THIS SORRY MESS.3 - THE MERGER
The merger between the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and Sealink / Manx Line took place on 1st April 1985.
Steam Packet Chairman, Major T.E. Brownsdon commented:
"The alternative to this merger is too dreadful even to contemplate"
The year 1985 opened with a veil of secrecy hanging over the Steam Packet's future operations after 31st March. No sailing schedules were published and no firm bookings were being taken, but it was obvious that the new MONA'S ISLE would not be sailing from Liverpool as there was no on-river linskspan there, nor were there any plans to provide one.
It was patently obvious that the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company was in severe financial difficulties. These stemmed from six years of competition from Manx Line which had never made a profit, and yet at times was charging wholly uneconomic fares. For much of the year there is barely enough passenger traffic on Isle of Man routes to support one operator, let alone two.
At 09.30 on the morning of 1st February 1985 a press conference was arranged at Imperial Buildings, (a.k.a., with extremely good reason, 'Impervious Palace'), the Company's head office at Douglas. Speculation was rife that the Company was about to go into liquidation. In the event a communique was issued from Sealink and the Steam Packet outlining a merger of their respective operations; the end of the Liverpool service, and the concentration of the main year-round service on Heysham.
The Manx Goverment immediately set up a Select Committee to inquire into the proposed merger. Member after member of Tynwald came out in favour of the merger, saying that he did so with regret, but recognising the acceptance of the merger as an economic necessity. Dr Edgar Mann, the chairman of the Select Committee said that Tynwald had reacted to the news of the merger with 'shock and disbelief', as, indeed, had the entire Manx public. In fact enough crocodile tears were shed to fill the Isle of Man's reservoir at injebreck three time over! These were the same men who, just seven and a half years earlier, had bent over backwards to assist the new Manx Line.
Conflicting advice from the 'Isle of Man Examiner' !!!
Sir Charles Kerruish, the Speaker of the House of Keys, and arguably the most respected Manx politician of all time, claimed that the merger was 'the most ridiculous proposal ever to come before this Court'. [Tynwald]. Sir Charles went on to say that Tynwald had supported the ferry merger on the strength of the chairmen of the Executive Council and the Tourist Board taking a day trip to Heysham and approving the facilities there. The normally unflappable Sir Charles attacked the 'naive' approach of Government in putting its money and its mouth behind the setting up of Manx Line eight years previously. The Island's lifeline had now been put in jeopardy, he claimed. "The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company is in such a dreadful state of inefficiency that it poses a threat to tourism," stormed an incensed Sir Charles.
Sir Charles Kerruish,
Speaker of the House of Keys
Steam Packet chairman Mr Syd Shimmin was summoned to appear before the Select Committee on 14th March 1985 and, under oath, made the following points:
*** If the Steam Packet merger with Sealink were not to go ahead, then the only alternative was immediate liquidation.
*** He revealed that negotiations about a possible merger had commenced as early as August, 1984.
*** All Steam Packet bookings for the 1985 season were on the Sealink computer.
Mr Dominic Delaney, MHK, suggested that the Company had superseded the decision of the Steam Packet shareholders. "We had to do so," replied Mr Shimmin.
Government Treasurer Mr William Dawson described the merger as 'unusual'. He pointed out that a long-established company with two thirds of the traffic, had made losses. A smaller company with half the Steam Packet's turnover, and which had not made a profit since it began operations, would get 40% of the Steam Packet shares at the merger.
Following the completion of the Select Committee's inquiries, Mr Shimmin said that the whole matter of the merger had become a most emotive issue, especially on the Isle of Man, but it had to be judged in strict commercial terms. Major Brownsdon summed up the situation with the words: "The alternative to this merger is too dreadful even to contemplate."
Three meetings were arranged to decide the future of the Steam Packet Company. The first of these was an Extraordinary General Meeting held on Thursday 21st March 1985 and the entire proceedings were broadcast 'live' by Manx Radio. This meeting had been requested by shareholders challenging the merger of the Steam Packet with Sealink Manx Line, and the withdrawal of the Liverpool service. More than 400 shareholders attended the meeting which commenced at 10.30am and lasted until after 5.pm. Steam Packet chairman Sydney Shimmin took the full weight of the anger and emotion which boiled over whilst the other directors looked on. One lady shareholder who was so upset at what she saw as the frivolous appearance of some of the directors shouted at Mr Walter Gilbey to 'stop grinning and smirking'. It was a very serious matter they were discussing, she added.
