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Royal Mail Ship

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RMS "Crown" as displayed by the Cunard liner Laconia
Royal Mail steamship routes

Royal Mail Ship (sometimes Steam-ship or Steamer), usually seen in its abbreviated form RMS, is the ship prefix used for seagoing vessels that carry mail under contract to the British Royal Mail. The designation dates back to 1840.[1] Any vessel designated as "RMS" has the right both to fly the pennant of the Royal Mail when sailing and to include the Royal Mail "crown" insignia with any identifying device and/or design for the ship.[2][3][4]

It was used by many shipping lines, but is often associated in particular with the White Star Line, Cunard Line,[2][5] Royal Mail Lines, Union-Castle Line, Canadian Pacific Line, Orient Line and the P&OSNC, which held a number of high-profile mail contracts, and traditionally prefixed the names of many of their ships with the initials "RMS".

While some lines in the past, particularly the Royal Mail Lines, called all their ships "RMS", technically a ship would use the prefix only while contracted to carry mail, and would revert at other times to a standard designation such as "SS".[6][7]


RMS Prince Arthur

Originally, the British Admiralty operated these ships.[8]

The designation "RMS" has been used since 1840.[9] In 1850 contracts were awarded to private companies. Having the title "RMS" was seen as a mark of quality and a competitive advantage, because the mail had to be on time.

RMS Titanic

The most valuable route, with the highest volume, was between Kingstown (now Dún Laoghaire), in Ireland, and Holyhead in Wales. The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company (CDSPCo) won the contract. They bought RMS St Columba and RMS Llewellyn from the Admiralty to supplement their Prince Arthur. In the CDSPCo contract, in 1860, there was a penalty clause of £1 1s 4d for every minute's delay.

The Canadian Pacific Railway's trans-Pacific Royal Mail contract required the building of the first three of a fleet of steamships: the RMS Empress of China, RMS Empress of India and RMS Empress of Japan which regularly sailed between Vancouver and Asia beginning in 1891.[10] The RMS designation was also used on the ships of the White Star, P&O and Cunard lines of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Modern times[edit]

Royal Mail aircraft-marking; on a British Airways Airbus A320-232 G-EUUI

In recent years the shift to air transport for mail has left only three ships with the right to the prefix or its variations: RMS Segwun, which serves as a passenger vessel in Gravenhurst, Ontario, Canada; RMV Scillonian III, which serves the Isles of Scilly; and RMS Queen Mary 2. QM2 was conferred "RMS" by Royal Mail when she entered service in 2004 on the Southampton to New York route as a gesture to Cunard's history.[2]

The Royal Mail continues a form of this tradition on modern day airliners. The UK's flag carrier airline, British Airways, is contracted to carry mail on some of its scheduled long-distance routes. Aircraft operating these routes with the facilities to carry mail are allowed to display the Royal Mail's logo and crest on their fuselage, usually alongside their registration markings.

Other designations[edit]

The less-common designations RMMV for Royal Mail Motor Vessel and RMMS for Royal Mail Motor Ship, were used for a period when RMS was restricted to steam-ships. Motor Vessel and Motor Ship indicated that propulsion was provided by diesel rather than steam.

The RMV Scillonian III carries the designation RMV for Royal Mail Vessel and is the only active RMV.

List of Royal Mail Ships[edit]

Service dates are the years with the status of Royal Mail Ship. Those highlighted are still in service with the status of Royal Mail Ship.

