Isles of Scilly Steamship Company

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Isles of Scilly Steamship Company
IndustryPassenger transportation
Freight transportation
Founded1920; 99 years ago (1920)
HeadquartersPenzance, Cornwall
Key people
Andrew May (Chairman), Stuart Reid(CEO)
ProductsFerry, Fixed Wing Aircraft, Helicopter Service, Airport, Freight Vessels
ServicesFerry Service, Freight Service, Airline Service, Helicopter Services
Scillonian III, as seen from the air, halfway between St Mary's and Penzance
The Steamship Company's coat of arms as displayed on Scillonian III's bow
The Steamship Company flag, for a while also painted on Scillonian III's funnel

The Isles of Scilly Steamship Company (ISSC) operates the principal shipping service from Penzance, in Cornwall, to the Isles of Scilly, located 28 miles (45 km) to the southwest. It provides a year-round cargo service together with a seasonal passenger service in summer. The name of the company's principal ferry, the Scillonian III, is perhaps better known than that of the company itself.

The company is based in the Isles of Scilly Travel Centre Penzance.[1] It also owns Isles of Scilly Skybus Ltd, an operator of fixed-wing aircraft services to the Isles of Scilly, and sight seeing flights.[2]

In 2010, the company had close to 1,000 shareholders, around half of whom live on the Isles of Scilly.[3] Due to the Isles of Scilly's remote location, the shipping service is often called 'a life line' for the archipelago.[4]

In addition to passengers, 12,000 to 14,000 tonnes of cargo are normally carried by Scillonian III and Gry Maritha every year.[4]


From 1858 services were provided by the Scilly Isles Steam Navigation Company which was replaced in 1870 by the West Cornwall Steam Ship Company. This was wound up in 1907 and the services operated by John Banfield until 1917. For the rest of the First World War the services were operated by Government vessels. At the end of the war, a transport vacuum arose when the Ministry of Shipping withdrew the wartime service between St Mary's and Penzance.[5]

On 26 March 1920 the current Isles of Scilly Steamship Company was founded with £20,000 (equivalent to £790,000 in 2018)[6] raised by selling shares, mostly in the Isles of Scilly. The company was formed with the express purpose of securing a regular shipping service between the islands and the mainland.[5] It came into service when the company received its Certificate of Incorporation, giving the right to commence business, dated 27 March 1920.[7]

Initially services were operated by the Peninnis (ex-HMS Argus), which the company purchased from the Admiralty Disposals for £8,000 (equivalent to £320,000 in 2018).[6][7][8] Following the necessary alterations at a cost of £5,000 (equivalent to £200,000 in 2018)[6],[7] this former fishery protection vessel served as the company's ship from 1920 until 1927 but it soon became clear that a purpose-built, new steamer was required.[5]

During 1924 the directors of the Steamship Company began considering the purchase of a larger ship and at an Extraordinary General Meeting of Shareholders on 16 June 1925, the directors were empowered to place the order with Ailsa Shipbuilding Company Ltd of Troon, Scotland. In order to keep their yard open during the economic slump, this work was undertaken at cost, the contract price was £24,500 (equivalent to £1,370,000 in 2018).[6] The new ferry, built to carry 400 passengers and cargo, was launched on 17 November 1925 and named Scillonian by Mrs. A.A. Dorrien-Smith of Tresco Abbey.[7] At 11 pm on 25 January 1926 she completed her maiden voyage from Troon and docked at St Mary's. She made her first time-tabled, commercial trip from on Thursday 2 February 1926 from St. Mary's to Penzance. It took her three and a quarter hours.[5] Scillonian was grounded in the St Marys, Annet area on 10 September 1951[9] but refloated the next day, and kept in service until 1956.

Following this ship Scillonian II entered into service in 1956, purpose built for the Steamship Company by John I. Thornycroft & Company of Woolston, Southampton at a cost of £250,000, and was in service until 1977. A second ship operated for a while named Queen of the Isles. At approx 500 tons she was smaller than Scillonian II and was used to augment the larger ship at busy times. She was also used to run charter services to the Islands from other ports. On her sale she went to operate an inter-island service in the Pacific.

The present Scillonian III was also purpose built for the Steamship Company and entered into service in May 1977. Scillonian III is the third passenger ship of this name and currently in service for passengers and cargo 8 months of the year. Due to the number of tidal currents which meet off Lands End, and the need for a shallow draught to allow access to the Islands, the sea journey to Scilly can be rough. For this reason Scillonian III was fitted with a "Flume" antiroll stabilizer system.

