ex Nisos Limnos, Milos Express, Vortigern
Roy Thornton Collection
Steel twin screw motor vessel, built by Swan, Hunter & Tyne Shipbuilders (Yard No.10) at their Wallsend-on-Tyne yard for the British Railways Board in 1969 as a multi-purpose passenger and roll-on roll-off ferry for cars, lorries and railway vehicles
- Length on deck: 114.61m (376 ft) (overall)/107.90m (354 ft) (between perpendiculars)
- Breadth of hull: 19.23m (63 ft) (overall)
- Depth: 11.55m (37.9 ft) (to upper deck)/6.19m (20.3 ft) (to main deck)
- Draught: 4.1m (13.6 ft) (loaded/maximum)
- Tonnage: 4,371 gross/1,595 net/900 deadweight (car ferry), 1,200 (train ferry)
- Engines: Two 16-cylinder Crossley/Pielstick PC2V 450 four stroke single acting diesels, single reduction geared, driving 2 X Liaaen controllable pitch propellers (each through two gearboxes).
- Power:10,710 kW (14,560 bhp)
- Maximum BHP:7,280 for each engine
- Service speed: 19.5 knots (car ferry), 15.5 knots (train ferry)
- Capacity: 1,000 passengers (48 in cabins), Garage 40 cars, gallery decks 80 cars, Main deck 120 cars, main deck galleries raised 40 x 30’ lorries or 30 x 35’ rail wagons or 10 sleeping cars and 11 x 35’ wagons or 24 x 40’ wagons
- Generators: Three 560 kw Alternators 415 volts 50 c.p.s.
- Manoeuvring aids: twin spade rudders aft, bow lateral thrusters unit
- Stabilisers: Fin type.
- Call Sign: GZLH (1969 – 1988), SZHP (1988 – 1999)
- IMO Number: 6910960
- Official Number: 337888
- Registry: London/UK 🇬🇧, Piraeus/Greece 🇬🇷, Kingstown/Saint Vincent & Grenadines 🇻🇨
March 5th 1969: Launched by Lady Celia McKenna, wife of the Chairman of British Rail’s Shipping Division at an original cost of £2,361,164.000.
Roy Thornton Collection
“Fitting Out” at Wallsend, Courtesy of Jim Ashby
July 9th 1969: Sea trials. As designed, she did not fit any of the local ramps and became the first ferry fitted with a “cow catcher”. This modification was fitted to her bows by Dover Engineering Department.
Courtesy of Justin Merrigan (Left) and Roy Thornton Collection (© R J Weeks) (Right)
July 18th 1969: Delivered to British Railways Board as their first diesel-driven vessel in the Dover Strait. Also the first at Dover to have a bow visor and be fitted with variable-pitch propellers.
Roy Thornton Collection
July 26th 1969: Arrived at Dover. She replaced the car ferry DOVER, which in turn was transferred to the Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire route.
© David Ingham
July 31st 1969: Commenced regular summer service, with the 16.00 sailing to Boulogne. The vessel could function either as a conventional train ferry between Dover and Dunkirk, or as a car ferry to and from Boulogne, and she was generally used for the former service in the winter months and for the latter in the summer seasons. One main deck held road and rail vehicles and two auxiliary decks carried cars. In her early career she suffered from blowing cylinder head joints a problem which was later rectified by Pielstick.
September 18th 1969: Made her inaugural run to Dunkirk as a train ferry.
October 6th 1969: Commenced winter “Night Ferry” schedule between Dover – Dunkerque, the first new ship to do so for 18 years.
June 1970: Whilst en-route to Boulogne, struck an unidentified submerged object in the Channel. The port propeller was badly damaged necessitating its removal to Norway. The vessel resumed to limited service without passengers until returning to dry dock at Southampton for the propeller to be refitted. The third pair of lifeboats was replaced by a deck of life rafts.
“At the time nothing unusual was observed although some reported an unusual noise but no effects were noted on the engine or steering performance. However soon after she started maneuvering into the berth the low-level alarm on the port side hydraulic oil tank operated and soon all the contents were lost. This was the first indication that the propeller had sustained any damage.
The ship returned to Dover on one engine with no cars or passengers. I was the Chief engineer of the next crew joining the ship and received a phone call to be prepared to take the ship to dry dock in Southampton to carry out an inspection and any repairs that would be required. At this time no one had any idea as to what damage had been sustained.
On examination of the port propeller there was some obvious damage to two blades and on removing these it was obvious that the main damage was internal within the hub and the whole whole hub and the remaining two blades would have to be removed and returned to the makers for repairs. The only other evidence that there was that the ship had struck a submerged object was a score along the bottom about 70mm wide that scrapped the anti fouling through to bare metal. It was later unsubstantiated report that a French fishing boat had been lost in the vicinity and there was the possibility that she was still partly submerged and riding vertically on the air pocket in the fore peak. Other than the suggestion by a RN Officer that it was a Russian sneaking up the Channel no one has come up with an explanation.