Name Line In service Left service Status
Adriatic White Star 1907 1934 Scrapped
Alaunia Cunard 1913 1916 Sunk by mine
Alaunia Cunard 1925 1957 Scrapped
Alaunia Cunard 1960 1969 Sold 1969 to Brocklebank Line and renamed as Malancha, sold again in 1971 to Panama as Humi Nastta and fate unknown
Albania Cunard 1911 1930 Built in 1900 as Consuelo, bought by Cunard 1911 & renamed Albania, sold 1912 & renamed Poleric, scrapped 1930
Alcantara Royal Mail SP Co 1913 1916 Sunk by enemy action
Alcantara Royal Mail SP Co 1926 1958 Scrapped
Almanzora Royal Mail SP Co 1906 1948 Scrapped
Amanda Pickford & Black
Amazon Royal Mail SP Co 1906 1916 Sunk by enemy action
Andania Cunard 1913 1918 Sunk by enemy action
Andania Cunard 1921 1940 Sunk by enemy action
Andes Royal Mail SP Co 1913 1929 Scrapped after finishing career as the cruise ship Atlantis
Andes Royal Mail Lines 1939 1959 Scrapped in 1971 after finishing career as a cruise ship
Antonia Cunard 1921 1948 Scrapped
Aquitania Cunard 1914 1950 Scrapped
Arabia Peninsular and Oriental 1898 1916 Sunk by enemy action
Aragon Royal Mail SP Co 1905 1917 Sunk by enemy action
Arlanza Royal Mail SP Co 1912 1938 Scrapped
Arundel Castle Union-Castle 1921 1959 Scrapped
Ascania Cunard 1923 1957 Scrapped
Asturias Royal Mail SP Co 1925 1957 Scrapped
Aurania Cunard 1881 1905 Scrapped
Aurania Cunard 1916 1918 Sunk by enemy action
Aurania Cunard 1924 1961 Scrapped
Atlantic White Star 1871 1873 Sunk after collision with rocks
Ausonia Cunard 1921 1965 Scrapped
Avon Royal Mail SP Co 1906 and 1919 1914 and 1929 Converted as troopship in 1914, then as armed merchant cruiser 1915 and renamed HMS Avoca, return to owners and renamed Avon in 1919; scrapped 1930
Baltic White Star 1904 1933 Scrapped
Ben-my-Chree IoM Steam Packet 1845 1860 Wrecked
Ben-my-Chree IoM Steam Packet 1875 1906 Scrapped
Ben-my-Chree IoM Steam Packet 1908 1915 Sunk by enemy action
Ben-my-Chree IoM Steam Packet 1927 1965 Scrapped
Ben-my-Chree IoM Steam Packet 1966 1984 Scrapped
Ben-my-Chree IoM Steam Packet 1998 2008 Currently on active service as RO/PAX vessel
Berengaria Cunard 1913 1938 Scrapped
Britannia Cunard 1840 1880 Sunk
Britannic White Star 1874 1903 Scrapped
Britannic White Star 1915 1916 Sunk by mine
Britannic White Star 1929 1960 Scrapped
Bulimba British India Steam Navigation Company 1886 1922 Built 1881, sold to China in 1882, scrapped in 1933.
Capetown Castle Union-Castle 1937 1966 Scrapped
Campania Cunard 1891 1918 Sank after collision with HMS Glorious
Carinthia Cunard 1925 1940 Sunk by enemy action
Carinthia Cunard 1956 1968 Sold 1968; renamed Fairland; scrapped 2006
Carmania Cunard 1905 1932 Scrapped
Carnarvon Castle Union-Castle 1926 and 1950 1939 and 1963 Commissioned as HMS Carnarvon Castle from 1939 to 1947.
Carpathia Cunard 1903 1918 Sunk by enemy action
Caronia Cunard 1905 1933 Scrapped
Caronia Cunard White Star 1948 1974 Scrapped
Celtic White Star 1901 1933 Scrapped
Cedric White Star 1903 1932 Scrapped
Columba David MacBrayne 1879 1936 Scrapped
Columba David MacBrayne 1964 1968 Owned by the Secretary of State for Scotland, chartered to David MacBrayne. Renamed MV Columba in 1968. Currently in active service as Hebridean Princess.
Doric White Star 1923 1935 Scrapped after collision with the Formigny
Douglas IoM Steam Packet 1858 1862 Sold to Cunard, Wilson and Co. Later scrapped
Douglas IoM Steam Packet 1864 1888 Scrapped
Douglas IoM Steam Packet 1901 1923 Sunk after collision with Artemisia
Dunottar Castle Union-Castle 1890 1915 Sunk during bad weather
Durham Castle Union-Castle 1904 1940 Sunk by mine
Ebro Royal Mail SP Co 1914 1954 Scrapped after becoming NT Serpa Pinto
Ellan Vannin Castletown Steam Navigation Company 1854 1858 Sold to the Government of Sardinia, renamed Archimedes
Ellan Vannin IoM Steam Packet 1883 1909 Sunk during bad weather in the River Mersey, December, 1909