On 1 September 2009, the Steamship Company took over the lease to operate and manage Penzance Dry Dock. Established in 1834, it is one of the UK’s longest established dry docks and provides facilities for vessels requiring repair and conversion. It takes in 15 to 20 ships a year.[10]

At the AGM in September 2010, the following corporate figures were published: During the previous fiscal year, Steamship Company craft had carried 73,000 passengers to Scilly by air and sea. This accounted for 61.4% of the total passenger market on the route between Scilly and the mainland. Skybus Ltd had a market share to 50.2% of all passengers flying to St Mary's.[3]

In May 2011, the Steamship Company acquired Nike Engineering of the Porthmellon Industrial Estate on St Mary's, which provides marine and mechanical engineering services to the Isles of Scilly.[11]

In February 2015, the Steamship Company acquired Island Carriers (also of the Porthmellon Industrial Estate) which provides haulage and courier services on the island.[12]

In May 2016, the Steamship Company acquired the Mali Rose, a Norwegian freight ship that was expected to replace the smaller and older Gry Maritha in the autumn of that year. However as of August 2018, the Gry Maritha is still providing the freight service to the islands, as work to fit out and trial the new ship for its new role has taken longer than expected.[13]

Sole Transport Operator[edit]

Since British International Helicopters ceased its service from Penzance in 2012, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company has been the sole transport operator to the Isles of Scilly.

In February 2017 the Penzance Heliport[14] was unanimously granted planning permission by the Cornwall Council to reinstate a helicopter service from Penzance to the Isles of Scilly. In May of the same year, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company began proceedings for a Judicial Review of the planning decision. These Judicial Review proceedings began after an anonymous appeal to the Secretary of State to review the planning permission failed a month earlier. The actions of the Steamship Company were widely condemned by businesses, residents, and visitors to Penzance and the Isles of Scilly. The judicial review was opposed by a petition started by an Isles of Scilly resident, which accumulated over 10,000 signatures in just a few days. Penzance Heliport withdrew and resubmitted an amended planning application in January 2018, and is still aiming to begin operating in 2019.

Following the objection to the Penzance Heliport plans, in February 2018 the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company announced its own helicopter service operating from Land's End, to begin in May 2018. This announcement met widespread condemnation from those aware of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company's actions. On 21 May 2018, the steamship company inaugurated its new service from Land's End Airport to St Mary’s with a 10-seater AgustaWestland AW169 helicopter.[15]


Currently in service[edit]

Gry Maritha in Penzance Harbour with her expected replacement, Mali Rose
  • Scillonian III — Passenger and cargo vessel purpose built in 1977 by Appledore Shipbuilders Ltd, Devon. Refitted in 2013.
  • Gry Maritha — Cargo vessel built in Norway and acquired in 1989.
  • Mali Rose — Cargo vessel built in Norway in 1992 and acquired in 2016.[16] The vessel was originally intended to replace the Gry Maritha in the autumn of 2016 and made her inaugural trial sailing on 17 July 2017.[17]
  • Lyonesse Lady — Inter-island launch, purpose built in 1991 by Lochabar Marine Ltd. to replace the MV Gugh (see below).
  • Swift Lady — Inter-island RIB, purpose built in 2004 by Redbay Boats, Northern Ireland.
  • Island Lady — Cargo vessel built in 1986 as a MOD tank landing craft and acquired by the ISSC in 2007. Is 90 ft long with a 22 ft beam and capable of carrying 100 tonnes of cargo.
Ivor B at New Grimsby Harbour, Tresco

Former ISSC vessels[edit]

