European Ferries

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European Ferries Group Plc
Predecessors Townsend Car Ferries Ltd (1959)
Thoresen Car Ferries Ltd (1968)
Atlantic Steam Navigation Company Ltd (1971)
Larne Harbour Ltd (1973)
Felixstowe Dock & Railway Company (1976)
Successors P&O European Ferries
Founded 1935 (as Monument Securities Ltd)
Defunct 1987
Headquarters Dover, UK
Area served England, France, Belgium, Scotland, Northern Ireland
Services Passenger transportation, Freight transportation, Harbour Operation, Property
Operating income £45.5 million (1985)
Divisions Shipping
Harbour Operations
Overseas Property

European Ferries Group Plc was a company that operated in passenger and freight ferries, harbour operation and property management in the United Kingdom and the United States. It was taken over by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and renamed P&O European Ferries in 1987.[1]


The European Ferries Group was incorporated in 1935 as Monument Securities Ltd, becoming a Public limited company in 1949.

In 1957, Monument Securities bought a 51% stake in Townsend Car Ferries Ltd and in 1959 acquired the rest in a full takeover. The same year Monument Securities changed its name to George Nott Industries Ltd.[1]

In 1968, George Nott Industries purchased the Otto Thoresen Shipping Company and its subsidiary Thoresen Car Ferries Ltd. As a result of this acquisition it changed its name to European Ferries Ltd. In 1971 the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company Ltd (Trading as Transport Ferry Service) was acquired from the National Freight Corporation. All three of the companies under European Ferries Ltd used the name Townsend Thoresen to market their ferry services.

In 1973, European Ferries purchased Larne Harbour Ltd and a 50% stake in the former naval dockyard at Harwich. This was followed in 1976 with the acquisition of The Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company.[2]

In 1979, European Ferries Ltd entered the property industry in a joint venture for property development in Denver, it expanded this in Atlanta and in 1980 began buying further land in Houston. It had acquired around 5,000 acres (20 km2) of land.[1]

In May 1984, European Ferries Ltd transferred its assets to European Ferries Group Plc[1] and in January 1985 European Ferries made a further acquisition, when P&O decided to divest its ferry business and sold its operations between Dover and Boulogne and Southampton and Le Havre. These services were rebranded as Normandy Ferries Ltd.

On 6 March 1987, the Townsend-Thoresen branded car ferry Herald of Free Enterprise capsized just outside Zeebrugge's harbour about 25 minutes after departure. A subsequent inquiry determined that the ship's bow doors had been left open allowing water to get onto the car deck. 193 people died as a result of the sinking.

Following the sinking, later in 1987, European Ferries Group Plc was acquired by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and renamed P&O European Ferries.[3] The Townsend Thoresen branded ships were rebranded with P&O Ferries due to the bad publicity that the disaster had caused for the brand.

Townsend Thoresen[edit]

Townsend Thoresen
Successors P&O European Ferries
Founded 1968
Defunct 1987
Headquarters Dover, UK
Area served United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Northern Ireland
Services Passenger transportation, Freight transportation

Townsend Thoresen was the name used to market the passenger and freight ferry services that were run by the subsidiary companies Townsend Brothers Ferries Ltd, Thoresen Car Ferries Ltd and the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company Ltd.

Townsend Brothers Ferries Ltd[edit]

Townsend Brothers Ferries was set up in 1929 and in 1930 it started the first cross channel accompanied car service between Dover and Calais.[1] Their first ship was a converted minesweeper. In 1951 this was replaced with a converted frigate, which was superseded by their first purpose built roll-on/roll-off passenger and vehicle ferry which entered service in 1962. Celebrating Townsend's private-sector status, in competition with the government-run services of British Railways and SNCF on the Dover-Calais route the ship was named Free Enterprise I.[4] Two subsequent vessels entered service in 1965 and 1966, being named Free Enterprise II and Free Enterprise III respectively beginning a second route from Dover to Zeebrugge.

Thoresen Car Ferries Ltd[edit]

Thoresen Car Ferries began operation in 1964, with routes from Southampton to Cherbourg and Le Havre. The company was set up as the Otto Thoresen Shipping Company by the Norwegian Otto Thoresen, a subsidiary Thoresen Car Ferries Ltd was set up in the United Kingdom to act as its agent.[1] The names of their original vessels Viking I and Viking II, and the subsequent Viking III and Viking IV, reflected the company's Scandinavian origins.