Empress of Asia[11] Canadian Pacific 1913 1942[11] Sunk by enemy action
Empress of Australia[6] Canadian Pacific 1922 1952[12] Scrapped
Empress of Australia Canadian Pacific 1953 1956 Scrapped
Empress of Britain Canadian Pacific 1906 1930 Scrapped
Empress of Britain Canadian Pacific 1931 1940[13] Sunk by enemy action
Empress of Britain Canadian Pacific 1956 1965 Scrapped
Empress of Canada Canadian Pacific 1922 1943 Sunk by enemy action
Empress of Canada Canadian Pacific 1929 1953 Scrapped
Empress of Canada[14] Canadian Pacific 1961 2003 Scrapped
Empress of China[15] Canadian Pacific 1891 1912 Scrapped
Empress of England[16] Canadian Pacific 1957 1970 Scrapped
Empress of France Canadian Pacific 1914 1931 Scrapped
Empress of India[15] Canadian Pacific 1891 1919 Scrapped
Empress of India Canadian Pacific 1908 1928 Scrapped
Empress of Ireland Canadian Pacific 1906 1914 Sunk after collision with SS Storstad
Empress of Japan Canadian Pacific 1930 1966 Scrapped after fire
Empress of Russia[17] Canadian Pacific 1913 1945[17] Scrapped after fire
Empress of Scotland Canadian Pacific 1906 1930 Scrapped
Empress of Scotland Canadian Pacific 1930 1966 Scrapped after fire
Empress Queen IoM Steam Packet 1897 1916 Foundered on the Ring Rocks off Bembridge, Isle of Wight, February, 1916
Etruria Cunard 1885 1909 Scrapped
Fenella IoM Steam Packet 1881 1929 Scrapped
Fenella IoM Steam Packet 1937 1940 Sunk by enemy action at the Dunkirk evacuation.
Fenella IoM Steam Packet 1951 1973 Sold 1973 and renamed Vasso M. Sank off Damietta, 2 February 1977
Franconia Cunard 1922 1956 Scrapped
Franconia Cunard 1963 1971 See Ivernia.
Germanic White Star 1875 1950 Scrapped
Georgic White Star 1933 1954 Scrapped
Homeric White Star 1922 1935 Scrapped
Ivernia Cunard 1955 1971 Renamed RMS Franconia 1963, sold 1973 and renamed Feodor Shalyapin; scrapped 2004
Kenya Castle Union-Castle 1951 1967 Sold to Chandris of Greece and renamed Amerikanis; used until 1996 and sold after 2000 and scrapped 2001
King Orry IoM Steam Packet 1842 1858 Sold 1858
King Orry IoM Steam Packet 1871 1912 Scrapped
King Orry IoM Steam Packet 1913 1940 Sunk by enemy action at the Dunkirk evacuation
King Orry IoM Steam Packet 1946 1975 Scrapped
King Orry IoM Steam Packet 1990 1998 Sold 1998
Knight of Malta Cassar Co. Ltd. 1929 1941 Wrecked
Laconia Cunard 1912 1917 Sunk by enemy action
Laconia Cunard 1922 1942 Sunk by enemy action
Lady Drake Canadian National 1928 1942 Sunk by enemy action
Lady Hawkins Canadian National 1928 1942 Sunk by enemy action
Lady Nelson Canadian National 1928 1939 Acquired as hospital ship and later as troop ship by Royal Canadian Navy; returned to CN 1946; retired by CN 1952 and sold to Egypt as Gumhuryat Misr for Khedivial Mail Line, renamed Alwadi in 1960; broken up in Egypt 1968
Lady Rodney Canadian National 1929 1953 Sold to Khedivial Mail Line and renamed Mecca, then to United Arab Maritime Company in 1961; scuttled in Egypt 1967
Lady Somers Canadian National 1929 1940 Acquired by RN 1940 and sunk in Atlantic Ocean about 400 kilometres (250 mi) east of Ponta Delgada, Azores 1941
Lady of Mann IoM Steam Packet 1930 1971 Scrapped
Lady of Mann IoM Steam Packet 1976 2005 Sold 2005
Lancastria Cunard 1920 1940 Sunk by enemy action
Leinster City of Dublin SP 1896 1918 Sunk by enemy action
Llandovery Castle Union-Castle 1914 1918 Sunk by enemy action
Lucania Cunard 1893 1909 Scrapped after fire
Lusitania Cunard 1907 1915 Sunk after being torpedoed by SM U-20
Majestic White Star 1922 1940 Scrapped
Maloja Peninsular and Oriental 1923 1954 Scrapped
Manxman IoM Steam Packet 1920 1940 Scrapped
Manxman IoM Steam Packet 1955 1982 Scrapped
Manx Maid IoM Steam Packet 1923 1950 Scrapped
Manx Maid IoM Steam Packet 1962 1984 Scrapped