Sir Charles Kerruish congratulated the Sealink Manx Line directors on their perspicacity. They had been able to see that at the first shove the Steam Packet Company would collapse and become a pushover for a 'pittance'.
Sir Charles went on to congratulate the Steam Packet directors for their temerity in appearing on the platform after behaving in such an arrogant and contemptuous manner towards their shareholders. "There is no question that the lighting must conceal their blushes," he declared.
At the end of a dramatic day the directors of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company gained a massive 82.4% vote of confidence when the shareholders were asked to approve the proposed merger with Sealink Manx Line. What it meant, effectively, was that a majority of the small shareholders were against the deal, but they did not have the voting strength to outnumber the 'big boys' who of course included the Manx Government with its 13.7% holding.
A postponed Annual General Meeting was held on 29th March, followed by a further Extraordinary General Meeting which formally approved the merger which came into effect on 1st April 1985 when the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company severed its connection with Liverpool after 155 years.
The MONA'S QUEEN at Liverpool on 30th March 1985, preparing
to take the final Steam Packet sailing from the port after 155 years.
The merger agreement included the following clauses:
*** The allocation of 1,500,000 ordinary £1 stock units (40% of the total) to Manx Line Limited, now part of the Sea Containers empire.
*** An agreement that neither Sea Containers nor its subsidiaries would operate an opposition ferry service to the Isle of Man as long as the Steam Packet Company used Heysham as its principal terminal in England.
*** Sea Containers would provide the ANTRIM PRINCESS on bareboat charter to operate the principal Heysham - Douglas service in place of the MANX VIKING.
On the eve of the merger, 31st March 1985, the situation was indeed a sorry mess:
*** The Steam Packet's new flagship MONA'S ISLE was still at Govan with problems to her fire sprinkler system.
*** The PEVERIL was strikebound at Liverpool with twelve of the shore staff staging a sit-in.
*** The ANTRIM PRINCESS could not be released from the Stranraer - Larne route to take over from the MANX VIKING.
*** The MANX VIKING's survey certificates were due to expire within 24 hours.
*** The crew of the ro-ro vessel STENA SAILER was blockading the Heysham linkspan as a protest against the PEVERIL replacing the Stena ship on the Belfast Freight Ferries run from 14th April.
Given the extent of 'the sorry mess' on 1st April 1985, the Steam
Packet Company had to rely on its side-loading car ferries to run
a basic service following the merger with Sealink Manx Line.
A basic service was sailed by the Steam Packet's side loading ferries MONA'S QUEEN and LADY OF MANN, until at 17.00 on 3rd April 1985 the MONA'S ISLE arrived at Douglas, only to find that she would not fit either the Steam Packet's 'Navire' linkspan, nor the Manx Line's 'MacGregor' linkspan. As the Heysham ramp was still blocked by the STENA SAILER, the MONA'S ISLE's maiden voyage was on the Dublin route. On her arrival at Dun Laoghaire the problems of handling her in a stiff breeze became apparent: the bow thrust unit was inadequate and it was an hour before she was alongside. At one point her engines 'jammed' in "full-astern" mode inside the harbour!
The MONA'S ISLE leaving Douglas. The new accommodation block
at the after end was the cause of the deadweight and windage problems.
The MONA'S ISLE was equipped with inefficient 'flume' stabilisers, and the MANX MAID was drydocked at Birkenhead and had her fin stabilisers removed with the intention of fitting them to the ISLE at a future date. Both the MAID and the BEN-MY-CHREE were sold, and a condition of the sale was that neither should be re-employed on Isle of Man routes.
The MANX MAID in drydock at Birkenhead
having her fin stabilisers removed for intended
use in the MONA'S ISLE
The PEVERIL was finally released at Liverpool on 8th April after twelve of the Liverpool shore staff accepted redundancy payments of £20,000 each, thus adding almost a quarter of a million pounds to the Steam Packet's shut-down costs at the port.
