It was a delight to travel down to Southampton in late April and then across to East Cowes (Isle of Wight) on one of Red Funnel's fast passenger ferries to visit Wight Shipyard Co (formerly Shamara Refit LLP).
To me, this was a really uplifting experience – the Isle of Wight had such a wonderful history of shipbuilding. Many of our readers will remember the J Samuel White yard which, at its peak, employed circa 4,000 staff. Sadly, it closed its gates in 1969. Other isle of Wight yards built ships including fast ferries and, of course, hovercraft were also developed and built on the island.
Sadly in the past decade or so, it has been a gloomy and depressing time for shipbuilding on the island, but that gloom has been cast aside. The Wight Shipyard (at that time named Shamara Refit LLP) built the Red Jet 6 for Red Funnel in 2016 – she was also the most innovative and largest fast ferry for Red Funnel yet and offered excellent levels of passenger comfort, safety and reliability – a ship of high quality, but also delivered on time and budget, a testament to the skills and dedication of the yard team. The feedback since Red Jet 6 entered service has been excellent.
On entering the building shed I was immediately impressed by the sight of the two new state-of-the-art catamarans under construction for MBNA Thames Clippers and the atmosphere of organisation, professionalism, space and tidiness which prevailed. I was with a press party and we were given the opportunity to meet and talk to Peter Morton CEO, Wight Shipyard Co and Sean Collins CEO, MBNA Thames Clippers. There is no doubt this is a yard which has all the skills, organisation and leadership to establish it as the yard to build, repair, overhaul and refit fast ferries.
It was just so positive and pleasing to see these modern, impressive craft for operation on the Thames being built at a British yard.
MBNA Thames Clippers is now an impressive company. Sean Collins, one of the co-founders of the business back in 1999 and CEO, has overseen great expansion. In the beginning, the company had one boat servicing 80 passengers a day between Greenland and Savoy piers – in 2016 MBNA Thames Clippers carried over 4 million passengers. In 2009, AEG, owners and operators of the O2, acquired the majority stake in the company and, since then, the MBNA Thames Clippers fleet has grown to 15 vessels.
MBNA Thames Clippers has announced that the two new builds from Wight Shipyard will be named Mercury Clipper and Jupiter Clipper and when they enter service in the summer, MBNA Clippers will be the biggest commercial passenger fleet operating solely in English waters.