Ramsgate’s steam tug Cervia is up for sale

The tug Cervia

The Cervia steam tug, part of the Ramsgate Maritime Museum collection, is up for sale.

The 350 ton vessel was built in 1946 as a seagoing tug for use as a fleet auxiliary, She is powered by a 1,000 HP triple expansion engine and is a rare survivor from the pinnacle of steam ship development.

Cervia is the last sea-going steam tug to survive in UK waters and she was also the last to work commercially, being in operation until 1983.

Her last job was as port tug to the new cross-channel ferry service at Ramsgate, providing assistance to ferries in adverse weather conditions.

Cervia was eventually ‘mothballed’ alongside the East Pier at Ramsgate Royal Harbour following a final re-fit for a towage contract in Norway, which never materialised.

Cervia featured in “Rogue Male” starring Peter ‘O’ Toole and, as the “S.S. Greasy”, in the Monty Python film “The Curse Of The Claw” with Michael Palin.

Photo Mike Nichols

In 1985 Thanet District Council’s Harbour Master and his deputy, who had considerable experience of historic ships, negotiated a loan of the tug and arranged for Cervia to be brought into the shelter of the inner harbour where she was moored in part of John Smeaton’s Historic Dry Dock. Later that month she was placed in the care of Ramsgate Maritime Museum, run by the East Kent Maritime Trust.

The EKMT Trust was granted a Manpower Services Commission project to restore Cervia, managed and funded by a Thanet District Council agency.

In 2008 The Ramsgate Maritime Museum was closed. EKMT became defunct and the Cerva and museum was taken over by The Steam Museum Trust, under the trusteeship of Michael List Brain, after a lease was signed with Thanet council in 2012.

The lease covered the clock house, Smeaton’s dry dock, 30 Military Road and related facilities. The lease runs until 2037.

The museum closed again and then reopened in 2015 with volunteers on a seasonal basis. The Steam Museums Trust and The Ramsgate Society put forward proposals for the repair and complete restoration of The Clock House building; the reorganisation and curation of the Maritime Museum Collection by creating a modern heritage centre and exhibition space; the repair and restoration of the Smeaton Dry Dock, the steam tug Cervia and the historic boat The Sundowner; improvements to the Pier Yard car park, a pop-up cafe and bar and the creation of a business plan to secure the long term sustainable financial future for the project.

This however was put on hold when Thanet council said it wanted to carry out its own feasibility study. It is understood The Ramsgate Society have recently approached Ramsgate Town Council about reviving the plans and there has since been a meeting with RTC and TDC to discuss heritage lottery funding, Ramsgate and the maritime museum.

Photo Karen Cox

Ramsgate RNLI and fire crews were involved in an operation to keep the Cervia afloat in November 2018 after she started taking on water due to a ‘large hole; that the crew sandbagged.

According to the Charities Commission The Steam Museum Trust has failed to provide information on its finances within 10 months of the financial year end for 2018. If a charity misses its deadline, it receives a default notice.

The Cervia is listed for sale with ‘price on application’ by Preston Services.


  1. What a sad state of affairs……Yet again our District and Town administrators fail to protect the historical artefacts and features in their care…
    Is there no end to their ineptitude.?
    Hopefully a scheme can be started to protect the Cervia, Smeatons Dock and the Museum ..
    When all the work done by volunteers is ignored, it brings home just how TDC/ RTC are failing the residents.

  2. Do you think that the Cervia should be sold off for scrap. With Smeaton’s Dry Dock being sold off for a housing development with the dock itself being used as an underground swimming pool or as a sceptic tank for vessels using the Harbour.

  3. Instead of selling it all off for little reward why can’t it be handed to the trust willing to work to get funding to refurbish it and a permanent home for present and future tourists and residents to come and see this magnificent beast.
    Why does TDC continue to do what is the easy and laziest option everytime?
    We need people in authority that want to work to improve our area, not destroy it at every turn.

      • People don’t like facts Tony, the automatic response is to blame the council for everything even if it is absolutely nothing to do with them !!

        • That’s what I thought.
          Personally, I’d love to see the Cervia afloat, re-boilered, and in steam.
          But pragmatically, I understand that such an ambition is hugely expensive, and certainly not TDC’s responsibility.

  4. For the record, the tug Cervia and some of the exhibits are owned by the Steam Museum Trust.
    Thanet District Council are the freeholders of the clock house and they leased the building and dock to the Steam Museum Trust.
    The clock-house is under some need of urgent repair, therefore TDC and the Steam Museum Trust are discussing various options.
    I have no idea why the tug is up for sale, but I do know that the shell plating is in poor condition and in no fit state to sail anywhere.
    Steam and motor vessels are uniquely expensive items to keep under good repair and many is the good vessel that has sunk below the waves because of the large sums required to keep a vessel afloat.
    I’d love to see Cervia reboilered and repaired, but where is the £1/2m or more needed, likely to come from?
    RTC has no part at all in this matter and so I would ask that ill judged and unsubstantiated comments about ‘ineptitude’ are not made in future. without some evidence.

  5. Didn’t the Cervia end its career when it capsized in the Thames after a tow rope became tangled under its propellor? Two crewmen died. The vessel was refloathed and towed to Ramsgate to be repaired.

  6. The 1954 girting, tragic though it was, certainly didn’t end Cervia’s career. She was quickly refloated and refitted at Claxtons – the ship repair and maintenance wing of William Watkins.

    She carried on with Watkins and their successor companies until the early 1970s when she was purchased by ITL/Medway Maritime Museum.

    She was the standby tug for the early days of the ferry service from Ramsgate and the last in the line of Ramsgate-based tugs.

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