Atlantic Steam Navigation Company[edit]

The Atlantic Steam Navigation Company was incorporated in 1936 to operate a moderately priced trans-Atlantic passenger service, however this plan did not come to fruition due to the Second World War. In 1946 a primarily freight service between Tilbury and Rotterdam was begun using converted tank carriers. In 1964 Atlantic began a freight service between Felixstowe and Rotterdam, the following year adding a second service running to Antwerp. As a result of the expansion at Felixstowe, the Tilbury services were ended in 1968.[1]

Following the acquisition by European Ferries in 1971, Atlantic began a ferry service between Cairnryan and Larne to make use of the Port of Larne which European Ferries had purchased in 1973.[1] After their acquisition their ships carried Townsend Thoresen livery. Their ships' names carried the suffix "ferry", as in Europic Ferry, Doric Ferry, Baltic Ferry and Nordic Ferry.


Townsend Thoresen funnel colours 1984-1987

Townsend Thoresen had several different liveries during the history of the company. Former vessels from Townsend Brothers Ferries remained in their original livery, a greenish blue with white combination, while former vessels from Thoresen Car Ferries remained in their original brownish orange with white livery. From 1974 to 1976 the company used a greenish blue in combination with white for almost its entire fleet. The brownish orange livery was introduced in 1976 for the entire fleet and is probably the most recognized livery.


The company's routes were concentrated in four areas:

Townsend Thoresen ferries European Clearway (left) and European Trader (right) in Dover's Eastern Docks, 14 June 1987
Strait of Dover (former Townsend routes)
Western English Channel (former Thoresen routes)
Southern North Sea
Irish Sea


Name Period of service Fate
Baltic Ferry
Requisitioned by MoD for Falklands Service
1980–1987 (Except 1982 - 1983)
Chantilly 1966
Doric Ferry 1 1962–1981
Dragon (1985–1986)
Ionic Ferry (1986–1987)
European Clearway 1976–1987 Acquired by P&O
European Enterprise 1978–1987 Acquired by P&O
European Gateway 1975–1982 Sank in 1982, refloated later that year
European Trader 1975–1987 Acquired by P&O
Europic Ferry
Requisitioned by MoD for Falklands Service
1968 - 1987 (Except 1982)
Free Enterprise (1962–1965)
Free Enterprise I (1965–1980)
1962–1980 sold for Greek service
Free Enterprise II 1965–1982 sold for breaking in India (2004)
Free Enterprise III 1966–1984 wrecked near Jeddah 2004
Free Enterprise IV 1969–1987
Free Enterprise V 1970–1987 Acquired by P&O
Free Enterprise VI 1972–1987 Acquired by P&O
Free Enterprise VII 1973–1987 Acquired by P&O
Free Enterprise VIII 1974–1987 Acquired by P&O
Hellas (1982–1983, 1985–1986)
Doric Ferry 2 (1986–1987)
1982–1983, 1985–1987 Acquired by P&O
Herald of Free Enterprise 1980–1987 Sank outside Port of Zeebrugge in 1987. Later salvaged and scrapped.
Leopard 1985–1986
Nordic Ferry
Requisitioned by MoD for Falklands Service
1980–1987 Acquired by P&O
Pride of Free Enterprise 1980–1987 Acquired by P&O
Spirit of Free Enterprise 1979–1987 Acquired by P&O
Stena Searider 1986
Syria (1982–1983)
Cerdic Ferry (1985–1987)
1982–1983, 1985–1987 Acquired by P&O
Tiger 1985–1986
Viking I (1964–1976)
Viking Victory (1976–1981)
Viking II 1964–1976 Sold to SeaLink
Viking III 1965–1982
Viking IV 1967–1981
Viking Valiant 1974–1987 Acquired by P&O
Viking Venturer 1974–1987 Acquired by P&O
Viking Voyager 1975–1987 Acquired by P&O
Viking Viscount 1975–1987 Acquired by P&O
Viking Trader 1 1980–1981
Viking Trader 2 1983–1987 Acquired by P&O
Vortigern 1987

