Lt. Col. Frank Bustard founded the Atlantic Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. (ASN) and chartered after World War 2 through the Ministry of War Transport from the Admiralty and the War Office for a period of three years, three British Landing Ship Tanks (LST’s) 3519, 3534 and 3512. These vessels where named ; Empire Baltic, Empire Cedric and Empire Celtic.
The Atlantic Steam Navigation Co. Ltd became one of the pioneers in Roll On Roll Of Transportation (RORO).
On 11th September 1946 the maiden voyage was made when the Empire Baltic sailed fully loaded from Tilbury Docks, to Rotterdam, the voyage took a good 24 hours. After the maiden voyage the ASN then used their new vessels to carry thousands of vehicles for the Army, back and forth between Tilbury and Hamburg. In 1955, this service was eventually moved to Antwerp.
The original three LST’s were joined in 1948 by another British LST 3041, named Empire Doric after the ASN were able to convince commercial operators to support the new route between Preston and the Antrim port of Larne.
However, special port facilities were constructed at both Preston and Larne before the new route could be open. The Atlantic Steam Navigation company commenced operations with the Empire Cedric between the Lancashire port of Preston and Larne in May 1948.
The Preston to Larne service continued to expand so much so that in 1950, the service was expanded from Preston to include a service to Belfast. The service to Belfast opened in 1950 and sailings out of Preston were soon increased to 6 or 7 per week, to either Belfast or Larne.
In 1954, the ASN was taken over under the Labour Governments nationalisation policy by the British Transport Commission (BTC). In 1955 another two LST’s where chartered into the existing fleet these being Empire Cymric and Empire Nordic bringing the fleet strength to seven chartered LST’s.
The Hamburg service was terminated in 1955, and a new service was opened between Antwerp and Tilbury. The fleet of seven ships was to be split up with the usual three ships based at Tilbury and the others maintaining the Preston services to Northern Ireland.
During 1956 the entire fleet of LSTs (Landing Ship (Tank)) was requisitioned by the Government during the Suez Crisis and chartered German ships were hastily introduced to keep the services going while in the following year, the company acquired their first purpose-built ships using the financial backing of the British Transport Commission. A product of the Wm. Denny & Bros. yard at Dumbarton the Bardic Ferry and Ionic Ferry were the world’s first commercial roll on – roll off (RORO) vessels and carried not just lorries but had sufficient headroom of their vehicle decks to accommodate a double decker bus. First and Second Class accommodation for 55 passengers was provided, each with their own dining rooms and lounges. These two new vessels and their future sister ships were developed from the 11 years of operational experience gained by the ASN using LST’s, and also took into account Ministry Of Defence specifications in case any of these vessels were called for military service.
The new purpose built ferry named Bardic Ferry made her maiden voyage on the 2nd September, 1957 on the Preston to Larne route. Her sister ship the Ionic Ferry entered service on the same route on the 10th October 1958. However, once she had entered service on this route the Bardic Ferry was transferred to the companies Antwerp route from Tilbury. The Belfast route continued to operate still using one of the LST’s with the occasional stand in by the Ionic Ferry.
Two more larger vessels of this type were duly ordered from the Ailsa at Troon and the Cerdic Ferry (Rotterdam service) and Doric Ferry (Antwerp service) entered service at Tilbury in November 1961 and April 1962 by which time the Bardic Ferry was back on the Irish Sea. With the new vessels in operation, the LST fleet was gradually reduced until the final LST, the Empire Nordic, was withdrawn in December 1966.
With no relief ship during the annual overhauls, ASN chartered Thoresen’s Viking 1 to serve the Preston – Larne route during January 1967.
During the 1960s, ASN had purchased a small pier at Cairnryan on Loch Ryan, Wigtownshire, for £60,000 and in 1970 they decided to upgrade it for a new short-sea service. The European Ferries Group (EFG) trading as Thownsend Thoresen acquired the ASN for £5.5 million in November 1971 and the ASN colours of black hull and blue funnel with white stripe and black top soon gave way to the orange and green of Townsend Thoresen.
Vessel – Built – Years in Service – Tons
Empire Baltic 1945 built by Canadian Vickers Ltd, Montreal | ex- LST 3519, 1946 chartered from British Government renamed Empire Baltic, 1962 scrapped at La Spezia. 2,256
Empire Celtic 1945 built by Davie Shipbuilding, Lauzon | ex- LST 3512, 1946 chartered from British Government renamed Empire Celtic, 1962 scrapped in Italy. 2,256
Empire Cedric 1944 built by Harland & Wolff Ltd., Belfast | ex- LST 3534, 1948 chartered from British Government renamed Empire Cedric, 1960 scrapped at Ghent. 2,256
Empire Cymric 1944 built by Harland & Wolff Ltd., Belfast | ex- LST 3010, ex- HMS Attacker 1947, 1955 chartered from British Government renamed Empire Cymric, 1962 scrapped at Faslane. 2,256
Empire Doric 1944 built by Harland & Wolff Ltd., Belfast | ex- LST 3041, 1948 chartered from British Government renamed Empire Doric, 1960 scrapped at Port Glasgow. 2,256
Empire Nordic 1944 built by Blyth Shipbuilding & Drydocks Co. Ltd., Blyth | ex- LST 3026, ex- HMS Charger 1946, 1955 chartered from British Government renamed Empire Nordic, 1965 scrapped at Bilbao. 2,256
Empire Gaelic 1944 built by Davie Shipbuilding, Lauzon | ex- LST 3507, 1948 chartered from British Government renamed Empire Gaelic, 1960 sold to Belgium, 1962 renamed Rjev, 1962 scrapped at Ghent. 2,256
Bardic Ferry 1957 built by W. Denny & Bros., Dumbarton | 1971 ASN taken over by European Ferries Group (EFG), 1976 sold to Fratelli Cosulich, Genoa renamed Nasim II, 1988 scrapped at Aliaga. 2,550
Ionic Ferry 1958 bult by W. Denny & Bros., Dumbarton | 1971 ASN taken over by European Ferries Group (EFG), 1976 sold renamed Kamasin, 1980 sold renamed Tamerlane, 1988 scrapped at Aliaga. 2,557
Cerdic Ferry 1961 built by Ailsa Shipbuilding & Co., Troon | 1971 ASN taken over by European Ferries Group (EFG), 1981 sold to Libra Maritime renamed Atlas I, 1987 sold to Ventouris renamed Sifnos, 1990 renamed Sifnos Express, 1994 renamed Igoumenitsa Express, 1998 renamed Orestes, 2007 scrapped at Aliaga. 2,563
Doric Ferry 1962 built by Ailsa Shipbuilding & Co., Troon | 1971 ASN taken over by European Ferries Group (EFG), 1981 sold to Libra Maritime renamed Atlas II, 1989 sold to Cycladic Lines renamed Alekos, 1989 sold to Agoudimos Lines renamed Kapetan Alexandros, 1993 renamed Kapetan Alexandros A. 2,573
Gaelic Ferry 1963 built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd., Newcastle | 1971 ASN taken over by European Ferries Group (EFG), 1988 scrapped at Kaohsiung. 2,756
Europic Ferry 1967 built by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Ltd., Newcastle | 1971 ASN taken over by European Ferries Group (EFG), 1992 renamed European Freighter, 1993 sold to Med Link, Cyprus renamed Afrodite II, 2004 sold renamed Ajman Glory, 2005 scrapped at Alang. 2,784
Compiled by Chris Mills from various sources.