Rotherham gives go-ahead for new ferry

As exclusively revealed by LBN earlier this year Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham is reviving his plan to build a new Mersey Ferry in an Anglo-Dutch project. Tony McDonough reports

Mersey Ferry Snowdrop is one of two existing vessels. Picture by Tony McDonough


Cammell Laird will join forces with Dutch shipbuilding giant Damen Shipyards Group to build the first new Mersey Ferry in more than 60 years.

Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotherham has green-lighted the project after originally having to put it on hold in May 2018. Mr Rotheram originally put out a tender for the new vessel in December 2018.

Costing millions of pounds, the new ferry will likely be built at the Cammell Laird shipyard in Birkenhead in partnership with Damen. This was first revealed by LBN in March 2022. This agreement is subject to final negotiations and contract award.

Damen is one of the largest shipbuilding and repair businesses in the world. Based in Gorinchem in the Netherlands it is a family-owned firm that operates more than 50 shipyards and works in 120 countries. Since 1969 it has built more than 5,000, delivering more than 150 each year.

There are currently two vessels operating the famous Mersey Ferries service – Snowdrop and Royal Iris. Both are in constant use for the daily river cruises, the morning and evening commuter service and special voyages such as trips up the Manchester Ship Canal. 

Due to the high cost of maintenance and running the vessels, it is thought investment in new ferries is the best way of ensuring the services long-term future. This new project will also see one of the existing ferries given an upgrade.

Mr Rotheram said: “The Mersey Ferries are not only a vital transport link between communities in the Liverpool city region, they’re also an important part of our identity. They’re well-loved by both residents and tourists alike, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to our area each year.

“But, as the current vessels are older than the Gerry and the Pacemakers song that helped make them world famous, they are becoming harder and harder to maintain and definitely in need of an upgrade.

“We’re making a significant investment in one brand new greener, more energy efficient and one upgraded vessel to ensure that the iconic Ferry Cross the Mersey will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.”

The Mayor says the new vessel will be “greener” but hasn’t specified the exact method of propulsion. LBN understands it will be powered by a hybrid diesel/electric engine.

Last year, the Combined Authority took the decision to pause the procurement process for a new vessel due to market pressures resulting from both Brexit and COVID.


Royal Iris
Mersey Ferry Royal Iris approaches the Seacombe terminal. Picture by Tony McDonough


There has been a ‘Ferry Across the Mersey’ for more than 800 years with the original service operated by the monks of Birkenhead Priory from a slipway on the Wirral side of the river still known as Monks Ferry.

For hundreds of years the ferries provided a vital commuter service between Liverpool and Wirral and were immortalised in the 1960s hit by Gerry and the Pacemakers called Ferry Cross the Mersey.

However, by the 1970s, an increasing number of commuters were using cars, buses and the underground Merseyrail network.

In 1977, the ferries almost disappeared forever when a bill was put before Parliament to discontinue the service. The bill failed and the ferries survived. But the decline continued and, in 1990, they were relaunched by Merseytravel as primarily a heritage and visitor attraction.

David McGinley, chief executive of Cammell Laird said: “Cammell Laird has long been a proud part of the Mersey Ferries story and would be delighted for this to continue into the future.

“We are very close to agreeing the final contract arrangements and look forward to helping to deliver a new Mersey Ferry for the people of our city region.”

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