Popular passenger ship the Balmoral will not be sailing in 2019 because it needs repairs running into millions of pounds.

The owners of the vessel, the MV Balmoral Fund charity, is facing an estimated £3 million to get the historic vessel back on the water.

The Balmoral was forced to stop sailing at the end of its 2017 season after it was told by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) that major repairs were needed to the hull before it would issue the ship with a passenger certificate.

MV Balmoral Fund spokesman Dick Clague said: "Historically if a plate on the hull looked like it had become thin and needed work, another plate was put on top to double plate it.

"This practice is no longer allowed and as a consequence all the double plates have to come off and new ones put on.

"A lot of plating on the hull requires replacing."

Work is also needed to bring the crew accommodation up to modern standards.

"In the summer the crew live aboard because of the schedule," said Mr Clague.

"The current crew accommodation does not meet the deemed international standards.

"This means we have to gut the current accommodation and provide more space per crew member which will prove very costly.

"We also need to ensure we have money in the bank to start the season and in total the overall cost of getting the Balmoral operational again is around £3 million."

The Balmoral normally operates between May and October and sails not only in the Bristol Channel but also the Irish Sea and the Thames.  In the past, fund bosses have applied to the Heritage Lottery Fund for help, but changes to the rules now mean the charity has to demonstrate the ship is being used for educational and development work to qualify for money.

Fund supporters and volunteers have already held a number of educational visits on the ship with local schools and it is looking to develop an educational programme on board for visitors.

A fundraising appeal amongst its members and supporters is also due to be launched.

"This appeal will essentially help keep the ship running as it is while we develop our educational and development work," said Mr Clague.

"The indication is that we can go back to HLF for grants to help us widen our charity and help us to achieve the things we need to do."

The fund is currently looking for volunteers to help with its development work.  People are needed for a variety of roles including fundraising and administration.

"It is too early to say whether we will be back on the water in 2020," he said.

"The purpose of the charity is to get the ship sailing again, but it is a matter of how many hoops we have to go through to get there."

The Balmoral also had a poor season in 2017, adding to its woes.

Poor weather, mechanical problems and cancelled visits meant the ship only completed 55 of its 116 sailings last year.

A weeping rivet meant the ship had to go back into dry dock for repairs and the collapse of the Gravesend landing pontoon scuppered a planned visit along the Thames.

Summer storms also cancelled trips and the failure of both engine and gearbox couplings added to the issues.

This news item was taken from The Bristol Post.