Isle of Man Steam Packet Company

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, having been founded in 1830.

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company
Sheshaght Phaggad Bree Ellan Vannin
HeadquartersDouglas, Isle of Man
Key people
Brian Thomson (CEO)
Lars Ugland (Chairman)
OwnerIsle of Man Government (since 2018)
Route map

The company provides freight, passenger and vehicle services between the Isle of Man Sea Terminal, in Douglas, Isle of Man, and four ports in the United Kingdom and Ireland. It is owned by the Isle of Man Government.


Mona's Queen (IV) in 1961

Beginning of the companyEdit

There had been various shipping companies serving the Isle of Man before the formation of this company in 1830, but their 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 Douglas in 1829, from which was formed a committee charged investigating 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. Briefly 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 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 serviceEdit

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. However this was also the company's blackest day, as three of the line's ships were lost:

Mona's Queen (III) pictured shortly after she struck a mine on the approach to Dunkirk, 29 May 1940.
  • Mona's Queen, mined off Dunkirk on 29 May;
  • Fenella, sunk by air attack whilst berthed alongside Dunkirk's East Pier on 29 May;
  • King Orry, sustained heavy damage following several air attacks on 29 May, and sank off the beaches in the early hours of 30 May.[3]

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]

Post-war serviceEdit

Four side-loading roll-on/roll-off 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.

In 1996, the Steam Packet Company became a wholly owned subsidiary of Sea Containers headed by James Sherwood, who had pioneered the fast-craft operation. In July 2003, the company was sold for £142 million to Montagu Private Equity.[6] In 2005, the company was purchased by Macquarie Bank for £225 million.[7]

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.

Ben-my-Chree entering Douglas Harbour

In June 2007, a new CEO, Mark Woodward, was appointed to succeed Hamish Ross; he promised to improve the company's services, to return to the classic livery, and to promote the island's culture.

As the first part of the rebranding, the Sea Express 1 and SuperSeaCat Two were renamed Snaefell and Viking respectively; the latter was later sold and operated for the Atlantico Line as Hellenic Wind.

The fleet received a brand new livery, replacing the old SeaCo livery. All vessels of the fleet underwent 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: 1st Lounge became the Premium Lounge and the Blue Riband Club became the Executive Club. The Quiet Lounge was also renamed, becoming the Niarbyl Reserved Lounge.

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 (9 yards) 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. 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.[8]

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.

In April 2011, it was announced that the company had new owners Banco Espírito Santo.[9] In May 2018, it was confirmed that the Isle of Man Government had agreed a deal worth £124 million to purchase 100% of MIOM Ltd, the parent company of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.[10] The deal was approved by Tynwald on 16 May 2018.[11][6]

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 Cometa.[13] However the venture failed and nothing has been heard since.

Current servicesEdit

Motorcyclists on the Manx ferry from Liverpool

In return for exclusive use of the government linkspan at Douglas, the Steam Packet Company has guaranteed 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 few special day excursions to other destinations or round the Isle of Man in summer. Extra sailings are scheduled at times of high demand such as the Isle of Man TT period. The company also operates its own in-house travel agency, Steam Packet Holidays.

In August 2017, the company announced a consultation to switch sailings from Belfast to Larne, to allow sailings to carry freight, motorhomes and coaches which could not be loaded at Belfast's Albert Quay.[14]

The Steam Packet Company operates services between:

  • Douglas - Heysham (Year-round service)
  • Douglas - Liverpool (Seasonal service - March to November)
  • Douglas - Belfast (Seasonal service - April to September & Christmas)
  • Douglas - Dublin (Seasonal service - April to September)

Film appearancesEdit

Steam Packet ships have been used in a number of films. The SS Mona's Queen is seen dockside in Liverpool in the 1935 George Formby comedy No Limit. In the Barbra Streisand film, Yentl the ship carrying emigrants to the United States at the end of the film is the Manxman. The Manxman also appears in Chariots of Fire. 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 and also appears, in Dublin, in Alan Parker's movie "The Commitments".


