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Historic British excursion vessel faces uncertain future

Nearly seventy years ago, a new motor ship called Balmoral was delivered from John Thornycroft’s Woolston yard to the Red Funnel Line for its Southampton to Cowes ferry service. The new vessel replaced two paddle steamers lost in hostilities, and was additionally used for coastal cruising from Southampton during the summer season. After twenty years in those roles, the ship changed her livery when chartered by P & A Campbell for excursions in the Bristol Channel in its White Funnel fleet. But changes in holiday habits and cheap flights  eventually brought an end to that role in 1980.Five years later the charity that operates the paddle steamer Waverley purchased Balmoral as a consort, and she ran excursions on the south and west coasts of England. A combination of bad weather and mechanical defects adversely affected her programme in 2017 and debts were incurred.

Her hull has been repeatedly repaired over the years by ‘doubling’, where new steel plates are welded onto the exterior of the hull to cover existing plates which were judged defective. The Maritime & Coastguard Agency which oversees all aspects of maritime safety in the UK has recently tightened the regulations for such vessels , recognising the difficulty of monitoring the current condition of hull plates that may have been doubled many years ago. Previously the vessel might have benefitted from ‘grandfather rights’, where an old rule continues to apply to existing situations whereas a new rule will apply to newly-surveyed ships. The extent of work required to bring Balmoral into full compliance with current structural standards  is estimated to cost £3.75 million; this will include enhancement of fire suppression measures.

The charity that operates the ship M V Balmoral Fund Ltd, will continue to care for the ship in her home port of Bristol, where she will be available for hire for weddings and social functions. If an application for support from the Heritage Lottery Fund is successful, it is hoped to have Balmoral back in seagoing service in 2019.

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