The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group has announced a  substantial investment in replacing its Gry Maritha freight ship – the workhorse that provides a lifeline service to the community of the Isles of Scilly located 28 miles off the mainland.

The company has purchased a larger freight ship currently called the Mali Rose as the first step in a strategy to renew its vessels. Steamship Company bosses have also revealed that detailed evaluation work is underway on replacing its Scillonian III passenger ship.

The Mali Rose arrived in Penzance from Norway this week and subject to final legal agreement the Steamship Company expects to take ownership in the next few days.

The Gry Maritha was built in 1981 and acquired by the Steamship Company in 1989. For 27 years she has made the lifeline thrice-weekly 56-mile round trip from Penzance to Scilly, carrying essential supplies for the islands’ 2,250 residents and more than one hundred thousand visitors every year.

Rob Goldsmith, Chief Executive of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, said: “Buying the Mali Rose will be a huge milestone for the company and will mark the start of our vessel replacement strategy.

“The Gry Maritha has been a faithful workhorse and is part of the fabric of island life but it’s time to upgrade to a bigger, younger ship that is better able to manage peaks in demand and special projects. The Company intends to talk to island residents and customers about the new vessel and how we can make further major investments to adapt it to best meet their specific needs.

“Having invested significantly in making our air operation more robust we are now turning our attention to the replacement of our ships. This is first step in this exciting process and detailed work on the concepts, designs and financing of a replacement for the Scillonian III is already is underway. We will share more detail on this next phase at the earliest opportunity.”

In recent years the Steamship Group has built a new terminal and hard runways at Land’s End Airport, bought an eighth aircraft for its Skybus airline, and is investing in new landing technology (EGNOS) to improve operating resilience in poor weather.

Andrew May, Chairman of the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, said: “We have invested over £10 million during the last five years upgrading the transport link to and from the Islands and this is a further major commitment by the Company to replace and improve its assets, and so improve the service we are able to offer the community.

“Like the Gry Maritha, the Mali Rose is Norwegian in origin but having been built in 1992 is considerably younger, and much larger. At 12.6 metres longer and almost a metre wider, her gross tonnage of 842 tonnes is 65% greater, giving her the appearance of the Gry’s younger but more grown up sister.”

Andrew added: “The Steamship Company is always looking to see how it can improve the service it offers its customers. Once we have completed the acquisition we believe the introduction of this new ship will give us the opportunity to do this through increased capacity, functionality and resilience.”

James Struthers, Head of Marine Services at the Isles of Scilly Steamship Group, said: “The vessel has undergone substantial upgrades and refits since it was built and is in impressive condition. We’re proposing to make a number of modifications including a heavy lift crane, and subject to everything going to plan we expect it to enter service in the autumn. There’s no doubt this will represent a step change in our freight capability.”

James said the new ship would be able to offer far more flexibility for special projects, plant and vehicle transport, as well as better protection of freight. The recent widening and lengthening the quay at Hugh Town on St Mary’s would also provide added flexibility.

The new ship is expected to be licensed to have the ability initially to carry up to six passengers, subject to the Master’s discretion. The vessel will therefore maintain the same winter capability for passengers as the Gry Maritha in the event of an emergency requirement.