On May 18 1966 Stanley Raymond, Chairman of the British Railways Board, held a press conference at Harwich Parkeston Quay where he announced a massive investment plan including a complete redevelopment of the port and a new car ferry operation on the traditional route to the Hook of Holland – to be serviced by two new vehicle ferries. In addition a pair of cellular container ships were to be built to operate to Zeebrugge from a new container terminal adjacent to the ferry port. Mr Raymond explained that Parkeston Quay, with its rail-roro-container interchange, would become a showpiece which we expect people will come from all over the world to see.
The two container ships became the Seafreightliner I and Seafreightliner II and had careers at Harwich stretching into the 1980s although they never appeared to have the success that had been hoped for. Of the two ships for the Harwich-Hook car ferry operation one was ordered by the BRB’s traditional Dutch operating partner, the Stoomvaart Maatschappij Zeeland (SMZ), with the other to the BRB’s own account. Whilst the two ships had a common basic specification, as delivered they were notably divergent in appearance. The Dutch Koningin Juliana had her design details finalised by Danish naval architects Knud E Hansen (KEH) who produced an attractive if very slightly conservative-looking car ferry – early renderings were a little more racy, more in line with KEH’s normal output, but it appears SMZ rather resisted this approach. The British vessel meanwhile, built at Swan Hunters on the Tyne, took the name St George and would become a valuable reference ship both for her naval architects, Tony Rogan and Don Ripley of the BRB, and also interior designers Ward & Austin.
It is the St George we will focus on in this posting, but the historical context and wider Harwich scene deserve a mention in passing. Prior to 1968 the Harwich-Hook of Holland route operated on a pattern established just after the War where the Dutch ships maintained day crossings in either direction with overnight sailings provided by steamers of the Eastern Region of British Railways. The most recent ships of each company – the futuristic-looking Koningin Wilhelmina and the elegant but more traditional Avalon – had been introduced as recently as 1960 and 1963; nonetheless the decision was made to completely overhaul the operation and the two new, drive-through, car ferries were to essentially replace all four existing vessels.
The St George was sold out of Sealink service in 1984 becoming the Patra Express of Ventouris Ferries for whom she operated Adriatic itineraries. Re-engined in 1988, she left Greece in March 1990 under the name Scandinavian Sky II for Immingham where a prolonged refit kitted her out for use as a casino ship in the USA. Under the successive names Scandinavian Dawn, Discovery Dawn, Island Dawn and Texas Treasure she saw out her days before finally the St George went for scrapping in 2008. Her Dutch half-sister, the Koningin Juliana, was displaced by the new Prinses Beatrix in 1978 and after several years in a supporting role eventually passed to NAVARMA (Moby Lines) in 1985. Operating from Livorno to Bastia as the Moby Prince she collided with a tanker off the Italian port in 1991, the disastrous subsequent fire killing all but one of the 142 people on board.