Still at Liverpool, the Steam Packet Company owed the Manx Government over £2,100,000 for the new landing stage. The original Princes Stage fell into serious disrepair in the early 1970s and the Mersey Docks & Harbour Company had no plans to replace it. As Liverpool was, at that time, the Steam Packet's principal passenger port, the Manx Government agreed to loan the company, over a period of 25 years, up to £2,750,000 to pay for a replacement landing stage, which was first used by the Steam Packet in 1977. So, after the MONA'S QUEEN's final departure from Liverpool on 30th March 1985 it appeared that the company would be paying, over the next 17 years, substantial sums to the Manx Government for a structure it no longer required.
The MANXMAN alongside the new landing stage at Liverpool in 1977.
Just a fortnight after entering service, the Steam Packet Company announced that the MONA'S ISLE had serious deadweight problems and therefore could not carry anthing like the loadings expected of her. A Liverpool firm of marine consultants T.R. Little & Company had surveyed the ISLE on 17th April and had established that the usable cargo deadweight amounted to 247 tonnes only - about one tenth of what was expected of her. This problem had been caused by the extensive new accommodation designed by Steam Packet director Dr E.C.B. Corlett and built on the after passenger deck. This same accommodation block was also causing severe 'windage' problems, and making the ISLE unmanageable when berthing in a stiff breeze. To assist with berthing the Laxey Towing Company's tugs PRIMROSE and SALISBURY were on stand-by at Douglas, and the Holyhead Towing Company's CARMEL HEAD was based at Heysham to assist the MONA'S ISLE.
Because of her wholly underpowered bow thrusters, the MONA'S ISLE
required the assistance of tugs both at Douglas and at Heysham.
One passenger told the 'Isle of Man Examiner': 'The Plimsoll Line is below the water. The MONA'S ISLE's knackered! It's just an old tub!' The message from the Steam Packet was: 'We have problems, but everything's OK'. Marketing Manager Dick Reeves said allegations about the ship had been 'exaggerated out of all proportion'. He added: "There are no structural problems at all. It's just a question of load levels."
As TT Week approached (early June), the Company found itself short of tonnage to meet the demands of the shuttle sailings for visiting motorcyclists. The BEN-MY-CHREE was still lying at Birkenhead following her sale, and so she was chartered back from her new owners and registered at Liverpool. She sailed between Heysham and Douglas between 25th May and 9th June 1985. Although laid up for eight months, the BEN's brief return was a tribute to all the Steam Packet personnel who had achieved the impossible by returning her to service at just five days notice. Her unfailing reliability in a summer which was lurching from crisis to crisis with the inadequate MONA'S ISLE was testimony to all those who had nurtured the Steam Packet Company's final steamer back to sea.
The Steam Packet Company's last steamer, the BEN-MY-CHREE,
passing Fort Perch Rock at New Brighton on her way back to dock
at Birkenhead, following her stint of TT service in 1985.
The last steam-powered sailing of all after 155 years.
In mid-June 1985 a new daily Liverpool and Douglas passenger and freight service was announced by the Isle of Man Shipping Corporation, a newly formed subsidiary of the Altrincham based Gemini Shipping Corporation. Using two 2,800-ton side loading ferries to be named GREEBA CASTLE and PEEL CASTLE, the new service expected to be up and running by the end of June. About 500 people parted with £25 each to obtain a copy of the prospectus, but Gemini Shipping quickly backed out. It would all seem to have been an elaborate hoax.
Dr E.C.B. Corlett resigned as a director of the Steam Packet Company on 24th June. His company, Burness, Corlett and Partners, Naval Architects of Ramsey, had been responsible for the conversion of the MONA'S ISLE, now known as the MONA'S FOLLY. The Steam Packet commenced legal action in respect of the consultancy advice receved from Dr Corlett. There was no farewell luncheon at the Palace Hotel to fete the retiring director.
A petition for 'Redress of Grievance' was presented to Tynwald on 5th July. The petition sought 'Nationalisation of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, or compulsory acquisition of one of the Douglas linkspans to allow its unrestricted use by other operators willing to provide shipping services to the Isle of Man'.
Massive increases in the freight rates of up to 103% were announced on 30th July. They were described by hauliers as 'quite horrendous' and 'beyond belief'. Steam Packet freight manager John Humphrey told freight customers that the Steam Packet and Manx Line had previously operated their services at a totally uneconomic rate, and referred to what he called the 'rate war' which had existed prior to the merger.
