Ben My Chree is a combination passenger and freight ferry, providing a vital lifeline link between the Isle of Man and the north of England. The Isle of Man, situated in the Irish Sea, is a major holiday destination, as well as being a key venue for the TT (tourist trophy), Grand Prix motorcycle endurance races and other sporting events – all of which attract many hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.
Although well served by airlines, the island’s somewhat remote location requires regular, reliable sea transport. An economic and tourist boom in the mid-1990s fuelled the need for an additional ferry service for transporting building materials and construction equipment.
The result of this demand is the 12,500t Ben My Chree, a £24m ($39.5m) newbuild from the Dutch ferry specialist Van der Giessen de Noord BV. The order was placed by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, and is the company’s first new ship for 23 years.
The Manx ferry operation was acquired by Jim Sherwood’s Bermuda-based Sea Containers in 1996, following a protracted and acrimonious takeover battle. However, the intervening period has witnessed a rehabilitation of relations and now the company, which has been operational for the past 150 years, is prospering.
The company said the ropax ferry would provide a good, reliable winter service and be an excellent back-up for the high-speed, popular Manx SeaCat service.
The Steam Packet Company has an agreement with the Manx government that allows it to have sole use of the linkspan in the port of Douglas in return for a guaranteed service to the island. Ben My Chree makes two crossings a day between Mondays and Fridays from the Isle of Man’s main port of Douglas to Heysham, near Morecambe, on the north-west coast of England.
At the weekends she switches to a Douglas to Liverpool service. This latter route is also served by the high-speed catamaran out of Liverpool. The Steam Packet Company is keen to retain its position in the port of Liverpool, emphasising that its success to date has stemmed partly from the accessibility factor of operating between main centres rather than small coastal towns.
Ben My Chree was built to Lloyd’s Register classification standards. Her principal dimensions are: length overall of 125.2m, length between perpendiculars of 115.1m, moulded breadth of 23.4m, moulded depth of 14.3m and a shallow draught of 5m.
The company says she is capable of carrying 500 passengers, although her build specifications show that she can carry 420 in ordinary seating and 80 in cabins. There are 20 four-berth cabins in total. Crew accommodation is provided for 22 persons. In addition, she has freight space for 200 vehicles.
She first entered service in summer 1998 but, following a series of customer complaints about on-board standards and facilities, the ferry company was forced to send her for a refit during her first winter to improve passenger accommodation.
Changes included the addition of reclining chairs in the forward and aft lounges, the installation of new partitions between the restaurant and bar areas and a separate play area for children. Passengers had also been disappointed that the initial design of the ship barred them from outside decks. These alterations have now all been incorporated.
Ben My Chree is powered by two MaK9M32 medium-speed diesel engines each developing 5,873bhp, a total output of 11,746bhp, driving two controllable pitch propellers for an 18k service speed.
For speed of turnaround and manoeuvrability she also has a controllable pitch bow thruster.