FerriesGeneral Steam Navigation CompanyPast and PresentTownsend Car Ferries

MV Autocarrier – Past and Present

IMO Number: 5301409

MV Ischia

ex Autocarrier, Royal Sovereign (IV)

© Ken Smith

Royal Sovereign – © Ken Smith

Steel twin-screw motor vessel, built and engined by Dennys of Dumbarton (Yard No 1413) for the General Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. in 1948 as an excursion steamer

Technical Data

  • Length: 87.99m (288.3 ft)
  • Breadth of Hull: 16.16m (48.8 ft)
  • Draught: 2.93m (8.5 ft)
  • Tonnage: 1,851 gross (1948), 1,528 (1974), 996 (1976), 826 net (1948), 555 (1974), 454 (1976), 856 deadweight, 512 (1974)
  • Engines: Two 12-cylinder Sulzer two-stroke single acting diesels
  • Power: 3357 kW
  • Speed: 19 knots
  • Capacity: 1783 passengers (1948), 36 passengers, 24 trailers and lorries (1976)
  • Call Sign: GFMQ, INVO 
  • IMO Number: 5301409
  • Official Number: 181955
  • Registry: London/UK 🇬🇧, Livorno/Italy  🇮🇹, Naples/Italy 🇮🇹


May 7th 1948: Launched

July 14th 1948: Left Dumbarton as the ROYAL SOVEREIGN (IV).

July 15th 1948: Delivered to General Steam Nav. Co. Ltd. London, England and introduced into coastal cruises around the Thames (between London, Southend and Margate) and across the Channel to France. Also did some cross Channel work.

1966: Based at Great Yarmouth for trips to Calais

Royal Sovereign – Roy Thornton Collection (Postcard)

Roy Thornton Collection Roy Thornton Collection  

Royal Sovereign – Roy Thornton Collection

Courtesy of Ted Ingham Courtesy of Ted Ingham  

Royal Sovereign – Courtesy of Ted Ingham

1966: Withdrawn from service.

1967: Laid-up in Deptford Creek.

1967: Purchased by Stanhope Shipping Company (Townsend Ferries) , associates of the George Nott Group, for £100,000.

1967: Rebuilt as a RoRo ship at Verschure & Co, Amsterdam, Holland.

Courtesy of Chris Howell Courtesy of Chris Howell

🆕 Autocarrier – Courtesy of Chris Howell

1967: Renamed AUTOCARRIER.

© Fotoflite, Roy Thornton Collection Courtesy of Ted Ingham  

Autocarrier © Fotoflite, Roy Thornton Collection (left) and courtesy of Ted Ingham (right)

August 29th 1967: Arrived at Dover for operations between Dover, Eastern Docks and Zeebrugge. There had been a plan to raise her passenger capacity between 400-600 to allow the ship to carry pier-hopping excursions under the Townsend subsidiary P&A Campbell Ltd., As late as April it was advertised that she was due to commence these sailings on June 2nd. This came to nothing, as there was now so much freight on offer on the Zeebrugge link that she could not be spared.

© A G Jones © A G Jones  

© A G Jones

Autocarrier – © A G Jones

August 30th 1967: First sailing to Zeebrugge, but on the return sailing she developed engine troubles and was only firing on 9 of her 24 cylinders and took nine and a half hours to complete the crossing.

Roy Thornton Collection Roy Thornton Collection  

Roy Thornton Collection Roy Thornton Collection  

Autocarrier – Roy Thornton Collection (all)

October 28th 1967: Extensively damaged when, going astern into the canal at Zeebrugge, she bent both screws and propeller shafts, lost her rudder and flooded her steering compartment. She was sent to Antwerp for repairs.

© John G Callis

Autocarrier – © John G Callis (Roy Thornton Collection)

May 5th 1968: Resumed in service.

© Michael Woodland

Autocarrier – © Michael Woodland

© Ken Larwood © A G Jones  

Autocarrier – © Ken Larwood (left) and © A G Jones (right) (26/11/1972 Wellington Dock, Dover)

November 19th 1972: Struck the South Pier at Dover damaging her bow. She was not ideally suited for year round operation and proved to be a particularly wet little ship earning her the nickname of “Townsend Submarine”.

© A G Jones

Ischia – © A G Jones

October 15th 1973: Sold to Societa Partenopea di Navigazione, Naples, Italy. Renamed ISCHIA. Left Dover for Italy.

Ischia – Nigel Thornton Collection

1973: Rebuilt.

Roy Thornton Collection Roy Thornton Collection  

Ischia – © A Scrimali (Roy Thornton Collection)

1973: Commenced service between Naples – Ischia.

Ischia – Roy Thornton Collection (Postcard)

1975: Sold to Navigazione Toscana, Livorno, Italy. Commenced service between Piombino – Elba.

© Enrico Righetti

Ischia – © Enrico Righetti

November 1980: Sold to Umberto Patalano, Casamicciola Terme, Italy.

198?: Registered under Traghetti Pozzuoli S.r.l., Naples, Italy. Operated between Naples – Ischia.

Nigel Thornton Collection

Ischia – Nigel Thornton Collection

July 22nd 1995: Suffered an engine-room fire which caused minor damage. Repaired.

© Andreas Wörteler © Andreas Wörteler  

Ischia – © Andreas Wörteler

2003: Received significant upgrading to enable her to comply with current safety regulations.

2004: Registered owner Medmar Navi SPA, Italy.