Manx Viking IoM Steam Packet 1978 1987 Sold 1987
Mauretania Cunard White Star 1906 1935 Scrapped
Mauretania Cunard White Star 1939 1965 Scrapped
Medina Peninsular and Oriental 1911 1917 Sunk by enemy action
Mona IoM Steam Packet 1832 1841 Sold 1841
Mona IoM Steam Packet 1878 1883 Sunk in the Formby Channel, after being struck by the SS Rita
Mona IoM Steam Packet 1903 1909 Scrapped
Mona IoM Steam Packet 1919 1938 Scrapped
Mona's Isle IoM Steam Packet 1830 1851 Scrapped
Mona's Isle IoM Steam Packet 1860 1883 Converted to screw propulsion and renamed Ellan Vannin, sank 1909 in River Mersey
Mona's Isle IoM Steam Packet 1882 1915 Scrapped
Mona's Isle IoM Steam Packet 1905 1948 Scrapped
Mona's Isle IoM Steam Packet 1950 1980 Scrapped
Mona's Isle IoM Steam Packet 1984 1986 Sold 1986 and renamed Al Fahad; wrecked off Jeddah, June 2004
Mona's Queen IoM Steam Packet 1853 1880 Scrapped
Mona's Queen IoM Steam Packet 1885 1929 Recommissioned in 1915; returned to service in 1919; Scrapped by Smith & Company in Port Glasgow, 1929
Mona's Queen IoM Steam Packet 1934 1940 Sunk by enemy action
Mona's Queen IoM Steam Packet 1946 1962 Scrapped in 1981
Mona's Queen IoM Steam Packet 1972 1995 Scrapped in 2008
Mooltan Peninsular and Oriental 1923 1953 Scrapped
Newfoundland Johnston Warren Lines 1925 1943 Burnt out by enemy action
Niagara Union Steamship Co of NZ 1912 1940 Sunk by enemy action
Nova Scotia Johnston Warren Lines 1926 1942 Sunk by enemy action
Oceanic White Star 1871 1896 Scrapped
Oceanic White Star 1899 1914 Scrapped
Olympic White Star 1911 1935 Scrapped
Orama Orient Line 1911 1917 Torpedoed by SM U-62 south of Western Approaches
Orama Orient Line 1924 1940 Sunk by the German cruiser Admiral Hipper off Norway
Orizaba Orient Line 1886 1905 Wrecked off Garden Island, Fremantle
Ormuz Orient Line 1886 1912 Sold to Cie de Nav. Sud-Atlantique, renamed SS Divona; last owned by Union Industrielle Et Maritime (U.I.M) and scuttled in 1942 off Bizerta, Tunisia, raised and scrapped in 1946
Ormuz Orient Line 1920 1927 ex-Zeppelin, 1920 renamed Ormuz, 1927 sold to North German Lloyd, renamed Dresden.
Orontes Orient Line 1902 1916 Lost RMS status in 1916–1917 while serving as a troopship. Laid up in 1921. Sold in 1922 and became the exhibition ship SS British Trade. Repossessed by Orient Line later the same year and reverted to Orontes (although not with the status of RMS). Scrapped in 1926.
Orotava Orient Line 1889 1906 Served as a troop ship between 1899 and 1903 as a troopship during the Second Boer War. Scrapped.
Oruba Orient Line 1889 1906 Scrapped.
Otranto Orient Line 1926 and 1948 1939 and 1957 Served as troop ship HMTS Otranto during World War II. Sold to the British Iron & Steel Corporation as scrap and broken up at Faslane.
Peel Castle IoM Steam Packet 1912 1939 Scrapped
Pendennis Castle Union-Castle 1959 1980 Scrapped
Persia Cunard 1855 1872 Scrapped
Peveril IoM Steam Packet 1884 1899 Sank off Douglas after a collision with SS Monarch 16 September 1899
Peveril IoM Steam Packet 1929 1964 Scrapped
Port Kingston Imperial Direct West Mail Co 1904 1911 Sold to Union Steamship Co of NZ; renamed Tahiti; sank 1930
Prince of Wales IoM Steam Packet 1888 1915 Scrapped
Queen Elizabeth Cunard White Star 1947 1968 Launched in 1940 and served as a troop ship until 1946. Scrapped after arson fire.
Queen Mary Cunard White Star 1936 and 1947 1940 and 1967 Served as a troop ship from 1940 to 1946. Decommissioned in 1967; currently restaurant/hotel/museum in Long Beach, California
Queen Mary 2 Cunard 2004 Conferred the status of Royal Mail Ship as a gesture to Cunard's history but does not carry mail.[18] Currently in active service as an ocean liner.
Queen of the Isle IoM Steam Packet 1834 1845 Sold 1845; eventually reported lost off the Falkland Islands
Queen Victoria IoM Steam Packet 1888 1915 Scrapped