The tail shaft was internally withdrawn and made fast and a blanking plate fitted so that the vessel could return to a freight only service until the propeller was refitted.
On returning to Dover from the original docking I left the ship as I had been on a month’s notice to leave the company and depart for New Zealand and join the NZ Marine Department as a surveyor.”
Donald Skinner FIMarEST
3 August 2014
1970: Damaged her stern at the French port and was off service from October 22nd to 29th.
Roy Thornton Collection
May 22nd 1971: Chartered to for an International Railway Congress in London, making a short trip between Southend Pier – Greenwich.
1972: Refit cost £74,000.
July 1st 1972: Made her first appearance at Folkestone.
© A G Jones (Wellington Dock, Dover 03/04/1973)
1973: Sealink trading name painted on the hull.
© A G Jones (14/05/1975)
Justin Merrigan Collection
1975: Saw her fitted with the first radar with an automatic plotting aid.
© Urbain Ureel (Left) and © William MacDonald (Right)
🆕© Karel Goutsmit
© Sybille Weber (Folkestone, Summer 1976)
1978: Annual refit at Middlesbrough included the £200,000 conversion of her after boat deck garage (in use when the ship operated as a train ferry) to a passenger lounge. The ship’s passenger certificate was raised from 1,000 to 1,350. Her “A” deck garage space (capable of carrying 40 cars mainly when the ship acts as a train ferry) has been converted into a new passenger lounge with 342 seats. This reflected her more usual passenger-car ferry role these days and her certificate has been “upped” to 1,350 passengers with car capacity down to 200. Other, minor changes took place — the main one probably being the modification of her hull belting to allow a better fit at Folkestone.
© Alex Duncan (Left) and the Roy Thornton Collection (Right)
January 1st 1979: Registered to Sealink U.K. Ltd. Commenced service between Folkestone – Boulogne.
Justin Merrigan Collection (Left) and Courtesy of Sybille Weber (Right)
October 28th 1979: Sailed for dry-docking at Holyhead and it was understood that officials at the Welsh port were anxious to put her on the Dun Laoghaire run in place of the failed ST COLUMBA but Dover protested and the spare MAID OF KENT was called in from Weymouth.
October 29th 1979: Arrived at Holyhead at 22.00 hrs and entered the dry dock on November 6th after the AVALON had vacated it.
© Rik Arnoudt (Ostend 1980)
January 16th 1981: Suffered an engine-room fire, resulting in much damage to her electrical installation. Repairs at Wallsend took four weeks.
June 1981: Grounded when going astern out of Boulogne.
March 4th 1982: Ran aground on a stone groin 2.2 cables from Ostend West Pier light, whilst operating 00.10 Folkestone/Ostend service.
© Ronald Steenacker
Courtesy of Michael Woodland (Left) and © Urbain Ureel (Right)
© Urbain Ureel
Matt Murtland (HHV Ferry) and the Roy Thornton Collection
© Arne Pyson
© Urbain Ureel
Roy Thornton Collection & Karel Goutsmit (as noted
March 6th 1982: Cleared the obstruction (10.39 hrs) with the aid of tugs and proceeded into Ostend (No.3) for discharge of vehicles, then on to lay-by (deep water quay) awaiting entry into the floating Dry Dock (occupied by PRINCE LAURENT on overhaul) for inspection.
© Robert Bertel (Arriving Ostend after grounding)
March 12th 1982: Entered the Dry Dock for survey subsequently re-floating and sailing to Amsterdam for repairs.
March 12th 1982: Arrived Ijmuiden Dock at 22.35 hrs where she underwent repairs.
Courtesy of Michael Richards
April 21st 1982 (09.00 hrs): Repairs complete, sailed for Folkestone.
April 21st 1982 (18.00 hrs): Arrived at Folkestone.
April 23rd 1982: Resumed service.
© Kenneth Whyte
© Ken Larwood (Folkestone, May 1982)
July 3rd 1982: While operating 20.10 Calais/Folkestone service the vessel struck the pier at Folkestone, damaging her Port Quarter. She was despatched to Zeiglen Yard at Dunkirk Dry Dock 4 th July 1982, returning to service after repair, to Folkestone 15.00 10th July. (British Railways Board , Shipping Services).
© A G Jones
© Ken Larwood (Laid up Dover 02/08/1982)
© Fotoflite, Courtesy of Michael Woodland (Left) © Jack Robertson (Right)
Roy Thornton Collection
© Jurgen Stein
March 1984: Visited Thames Ship-Repair Services, Chatham Dockyard for a two day visit to undergo repairs to a damaged propeller seal.
July 18th 1984: Sale of Sealink U.K. to Sea Containers Ltd, Bermuda. Company changed name to Sealink British Ferries U.K.
July 27th 1984: Registered to Sea Containers Ltd, London.