In December 1985, Townsend Thoresen also ordered two new 20,000 ton vessels at a cost of £98 million which entered service in 1987 as the Pride of Dover and Pride of Calais, these arrived after the P&O takeover.[1]


In 1985 and 1986, four ships were rebuilt in a jumboisation project in order to increase their capacity.[1] The 'Free Enterprise VI' and the 'Free Enterprise VII' were the ships of the Dover - Zeebrugge route which were rebuilt. The 'Viking Venturer' and the 'Viking Valiant' were the ships of the Portsmouth - Le Havre route which were rebuilt.

Port operations[edit]

European Ferries Ltd operated three different ports within the United Kingdom, these are at Larne, Cairnryan and Felixstowe. All three were operated by European Ferries until they were acquired by P&O.

Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company[edit]

In 1976, European Ferries took over the operations of Port of Felixstowe following the purchase of the Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company.[1] Townsend Thoresen had begun a twice daily service from Felixstowe to Zeebrugge in 1974. By 1978, European Ferries had purpose built a passenger and freight terminal from which its subsidiary Townsend Thoresen could operate.[2]

Under the management of European Ferries, Felixstowe increased its container handling capacity to approximately 500,000 per annum and in 1980 a total of 252,802 containers were handled, making it the United Kingdoms largest container port. In 1984, Felixstowe became the first UK seaport to introduce computerised Custom's clearance.[2]

The management of the port was continued by P&O upon the acquisition of European Ferries in 1987.[2]

Larne Harbour Ltd[edit]

In 1973, European Ferries took over the operations of Port of Larne following the purchase of Larne Harbour Ltd.[1] Under European Ferries management the Port prospered, making it the leading ro/ro port in Northern Ireland. European Ferries have improved the handling facilities for ro/ro operations with new double deck facilities in 1978 (the first in Ireland)[5] and a new passenger terminal in 1985.[1]

Property management[edit]

European Ferries Group had a number of subsidiaries in the property management and development industry. These were managed by subsidiaries EF International Inc in the United States, Inmogold SA in Spain and Townsend Thoresen Developments Ltd and Townsend Thoresen Properties Ltd in the United Kingdom.[1]

In May 1985, European Ferries transferred the majority of its UK property interests to Stockley in exchange for a 44% share and as a result of Stockley's acquisition of 26.5% Stock Conversion this stake was reduced to 34.7%. European Ferries maintained a portfolio of around 15 to 20 properties in the UK and was also involved in a 1,100-acre (4.5 km2) leisure development in Southern Spain and other properties in Hamburg and Frankfurt[1]

In the media[edit]

Falklands War[edit]

In 1982, three vessels operated by European Ferries were requisitioned by the Ministry of Defence to assist with the Falklands Campaign.[8] The three vessels were; Europic Ferry,[9] Nordic Ferry[10] and Baltic Ferry[11]

  • Baltic Ferry was equipped with a helipad and carried three Army helicopters, 105 troops, and 1874 tons of stores and ammunition to Ajax Bay on 1 June 1982.[8][11]
  • Europic Ferry was equipped with a helipad and carried vehicles, ammunition, fuel, and four Scout helicopters of 656 Squadron Army Air Corps to San Carlos on 21 May 1982.[8][9] She left the Falkland Islands on 23 June 1982, 9 days after the end of hostilities.[12]
  • Nordic Ferry was equipped with a helipad and carried troops, stores, and ammunition to the Falklands on 29 May 1982.[8][10] She returned to the UK on 29 July 1982 and was refitted to return her to civilian service on 25 August 1982.[13]

Following the Falklands War a number of lessons had been learnt by the British Government, in a bid to test their understanding of these lessons, the Ministry of Defence scheduled a military exercise named Exercise Purple Warrior in Scotland in November 1987. A number of vessels were chartered by the MoD, including European Ferries Viking Viscount.[14] Prior to leaving for this charter the Viking Viscount was fitted with an extra ramp to enable unloading of vehicles to Mexeflotes.[14] A number of military vehicles were embarked in Plymouth prior to the exercise beginning.


External links[edit]