Quetta British-India SN Co 1881 1890 Wrecked
Ramsey Town IoM Steam Packet 1904 1936 Scrapped
Remuera New Zealand Shipping Co 1911 1940 Sunk by enemy action
Republic Oceanic Steam Navigation d/b/a White Star Line 1903 1909 Sunk after collision with another ship
Rotorua New Zealand Shipping Co 1910 1917 Sunk by enemy action
Rhone Royal Mail SP Co 1865 1867 Wrecked
Royal Adelaide City of Dublin SP 1838 1849 Sank
Rushen Castle IoM Steam Packet 1898 1947 Scrapped
Samaria Cunard 1920 1956 Scrapped
Saxonia Cunard 1900 1925 Scrapped
Saxonia Cunard 1954 1999 In 1962 renamed Carmania; in 1973 sold & renamed Leonid Sobinov, scrapped 1999
St Helena HM Government 1977 1990 Ex-Northland Prince. Lost RMS status in 1990 and renamed St Helena Island. Renamed Avalon in 1990 and Indooceanique in 1993. Scrapped in 1996.
St Helena HM Government 1990 2018 Last ocean-crossing ship in regular mail-carrying service. Used as headquarters for the Extreme E racing series.
Scillonian Isles of Scilly SC 1926 1955 Scrapped
Scillonian Isles of Scilly SC 1955 1977 Sold and eventually sank after owner abandoned her in 2004
Scillonian III Isles of Scilly SC 1977 Currently in active service. Officially designated Royal Mail Vessel but has the status of Royal Mail Ship. Currently the only ship still carrying mail for Royal Mail.
Scotia Cunard 1861 1904 Wrecked
Scythia I Cunard 1874 1899 Scrapped
Scythia II Cunard 1921 1958 Scrapped
Segwun Muskoka Lakes Navigation Co 1887 Built as SS Nipissing, then as Segwun 1925, out of service from 1958 to 1981; restored 1972–1981 and returned to service since 1981. The only remaining steam-powered Royal Mail Ship.
Servia Cunard 1881 1901 Scrapped
Slavonia British-India SN Co 1902 1909 Wrecked
Snaefell IoM Steam Packet 1863 1875 Sold 1875
Snaefell IoM Steam Packet 1876 1904 Scrapped
Snaefell IoM Steam Packet 1910 1918 Sunk by enemy action
Snaefell IoM Steam Packet 1920 1945 Scrapped 1948
Snaefell IoM Steam Packet 1948 1978 Scrapped 1978
Snaefell IoM Steam Packet 2006 2011 Built 1991, acquired 2006, sold 2011.
Southampton Castle Union-Castle 1965 1978 Sold to Cost Armatori of Italy with Good Hope Castle and renamed Paola C; scrapped in China 1984
Strathaird Peninsular and Oriental 1931 1961 RMS status removed in 1954 and renamed SS Strathaird. Scrapped.
Strathnaver Peninsular and Oriental 1931 1962 RMS status removed in 1954 and renamed SS Strathnaver. Scrapped.
Sylvania Cunard 1957 2004 Sold 1968 & renamed Fairwind; scrapped 2004
Tahiti Union Steamship Co of NZ 1911 1930 Hull holed by broken propeller; sank
Tayleur White Star (not OSNC) 1853 1853 Ran aground
The Ramsey IoM Steam Packet 1895 1915 Sunk by enemy action
Titanic White Star 1912 1912 Sunk after collision with iceberg
Transvaal Castle Union-Castle 1961 2000 Sold 1966 to Safmarine and renamed "SA Vaal"; left Royal Mail service 1969; scrapped 2003
Trent Royal Mail SP 1841 1865 Scrapped
Tynwald IoM Steam Packet 1846 1886 Sold 1866
Tynwald IoM Steam Packet 1886 1888 Sold 1888
Tynwald IoM Steam Packet 1891 1934 Sold 1934
Tynwald IoM Steam Packet 1936 1939 Sunk by enemy action
Tynwald IoM Steam Packet 1947 1974 Scrapped 1975
Tynwald IoM Steam Packet 1986 1990 Sold and left Royal Mail service 1990; scrapped 2007[19]
Tyrconnel IoM Steam Packet 1911 1932 Scrapped
Umbria Cunard 1884 1910 Scrapped
Viceroy of India Peninsular and Oriental 1927 1942 Sunk by enemy action
Victoria IoM Steam Packet 1907 1957 Scrapped
Victoria East African Railways & Harbours 1961 1977 Lost status when EAR&H was dissolved; still in service as "MV Victoria"
Victorian Allan Line 1904 1929 World's first steam turbine ocean liner; scrapped 1929
Viking IoM Steam Packet 1905 1954 Scrapped in 1954
Windsor Castle Union-Castle 1922 1943 Sunk by enemy action
Windsor Castle Union-Castle 1960 1998 Scrapped