© Gary Davies (Maritime Photographic)
March 1985: Commenced service between Dover Western Docks and Dunkerque West, then returned to Folkestone.
Courtesy of Jim Ashby (Folkestone, 28/05/1985)
March 1986: With the delays of the refit to ST CHRISTOPHER the VORTIGERN was back on the Dover-Calais service. During October, plans were drawn up to jumboise the ST ANSELM and ST CHRISTOPHER by inserting either a 50 ft. or 100 ft. section amidships and in the same month again saw the VORTIGERN on the route.
© Ken Larwood
1986 – September 27th 1986: Operated between Folkestone – Boulogne.
© Jack Robertson
© John Hendy (Final advertised sailing to Boulogne)
November 12th 1986: Arrested by the Admiralty Marshall on behalf of the National Union of Seamen over unpaid redundancy cheques at Portsmouth.
November 13th 1986: Released when the cheques were promptly issued.
© A G Jones (Wellington Dock, Dover 07/12/1986)
© Fotoflite, Roy Thornton Collection
January 10th 1987: Called to operate the Fishguard – Rosslare route while the ST BRENDAN was on overhaul before completing her service on 4th February (1987), then returned to Dover to lay up.
April 1st 1987: Following the tragedy off Zeebrugge, Townsend Thoresen chartered the vessel for £250,000 over a period of 60 days for use on their Dover-Boulogne link.
1987 (Easter): Missed a couple of sailings following a small electrical fire.
June 1st 1987: Completed charter.
June 1987: Laid up on the river Fal.
Roy Thornton Collection (Sealink News)
August 6th 1987 – September 1987: Operated Newhaven – Dieppe for the broken down VERSAILLES.
October 1987 – January 1988: Operated between Folkestone – Boulogne replacing HENGIST .
January 1988: Suffered a bow door defect and continued as a stern loader only until the fault was rectified.
January 31st 1988: Suffered a bow thrust fault and was unable to enter Folkestone in a SW gale and diverted to Dover where she is thought to have been the first ferry to use the new Number One link-span on the Eastern Arm.
Roy Thornton Collection
March 7th 1988: Having been laid-up at Chatham re-activated on the Dun Laoghaire freight service.
Courtesy of Justin Merrigan
March 10th 1988: Ended her career on the inward bound Dun Laoghaire sailing before sailing to Holyhead in ballast.
© Mike Griffiths (Holyhead)
April 1st 1988: Sold to Lindos Line SA, Piraeus, Greece. Renamed MILOS EXPRESS. Departed Holyhead for Piraeus.
April 1988: Arrived at Gibraltar for Bunkers.
© Tony Davis
© L Bosschaart, Andreas Wörteler Collection
Roy Thornton Collection (Left) and courtesy of Chris Howell (Right)
© Frank Heine (Piraeus, October 1988)
1988: Commenced service between Piraeus – Kythnos – Serifos – Sifnos – Milos, sometimes Between Sikinos – Kimolos – Folegandros.
© Frank Heine (Piraeus 18/07/1990)
© Carsten Dettmer (August/September 1996)
© Antonis Lazarus (Left) and © Justin Merrigan (Right)
© Antonis Lazarus (All)
© Bernd Crause
November 12th 1999: Sold to Minoan Flying Dolphins, Piraeus, Greece.
© Justin Merrigan
January 2000: Renamed EXPRESS MILOS and commenced operations with Hellas Ferries.
© Aleksi Lindström (2000)
© Frank Heine (Piraeus, 17/07/2001)
© Andreas Wörteler (2002)
May 2003: Sold to Saos Shipping Company, Greece. Renamed NISOS LIMNOS serving the Dodecanese Islands, including Samothrace.
© Dieter Pots
September 2004: Sold to Indian breakers for scrapping in October.
December 2004: Renamed LIMON, (St Vincent flag, registered Kingstown) and sailed for India.
January 13th 2005: Reported arriving at Alang anchorage for scrapping.
“The End”, Alang January 2005. Matt Murtland (Left) and © Steffen Weirauch (Right) (Alang Feb 2005)
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: Rik Arnoudt, Micke Asklander, Robert Bertel, Bernd Crause, Tony Davis, Gary Davies (Maritime Photographic), Carsten Dettmer, Fotoflite, Karel Goutsmit, Mike Griffiths, Frank Heine, John Hendy, Chris Howell, A G Jones, Ken Larwood, Antonis Lazarus, Aleksi Lindström, William MacDonald, Justin Merrigan, Dieter Pots, Michael Richards, Jack Robertson, Ronald Steenacker, Urbain Ureel, Sybille Weber, Kenneth Whyte, Michael Woodland and Andreas Wörteler.
Special thanks also go to Jim Ashby, Ted Ingham, Matt Murtland (HHV Ferry), Arne Pyson, Iain Robertson and Donald Skinner for their assistance in compiling this feature.