In retaliation, the major freight hauliers attempted to charter the German freighter ORBITRITA. This vessel arrived for berthing trials in Douglas in August, but of course was not allowed to use either of the linkspans, as they were both privately owned by the Steam Packet Company.
All the Steam Packet's sea-going staff held a meeting on board the MONA'S ISLE and gave the Manx Government 24 hours notice of a dispute of the ORBITRITA were allowed to operate. All passenger services would come to an immediate halt. The convenor for the National Union of Seamen said its members could not allow another company to take freight away from the Steam Packet as there just wasn't work for two companies to serve the Isle of Man, as had been proved by the merger.
The ORBITRITA sailed away and was not heard of again.
The Steam Packet Company board meeting of 15th August resolved a number of outstanding problems. The MONA'S ISLE would be permanently withdrawn from service on 5th Octobere 1985, giving her the dubious distinction of having the shortest career of any Steam Packet vessel in history.
The MONA'S ISLE lasted exactly six months in
Isle of Man Steam Packet service.
The replacement for the ISLE would be the ANTRIM PRINCESS, to be transferred from the Stranraer - Larne route. She would be renamed TYNWALD and crewed by Steam Packet personnel.
Mr James Sherwood, the President of Sea Containers, was at the board meeting on 15th August and at a press conference following the meeting it was clear he greatly impressed the leader writer of the Isle of Man Examiner:
LEADING FROM THE FRONT
'Last week's press conference held by Mr James Sherwood could not have been in greater contrast to the fraught public appearances of the Steam Packet's management earlier this year. This was no back-to-the-wall occasion for parrying blows and fending off attacks - Mr Sherwood was supremely in charge. His organisation may hold only 40% of the Steam Packet shares at present, but it is quite clear he has a controlling interest, in psychological terms, already.
Mr Sherwood stated that the replacement for the
MONA'S ISLE would be the ANTRIM PRINCESS
'The Steam Packet board met on Thursday morning [15th August] and Mr Sherwood appeared on Thursday afternoon to tell the world what they had decided. So far their decisions relate only to the future services to be provided for the public. When the 'headhunters' Mr Sherwood employs find the company its new chief executive, he will have absolute power to do what he likes within the company, and some people must already be shivering in their shoes.
After she had proved herself to be satisfactory, the
ANTRIM PRINCESS was renamed TYNWALD (6)
'It has to be said that Mr Sherwood's appearance was encouraging. He appeared before us with a 20-year track record of commercial success, and he has made no bones about the fact that he intends to turn the Steam Packet into a profitable organisation. However much we regret the loss of local control - and it is immensely regrettable - we have to recognise that it was local management which brought the company to the state it was in earlier this year (with more than a little help, admittedly, from the Manx Government).
The MONA'S ISLE arriving at Birkenhead at the end of her Steam Packet service
'Mr Sherwood did not pretend that he could share the sentimental relationship which existed between the Manx public and the Steam Packet in the past. His intention is to run a successful service and to make a profit. His plans for the future are bold and imaginative.'
The Steam Packet Company's loss in 1985 amounted to £3,047,941. Included in this figure was £1,657,384 being the loss incurred with the MONA'S ISLE, plus £386,000 for expenses such as tugs, involved with operating the vessel.
The MONA'S ISLE arriving at the Alfred Locks at Birkenhead to
be laid up at the end of her disastrous stint of Isle of Man service.
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Five months after docking at Birkenhead at the end of her Isle of Man service, the MONA'S ISLE was sold for £710,502 to Hassan Sadaka Hitta of Saudi Arabia for further use as a pilgrim carrier in the Red Sea. She continued in this role for some years before stranding on a reef off Jeddah and becoming a total loss.
The MONA'S ISLE in drydock in Birkenhead in February 1986
prior to her sale to Hassan Sadaka Hitta.
The AL FAHAD (ex MONA'S ISLE, ex TAMIRA, ex FREE ENTERPRISE III),
ready to leave Birkenhead for the Red Sea on 7th April 1986.
The end for the AL FAHAD (ex MONA'S ISLE) came when she
struck a reef off Jeddah and became a total loss.
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The MANX VIKING remained with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company until she made her final sailings on 29th September 1986. The ship that had been at the centre of 'This Sorry Mess' for eight years was sold for further trading in Norwegian waters.
The MANX VIKING in Steam Packet colours in 1986.