Golden Spray
  • RMS Peninnis, operated by the ISSC 1920 - 1927.
  • MV Ganilly, operated by the ISSC 1923–1932. Built in 1923 by H W Dockyard, Plymouth. Sold to Coast Lines Ltd in 1932 and scrapped in 1937.[18]
  • SS Gugh, operated by the ISSC 1923 - 1951. Built in 1910 by Philip and Sons, formerly the steamer Dart. Converted to diesel in 1927. Wrecked in 1951.
  • SS Scillonian, operated by the ISSC 1926 - 1956.
  • SS Advance
  • SS Endeavour
  • MV Endeavour
  • MV NorNour
  • TSMV Lady of the Isles, operated by the ISSC 1947 - 1952. Sold to a French owner.
  • Gondolier, operated by the ISSC ??–1967.
  • Lyonnesse, operated by the ISSC ??– 1967.[19]
  • Golden Spray III, operated by the ISSC 1947–1968. Now operated by the St. Mary's Boatman's Association.
  • MV Kittern, operated by the ISSC 1949–??. Built in 1944 by Fox and Son, Ipswich. An ex Royal Navy motor launch.
  • MV Tean, operated by the ISSC 1953– ??. An ex Royal Navy motor launch built at Bangor in 1941.[18]
  • TSMV Scillonian II, operated by the ISSC 1956–1977.
  • MV Gugh, operated by the ISSC 1961–1991. An ex Royal Navy motor launch built at Rowhedge. Formerly MV Fervent. Was replaced by the current Lyonesse Lady.
  • TSMV Queen of the Isles, operated by the ISSC 1964–1966.
  • Ivor B — Cargo vessel. Acquired by the ISSC in 2010, formerly Guedel and in French service, formerly serving islands off the coast of Brittany. Is 32 metres long and capable of carrying around 280 tonnes of cargo. Named after the late Ivor Bone, a building contractor manager during the construction of the new Five Islands School. Sold in 2012 and subsequently renamed Evora.[4]


Scillonian III operates a return service from March to November (Monday to Saturday, and Sundays during July/August). She departs Penzance at 9.15am and returns from St. Mary's at 16.30pm, although these times may differ on certain dates due to tidal conditions, school holidays, and other events. The sailing time is approximately 2 hours 45 minutes.

During the winter, when Scillonian III is out of service, a cargo service is provided by the Gry Maritha.[20]


In early 2007, press reports indicated that Cornwall County Council was expected to approved plans for the construction of a new roll-on/roll-off replacement ferry at a cost of £17.5 million. This vessel would be leased to the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company and would replace both Scillonian III and Gry Maritha.[20]

This plan (named in its late stages as Option A) was halted because of local opposition to both the built elements of the scheme and the vessel design. A pressure group called upon the then Transport undersecretary Norman Baker to halt the scheme.


  1. ^ "Contact Us." Isles of Scilly Steamship Company. Retrieved on 5 July 2010.
  2. ^
  3. ^ a b Record results for IoS Steamship, 26 August 2010
  4. ^ a b c Media release by Deborah Clark Associates on behalf of Isles of Scilly Steamship Company, 14 June 2010 Archived 30 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ a b c d "RMS Scillonian III - Take a look above and below decks on the islands' beloved steamer" in The Islander - Life on the Isles of Scilly (Spring 2009), pp. 30-34
  6. ^ a b c d UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d "Scillonian III Back in Service after £1,700,000 Refit" in Scilly up to Date, issue 120 (April 1999), accessed 2011-08-16
  8. ^ Ships Monthly, Volume 10, 1975 gives an acquisition price of £10,000 (equivalent to £390,000 in 2018)
  9. ^ "Holiday Ship on the Rocks". Portsmouth Evening News. British Newspaper Archive. 10 September 1951. Retrieved 2 October 2016 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)).
  10. ^ Steamship Company takes Dry Dock lease, 17 September 2009
  11. ^ Steamship acquisition, 26 May 2011
  12. ^ Steamship Co. Isles of Steamship Group purchases Island Carriers
  13. ^ "Steamship Group explains Mali Rose delay". This is Scilly. 22 May 2017. Archived from the original on 10 July 2017. Retrieved 10 July 2017.
  14. ^ Penzance Heliport
  15. ^ Morris, Stephen (21 May 2018). "Isles of Scilly helicopter service resumes amid row over 'spoiling tactics'". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 May 2018.
  16. ^ "Scilly's Steamship Company Announces Replacement For Gry Maritha Freight Ship". Scilly Today. Isles of Scilly. 18 May 2016. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
  17. ^ "First trip to islands for new vessel". The Cornishman. 27 July 2017. p. 6.
  18. ^ a b Farr, Graham (1967). West Country Passenger Steamers. Prescot, Lancashire: T. Stephenson & Sons. p. 158.
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b Plummer, Russell (February 2007). "Ferry news". Ships Monthly. IPC Country & Leisure Media. p. 6.

External links[edit]