The company operates three vessels: a year-round conventional RO-PAX vessel, a fastcraft which operates seasonally, and a RO-RO freighter. The freighter is available for use when required, and is otherwise often on short-term charter to other operators throughout the year.

Picture Name Built Routes Notes
  Arrow 1998 Douglas–Heysham
  Ben-my-Chree [VI] 1998 Douglas–Heysham (year-round)
Douglas–Belfast (seasonal)
Fleet flagship
  Manannan 1998 Douglas–Liverpool/Belfast/Dublin (seasonal)

In August 2020, the company ordered a new ferry from South Korean shipbuilder Hyundai Mipo Dockyard to replace Ben-my-Chree upon delivery in 2023.[15] The new ship is to be called Manxman.[16] In September 2022 it was announced that Arrow had been purchased from Seatruck Ferries after being on long term charter.[17]

Historic fleetEdit

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 SS 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 steamersEdit

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
  Fenella 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"Edit

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. They operated from Douglas to various ports. 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 British Isles. Despite preservation attempts the vessel was finally scrapped in 2012.

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

Side-loading car ferriesEdit

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 still unique to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company today. They operated from Douglas to various ports.

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

Roll-on/roll-off ferriesEdit

The company has operated a number of roll-on/roll-off 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)
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
  Belard April 1979
(November 1993)
Various 1,599 GT Sold for further use as Muirneag
Still in service


The company has operated fastcraft since 1993.

Ship Built Entered service Routes Notes
  Emeraude France October 1990
(March 2007)
DouglasLiverpool/Belfast/Dublin Chartered in 2007
Currently laid up at Tilbury
  SeaCat Danmark January 1991
(May 1998)
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 Seajets 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 2003-2008
Now operating as Hellenic Wind
  Manannan 1998
(May 2009)
Currently operating services from Douglas
to Liverpool, Belfast and Dublin.

See alsoEdit



  1. ^ "Isle of Man Steam Packet Co Ltd/The - Company Profile and News".
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 May 2013. Retrieved 11 May 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ a b c "About Us". Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Archived from the original on 12 February 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  4. ^ "Mona's Queen Anchor Memorial to be sited in Port St Mary". Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. 31 May 2011. Archived from the original on 12 February 2012. Retrieved 10 February 2012.
  5. ^ "The Merger". Mersey Ships. Retrieved 4 August 2013.
  6. ^ a b Tynwald to buy Steam Packet Ships Monthly August 2018 page 10
  7. ^ "Macquarie Bank acquires Isle of Man Steam Packet Group". Macquarie Group Limited. 20 October 2005. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  8. ^ "Report into the 'Ben-My-Chree' incident at Heysham Port". Marine Accident Investigation Branch. December 2010. Retrieved 29 December 2010.
  9. ^ "New owners and corporate structure". Manx Radio. 8 April 2011. Retrieved 11 February 2012.
  10. ^ "Proposal to purchase Isle of Man Steam Packet Company". Isle of Man Government. 8 May 2018. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  11. ^ "Tynwald pass plan to purchase Steam Packet Company for £124m". BBC News. Retrieved 17 May 2018.
  12. ^ John Turner (19 July 2013). "New Isle of Man shipping line to hold open meeting". Isle of Man Today. Archived from the original on 28 March 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  13. ^ Adrian Darbyshire (22 January 2014). "Steam Packet rival issues ultimatum to Isle of Man government". Isle of Man Today. Archived from the original on 30 June 2016. Retrieved 11 August 2018.
  14. ^ "Packet eyes Larne coach trippers". Manx Radio. 14 August 2017. Retrieved 23 December 2021.
  15. ^ "New Isle of Man ferry to provide 'more space for passengers'". BBC News Online. 3 August 2020. Retrieved 16 August 2020.
  16. ^ "Manxman chosen as name of new Isle of Man ferry". BBC News Online. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  17. ^ "Isle of Man Steam Packet Company secures ownership of MV Arrow". Retrieved 29 September 2022.


  • 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. Brighton, 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 linksEdit