© Enrico Righetti © Enrico Righetti  

Ischia – © Enrico Righetti

© Frank Heine © Frank Heine

Ischia – © Frank Heine (Pozzuoli, 23/07/2005)

December 2007: Completed service on Pozzuoli-Casamicciola route and departed for breaking at Aliaga, Turkey.

Aliaga, Turkey © Selim San Aliaga, Turkey © Selim San  

Ischia –  Aliaga, Turkey © Selim San

All information is believed to be correct and no responsibility is accepted for any errors or omissions found. All items included in this article are subject to © copyright. We would like to take this opportunity of thanking: Chris Howell, Ted Ingham, A G Jones, Ken Larwood, Enrico Righetti, Selim San, Ken Smith, Michael Woodland and Andreas Wörteler for their assistance in compiling this feature.

Article © Nigel Thornton and Ray Goodfellow (Dover Ferry Photos Group)


  1. I was on the Autocarrier when she was picked up from Amsterdam, having been altered to a lorry carrier. Complete shambles. The ship was hardly ready for sea, the accomodation below decks had just been painted so could not be slept in. Crashed out on saloon deck.
    Sailed to Zeebrugge to try the loading ramp. Took back a load of troops returning from Germany. Next trip was delayed by fog, the next the big (or small) end went, taking 9 hours to return to Dover. A couple of trips later there was a fire in the funnel, with Townsend directors on board. On all occasions the Chief Engineer coped marvellously and lost his life on Herald when she capsized.
    Autocarrier was a floating disaster. I felt sorry for the Captain as it was his first command.
    I still treasure the memories, though.
    Alastair Russell

    1. Hi Alastair,

      Thank you for your comments. It is nice to know these articles stir memories.

      Any information (preferably confirmed) or picture will be added to the Past and Present as that it what these articles are all about. On going and ever growing!

      Take care and keep viewing
      Nigel Thornton

    2. I was the galley boy when the Auto Carrier hit the dock at Dover aged 16. I stayed onboard for the trip to I think either Amsterdam or Rotterdam for dry dock. 3 days later after an interesting time with the crew in the town we returned. I also remember on another crossing to Zebrugge the engine room caught fire. Total panic, life jackets and awaiting lifeboat deployment which never got that far. Loads more memories.

  2. I also brought the autocarrier back from amsterdam. in heavy seas it was like a corkscrew. rolling port to starbourd then pitching and tossing. on one occasion a tanker carrying wine was leaking, and we all helped ourselves to the wine, which tasted a lot like diesel.on another trip, we rescued a crew from a fishing vessel ( i think), their boat sank,it was night time, and their dinghy was tied to it by rope, that they just managed to cut in time, before it took them down too. I well remember that nine hour trip, our first on the zeebruge run. regds. Len.

    1. Hi Len,

      It sounds like the Autocarrier was, to coin a phrase, a right `bucket of bolts’.

      It’s always nice for us to hear real life stories associated with the articles we publish so thank you for taking the time to comment.

      Best Wishes
      Ray Goodfellow

  3. Hi, I just came across the very interesting site while looking for anything on the Autocarrier. I traveled on her twice during the early seventies and well remember how tired looking it was. Luckily I had ‘sea legs’ from day one so the at first disconcerting rolling really rocked me to sleep from Zeebrugge. I remember the tiny ‘lounge’ with it’s well worn, mismatching three piece suites and minute cabins. Most memorable though was the steward, a real character who would conjure up a wonderful cooked breakfast before docking in Dover. In those days Townsends were trying to attract as much freight traffic as possible and every lorry driver would receive a complimentary bottle of whiskey and 200 fags! Happy days!
    Regards, Graham Hallam

  4. Hi, my name is Robin and my father was 3rd Engineer on the MV Royal Sovereign in the 1950`s , the ship was built for summer use only that’s why she rolled so much in bad weather, GSNC looked after all three ships they had at that time I remember them so well, Royal Sovereign, Queen of the Channel my father was 2nd engineer on her and Royal Daffodil, you could eat your dinner off the engine rooms floor they were so clean, also they never broke down until they were sold, they were so well built by Dennys Royal Sovereign lasted 60 years, these ships will go to the grave with me I had so good times on them in the engine room with my father.

    1. Hi Robin,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to comment on our website page about the Autocarrier/Royal Sovereign and thank you for your insight.

      I always like to hear stories of how our website visitors have a personal connection with the articles we publish and I love to hear stories of the sea from peoples own memories.

      Best Wishes

      Ray Goodfellow

  5. I was on her in 1983 from Casamicciola, the secondary port in Ischia, to Pozzuoli, north of Naples.
    The passenger accommodation was all new, but standing in front of the bridge, looking out over the foredeck it seemed unchanged

  6. Seeing these images is very thought provoking and brings back fond memories of my childhood days, when my family would treat me to a day trip to Margate from Southend Pier.
    I well remember all three ships, in particular The Royal Soveriegn when in the mid seventies I was returning from Germany with a friend in his Transit van having just picked up an F1 racing engine for Grahame Hill. We had missed our scheduled ferry the night before and had to spend a rather uncomfortable night on the quay at Zeebrugge. Early the following morning we were directed to board a rather peculiar looking ferry.
    Clearly unrecognisable from its original form and not realising its origins, we went below decks and consumed a hearty breakfast in the main saloon, where we happened upon the framed photos on the wall. All was then revealed and I can remember the feeling of utter disbelief that this was once the ship on which I had spent so many enjoyable summers.
    David Body
    MV ‘Lotte’

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