The very first Sealink drive-through ferry was the Antrim Princess of 1967, purpose-built for the Irish Sea Stranraer-Larne service. A further departure from the previously conservative British Rail design department was the use of diesel engines - something that largely explains why few of this ship's original Sealink fleetmates (such as Dover or Holyhead Ferry I, with their soon out-dated and inefficient steam turbines) have survived anything like as long as this ship (or indeed the likes of Viking I and her sisters). Apart from a serious engine room fire in December 1983 which caused all the passengers to be airlifted to safety prior to the ship being brought under control, she had a largely uneventful career on the North Channel. Circumstance then changed her future with the (not entirely unrelated) events of 1984/1985: the privatisation of Sealink UK, the Sealink-Manx Line/Isle of Man Steam Packet merger and the collapse of the Sealink UK/Sealink RMT Dover-Ostend route partnership. The Isle of Man agreement provided for Sealink to charter the 'Antrim' as their contribution to the new merged operation, but the Manx Viking actually assumed this role whilst the Stranraer ship stayed where she was. The Steam Packet's contribution to the year-round operations was the disastrous and expensive Mona's Isle (ex-Free Enterprise III). Underpowered, dubiously rebuilt and unable to carry the expected loads the Mona's Isle lasted only one season (her operational Manx career actually lasted six months); in her place finally did come the Antrim Princess - the Ostend disagreements having freed the St David for transfer to Stranraer in place of her.
Sharing the main passenger operations during the Winter of 1985/86 therefore were the two Sealink ships:
Antrim Princess and Manx Viking, being joined for the 1986 Summer by the side-loaders Mona's Queen and Lady of Mann. Prior to that season, the 'Antrim' was 'localised', being renamed Tynwald and re-registered in Douglas in April 1986, as well as being repainted in the traditional Steam Packet livery. The ship remained operating on the Heysham-Douglas route until February 1990 when she was returned to Sealink after the Stem Packet had found a suitable replacement in the guise of Channel Entente (ex-Saint Eloi, later King Orry). After a period of lay-up, the Tynwald found a willing buyer in Linee Lauro who renamed her Lauro Express, placing the ship on their lengthy routes between Italy, Sicily and Tunisia with much new cabin accommodation. For 2003, she received a black hull under the new Medmar brand, whilst in 2004 she was renamed Giuseppe D'Abundo. Before the 2004 summer season could get into full swing however, Medmar closed their route from Sete to Palma de Mallorca, which had been operated by the Giulia d'Abundo (ex-Quiberon). The displaced ship was moved round to Italy and took the place of the former Antrim Princess in the local fleet, the Giuseppe D'Abundo being laid-up in Naples. For the 2005 Summer Medmar announced that the ship was to be re-activated for deployment on new Adriatic services based in Bari to Dubrovnik and Corfu. These were however later cancelled, the ship being chartered out instead to Di Maio & Partners (D&P) for their Bari-Durres (Albania) run. In early 2006 it was reported that the ship had been sold for scrap, but she remained laid up a time in Naples awaiting her fate before, finally, arriving at Alang in India in February 2007.
BELOW: Another picture of Lauro Express by Dave Worth, showing the stern ramp and demonstrating the boat deck extension mentioned above.
Visit Dave's excellent Manxlink website at - dedicated to the ships, past and present, of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company as well as the other vessels and related companies to have served the island.
ABOVE: Lauro Express pictured unusually in Valetta, Malta by Dave Worth in October 1998. The ship has seen some change to the window arrangements, but structurally seems virtually unaltered from her later Irish Sea days. Right aft on the boat deck was originally open but an extension to this area was made in December 1974 (a similar alteration was later made to the Antrim's sister, Ailsa Princess).
ABOVE & BELOW: Early views of the Antrim Princess on the Larne run. She entered service in the period between the introduction of the new BR ferries livery (red funnel with twin arrow insignia and monastral blue hull) but before the later application of the 'Sealink' trading name on the hull in 1972/73.
These pictures also show the ship prior to the additional accommodation added (whilst still at Stranraer) at the stern on the upper passenger deck.
ABOVE: Antrim Princess on the stocks at the Hawthorn Leslie shipyard at Hebburn-on-Tyne in 1967, not long before being launched.
BELOW: Dwarfed by cruise ships, the little Lauro Express is seen at Naples in July 2003.
ABOVE & BELOW: The ship as the Isle of Man Steam Packet's Tynwald in the late 1980s.
BELOW: The Giuseppe D'Abundo seen laid up in Naples in September 2004.
ABOVE: The Antrim Princess seen in full Sealink livery in the early 1980s.
BELOW: The ship's bell (on Giuseppe D'Abundo).