Notice given of plan to dismantle Ramsgate’s historic steam tug Cervia and sell off parts

The tug Cervia

The Cervia steam tug, part of the Ramsgate Maritime Museum collection, will be broken down with parts sold off in November if an alternative cannot be found.

A Declaration of Intent to Deconstruct the National Historic Fleet Vessel ‘Cervia’ has been made by owner The Steam Museum Trust.

Deconstruction means its parts – from engines to steel beams – will be sold.

The notice, on National Historic Ships UK, says: “The hull below the waterline was recognised as being in need of urgent attention and several Heritage Lottery Fund bids were drawn up to address this along with wider proposals for a refreshed maritime museum alongside.

“Frustratingly local and district councils could not guarantee to supply match funding and long-term commitment which prevented successful bids being made…

“Following extensive negotiations between the current owner and council it is now recognised that the funds and resources needed to jointly carry out the required below waterline re-plating works are simply not available in the current economic climate or timescale needed.

“Cervia is a large and important survivor; full of character and the only ‘deep sea’ steam tug built for international operation remaining in the UK, plus one of only three original steam tugs left which were used in London.

“Complete with boiler, triple expansion engine, ancillaries, fixtures and fittings, she could work either as a static museum ship or be converted to become a unique fare paying yacht with only minimal and sensitive intervention to allow her to return to sea; an option already explored in detail by owner and associates as part of previous funding bids.  There is the possibility of remaining in Ramsgate which has had a long tradition of servicing the London tug fleets.”

Photo Mike Nichols

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.

The vessel 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.

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 Cervia 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 SMT lease runs until 2037.

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. Repairs were made but the Cervia was then listed for sale in 2019 with ‘price on application’ by Preston Services.

Photo Karen Cox

If deconstruction goes ahead, a formal entry will be created for the ship on the National Archive of Historic Vessels and held, in perpetuity, by National Historic Ships UK.

Any interested parties requiring further information with a view to offering the vessel a new home at a nominal price (to be discussed) should contact:  no later than Friday 16 September. Any expressions of interest will need to be accompanied by a sustainable proposal for future use.