A Critical Time for the Steam Packet and the Island’s Future

Today is International Day of the Seafarer and to mark the occasion, our Managing Director Brian Thomson reflects on our history, Manxman’s positive impact on the island, and the evolution ahead for us as a Company.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's new flagship, Manxman, at sea.

On June 25, seafarers across the globe will be celebrated during the International Maritime Organisation’s Day of the Seafarer. For the Isle of Man, this celebration holds a special significance. As an island nation, seafaring is intrinsic to the Isle of Man. It plays an essential and unique role in the local community, with seafarers supporting the daily running of the island, as well as the overall economic, cultural and leisure interests of Manx residents and businesses.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company is the oldest continually operating passenger shipping company in the world, having begun operations in 1830. Over nearly 200 years, 72 vessels have served our Island, including the Manx Maid, the first car ferry in 1962, the first fastcraft service to the island with the SeaCat in 1994, and of course just last year the introduction of our brand-new bespoke Manxman vessel.

Manxman symbolises a new era in ferry travel focusing on sustainable technological innovation and first class passenger comfort. Our flagship vessel is considered the most modern ferry currently operating in the British Isles, delivering increased capacity in the largest, most-modern and well-equipped vessel the island has ever had. With the addition of Manxman, we have a ferry fleet that is the envy of the Irish Sea.

It has already made a significant impact on the Isle of Man’s transportation infrastructure driving an increase in passengers travelling by ferry. Over this year’s TT, a new record was set for the number of passengers travelling to the event by ferry, with almost 38,000 passengers travelling with us. It marks the largest number of passengers arriving by ferry since comparable records began in 1986, excluding the 2007 TT Centenary Event.

Motorcycles and riders loading onto Manxman for TT 2024.

It’s fantastic to see Manxman’s positive impact on the island’s economy, tourism and wider Manx community, and we are proud to make a vital contribution to the island.

While celebrating our successes, we must also acknowledge the evolution ahead for the Steam Packet and there’s never been a more critical time than now. Changes in economic conditions, upheaval in environmental and carbon reduction policies, new strategies to bring more residents to the island, our future fleet strategy, and navigating a major move to the new Government created Isle of Man Ferry Terminal in Liverpool are just a few of the key areas that we play a role in.

The long-term success of the Steam Packet is of paramount importance to not only ensure our vital daily operations, but to build funds in reserve to ensure that we can independently afford  future vessels that are sustainable and comply with new environmental and emissions requirements. Although we are a government-owned entity, we have not directly added cost to the taxpayer and we want to continue to be a stimulus for the island’s economy and not be a drain through the requirement of subsidies or tax increases to fund our ongoing operations and future capital requirements.

Evolving environmental and carbon reduction policies are a prominent driving force in ship design and operation, and we are acutely aware of its importance to our fleet strategy for the future. Reviewing our current fleet of vessels is of high importance to ensure they are future proof and sustainable, and can serve the island for years to come. Last year, we delivered a fleet strategy proposal to the Government that we believe provides a firm basis for discussions that will ensure the Steam Packet’s success in delivering what everyone expects of us.

As well as our fleet strategy, we are working in partnership with the Government to find the best solutions to update the Sea Services Agreement (SSA), which outlines the Steam Packet and Department of Infrastructure’s responsibilities and level of service. The discussions provide an opportunity for Government Departments to come together, align objectives, and for us to create an even more open and collaborative dialogue, so we are all working together to shared objectives that are in the island’s best interests.  The current SSA was agreed in 2019 and was negotiated in good faith, but the regulatory and economic environment in which we operate has changed significantly, and an update to the SSA is required in order to best service the island.

The new Isle of Man Government Ferry Terminal in Liverpool.

We also know that everyone is keen to see the new Isle of Man Ferry Terminal in Liverpool up and running. From our side, the safety of our passengers and crew is our priority. We began berthing trials as soon as the new terminal was able to accommodate them. which was in March of this year, and we are happy to say we have now completed these and will begin sailing to and from the new terminal on June 25th. An auspicious moment on Day of the Seafarer. And notable as this year’s focus of the day is safety at sea.

As with sailing to any new facility and despite completing all berthing trails and safety training, it will still take time for our captains, crew and staff to become fully accustomed to the terminal for passengers. We’d like to thank passengers in advance for their patience and understanding while we get used to the new Liverpool terminal. As we have always said, we are committed to providing a sustainable, reliable, and high quality service for island residents and tourists. The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company is more than just a ferry service; it’s a lifeline, and we take immense pride in our role in the community.

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