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The first citation in The Times is from 18 August 1840.
  2. ^ a b c Royal Mails employees Courier newspaper page 20 August 2007
  3. ^ QM2 Archived 13 June 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ "United Kingdom – Royal Mail". Flags of The World. Retrieved 19 December 2017.
  5. ^ Maxtone-Graham, John et al. (2004). Queen Mary 2, p. 184.
  6. ^ a b By Wireless from R.M.S. Empress of Australia. "Royal Gifts Gladden 172 On Lonely Atlantic Island" (Tristan da Cunya)," The New York Times. 24 March 1935; Robinson, Samuel. (1924).
  7. ^ Official report of Capt. S. Robinson, R.N.R.,: Commander of the Canadian Pacific S.S. "Empress of Australia", on the Japanese earthquake, the fire and subsequent relief operations.
  8. ^ The Admiralty took over the Packet Service from the General Post Office in 1823.
  9. ^ The first citation in The Times is from 18 August 1840.
  10. ^ Kennedy, John. (1903). The History of Steam Navigation, pp. 147–151.
  11. ^ a b "Empress of Asia Sunk Last 4 Feb.; Canadian Pacific Liner Hit by Five Bombs in Flight From Singapore MOST OF TROOPS ESCAPED 16,909-Ton Ship Abandoned After Four-Day Fires Had Ruined Her Interior," The New York Times. 20 May 1942.
  12. ^ 40-year-old Ship Makes Last Trip; Empress of Australia, Luxury Liner and Troop Carrier, on Way to Scrap Heap," The New York Times. 1 May 1952.
  13. ^ "British Announce Empress Ship Loss; Admiralty Fixes Death Toll at 45 Out of 643 Aboard Canadian Pacific Liner TORPEDOES FINISH JOB U-Boat Overtakes Burning Ship in Tow and Completes Task Started by Bomber Ship Attacked Three Times Women and Children Calm," The New York Times. 29 October 1940.
  14. ^ "Transport News and Notes; Empress of France Will Be Retired," New York Times 27 November 1960.
  15. ^ a b Kennedy, p. 150.
  16. ^ "Lady Eden to Launch Ship," New York Times 5 May 1956.
  17. ^ a b "Pacific Air Routes Replace Ship Line; Canadian Company Abandons Pre-War Service of Fleet, Maps Overseas Flights," The New York Times. 10 April 1949.
  18. ^ "Royal Mail employee's Courier newspaper". Royal Mail. August 2007.
  19. ^ "MV Antrim Princess (1967)". tynebuiltships.co.uk. Retrieved 29 April 2017.


External links[edit]