Main The Fleet Ships of the Fleet Muirneag History

Launched on the 25th of April 1979 as the Mercandian Carrier for service in Denmark for Merc-Scandia KS of Copenhagen.  She was renamed Alianza in 1984 and later that same year she became the Mercandian Carrier II.

On the 22nd of August 1985 she was sold to P&O as a replacement for the 30 trailer ro-ro freighter Pointer on the Belfast to Ardrossan service.  Before replacing the Pointer the Mercandian Carrier II was sent to Clydedock Engineering in Glasgow for an extensive refit costing 1 million pounds to make her more suitable for the service.  Vectwin Rudders were fitted to enhance the thrust her from her single propeller bringing her manoeuvrability up to the standard required to negotiate the small and difficult harbour at Ardrossan.  A directional Elliot White Gill Jet was also fitted to augment the thrust from the single propeller and to allow passage at reduced speed in the event of main engine failure.  These additions made her so manoeuvrable that it was said she could do 15 knots ahead, 8 knots astern and 5 knots sideways.   The refit was complete when the vehicle lift to her upper freight deck was replaced with an internal ramp and the ship emerged renamed Belard, a name created from the first three letters of Belfast and Ardrossan, the ports she would serve.  She commenced service in place of the Pointer in February 1986.

The Northern Ireland port of call for the Belard was changed from Belfast to Larne in January 1993 after a dispute with Belfast Harbour Commissioners.  The service was now aligned with the Pandoro operation between Larne and Fleetwood and the Belard had the white P&O letters on her hull painted out in favour of Pandoro painted on her superstructure in blue.  Her name wasn't amended to reflect her new port of call, otherwise she could have ended up with the name Larard or Ardlar.  She continued with Belard, the name that she was to carry for 17 years after it was first applied to her hull in 1985.

Throughout 1993 Pandoro was looking to expand operations using a larger and faster ship with the ultimate goal of introducing two round trips a day on the route instead of one.  Also, the 4 driver capacity of the Belard did not help in attracting accompanied freight so a ship with at least a passenger certificate for 12 was sought.  The confined harbour at Ardrossan didn't make the choice of a replacement easy and Pandoro went back to a ship they had considered buying at the time they bought the Belard.  The Merchant Valiant was inspected an eventually bought after she became spare when her owners, Merchant Ferries, acquired larger ships.  The new ship could accommodate about 12 more trailers than the Belard she was also 2 knots faster with a service speed of 17 knots and had a passenger certificate for 12 drivers.  Although not as manoeuvrable as the Belard the Merchant Valiant was eventually chosen to replace the Belard after the new ship successfully completed trials in November 1993.

Wearing the distinctive P&O livery.

Pandoro then chartered the Belard to Mannin Line, a subsidiary company of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, for their service between Great Yarmouth (UK) and Ijumiden (Holland).  She took up operations on the North Sea on the 23rd of November 1993.  The ship was eventually bought from Pandoro in August 1994 but the route was closed on the 6th of May the following year due to continued losses and the failure to find a ship which would sail opposite the Belard to expand operations.

The Belard was immediately chartered back to her former owners, Pandoro, for three months to cover extensive refits to the Bison and Merchant Valiant both operating from Larne.  On her way to Larne she had a quick two day charter for Commodore Ferries sailing between Portsmouth and the Channel Islands between the 15th and 16th of May 1995.  The Belard took up service again at Larne in June covering the Ardrossan run.  This allowed the Merchant Valiant to cover for the Bison before the Merchant Valiant departed for her own refit which included the fitting of a internal ramp instead of the vehicle lift as well as new rudders and upgraded bow thrusters to enhance her manoeuvrability.

After finishing up at Larne in November 1995 she then embarked on a nomadic career firstly visiting Douglas (Isle of Man) to cover the Peveril then it was off to the North Sea and a short charter to Exxtor Ferries sailing from Immingham to Rotterdam in March 1996.  She came back to Larne again in March 1997 when she was chartered to P&O for the Larne to Cairnryan route.  She took up service on the 5th of March and lasted until the 10th of April.  Her final move was back to the service of her owners between Heysham and Douglas.

The Isle of Man Steam Packet Company sold the Belard in January 1998 to Aabrenaa Rederi A/S of Kingstown, St. Vincent.  She spent the next couple of years on the Åbenrå to Klaipeda and Bergen to Sola services before returning to British waters in 2001 on various charter arrangements.  First stop was Aberdeen on charter to P&O Scottish Ferries for the Aberdeen to Lerwick (Shetland) service from November to December 2001. She ran backup to St Clair in the opposite direction to St Sunniva and St Rognvald. The main reason the charter was not extended was her poor speed. In the new year 2002 she headed south on charter to Ferryways where she was put on their Ipswich to Ostend route.

After her stint with Ferryways she was sold to a Glasgow based holding company Harrisons (Clyde) for operation by Caledonian MacBrayne on the Ullapool to Stornoway (Lewis) freight service.  She finally lost her synthetic name Belard in favour of Muirneag, the Gaelic name for a mountain on the Isle of Lewis.  She was re-registered in Glasgow and entered service with a full British crew in September 2002.

She is still only found on her dedicated nightly lifeline service and regularly ventures out in the worst of conditions to safely get her cargo through. However on the 11th November 2005 she hit the headlines after spending 16 hours attempting to gain access to Stornoway harbour in a violent storm which has irrupted while she was in transit. Several of the passengers and freight needed attention but she inevitably managed to dock eventually much to the relief of the passengers and crew alike.

Text thanks to Larne Ferry Web & SoC Crew (C)

Other Articles of Interest:
Larne Ferry Web (external link)

Picture: Tom Carreyette (
Berthed at Bergen July 2000.

Picture: Margaret Morrison (
In Stornoway with Isle of Lewis.

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