larne in Northern Ireland.