The Harbour Ferries – Il-Lanec tal-Pass


Sliema landing place

Dghajjes tax-xoghol

Dghajjes tax-xoghol

Until the second world war the Harbour Ferries were the only means of transport in Malta’s Harbours besides the Dghajjes (id-dghajjes tax-xoghol).  These ferries could carry around 80 passengers each trip. Until World War II there were two companies operating in the Harbours:

a) The Marsamuscetto Ferry Service (Ta’ Mattei)  owned by Giulio Goldseller – started operating on 11 June 1882.  It used to sport red flags and operated in Marsamxett Harbour with landings in Sliema (Ferries), Valletta (M’Xett), Pieta’, Msida and St. Julian’s in summer.

b) The National Steam Ferry Boats Company (Ta’ Gollcher) owned by O.F. Gollcher, E Pulis and R Polidano – started operating on  1 August 1897 and used to sport blue and yellow flags.  This company operated in the Grand Harbour with landings in Valletta, Senglea and Vittoriosa.

These Ferries used to berth alongside a bridge (a large pontoon closed on both sides and roofed).  This bridge rested on iron pillars secured to the seabed and fitted with iron beams secured to the pier.  The passengers, after buying tickets from the cashier, used to wait for the ferry on benches fitted on this bridge.

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Ta’ Mattei at first started operating every 20 minutes with two steamships namely Ogygia and Melita which used to carry only 45 passengers. In 1884 the steamships Sliema and Victoria. In 1886 steamships Valletta and Fatima were added.  Among other vessels Brittannia started operating from 1889 and the Glory from 1912.

Ta’ Gollcher at first brought two steamships from Trieste.  In 1898 they commissioned Michael Gatt to build the Euterpe and in 1907 the Admiral Drury started being used. Other steamships that this company operated were Bromley, Beresford, Cerez, Mitchell, Johnson, Bellona, Daphne, Drury, Limpus, Aurora, Emily, MVF St Joseph, MVF St Mary and MVF Revelry which was used by Queen Elizabeth II for a round Malta trip when Her Majesty visited the Islands. The ferries, painted in black, used to have a crew of four:

1) The Helmsman – also known as the Master or Kaptan

2) The Engineer – was in charge of the engine room

3) The Fuochista – he kept the boiler going by a steady supply of coal

4) The Sailor – handled the ropes at docking time.

Each vessel was equipped with benches at the front and rear sides while there was a closed cabin with benches for those who preferred to shelter from the rain or sun. In the summer months, some times during the day, ​​some trips were made between the two Harbours with stops at Marsamxett, Sliema and St Julian’s.

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These ferries operated between six in the morning and six in the evening. People used them all the time especially those Shipyard workers who did not reside in the Cottonera Area. Passengers first used to go to Valletta then used the Barrakka Lift to  arrive at the Valletta Marina and crossed by ferry to Senglea. At first the fare was 1d (4 euro cents) during weekdays and 1½d (6 euro cents) on Sundays and Public Holidays.  However on 1 July 1892 fresh rules were issued and when the sea was stormy the fare was raised to  2d (8 euro cents).  This was indicated by a blue flag flying on the mast of the Marsamxett Police Station. By the late 1930s the fare was 2d (8 euro cents) and workers could buy a discounted return fare.

Children used to sing:

Lanca gejja u ohra sejra, minn Tas-Sliema ghall-Marsamxett. Il-kaptan bil-pipa f’halqu, jidderiegi l-bastiment; Sewwa sewwa f’nofs ta’ bahar, il-kaptan hassu hazin, ma kellux min idur mieghu; daru mieghu l-bahrin, Aghmillu karta, aghmillu karta, aghmillu karta ghal tax-xjuh.’

(A ferry is coming and and another is leaving, from Sliema to Marsamxett. The master, with a pipe in his mouth, directing the vessel. In the middle of the harbour the captain felt sick and had no one to assist him. He was assisted by the sailors. Prepare the papers, prepare the papers, prepare the papers to send him to a home for the elderly.)

Most masters used to enjoy this song and responded with a long blow from the ferry horn.


M2 L3 Landing Place M1 L7 SJ1

Unfortunately these ferries which had been operating in Malta’s Harbours for decades stopped their service on 31 August 1959. The last trip was operated by the vessel MVF St Mary in the Grand Harbour since the Marsamxett Harbour service had already been stopped.

A new service


The Marsamxett Steamferry Service Ltd revived the service between Sliema and Marsamxett on 24 June 1991. This company was formed between Fortel Services Ltd, Captain Morgan Cruises operators, and Bianchi Group of Companies.  The ferry used was MV Cominotto. This vessel was bought by Captain Morgan Cruises in 1989 and started operating the ferry service between Sliema and Valletta in 1991. It is said that during the Second World War  MV Cominotto, which was built in 1940,  was used as a Royal Navy hospital vessel to take wounded people to Bighi Hospital in a faster and easier way.

The fare was 35 cents (82 euro cents) In 1996 an attempt was made to resume this service in the Grand Harbour but due to some reasons, most probably financially, failed.

Particulars of MV Cominotto:

  • Passenger License:          97 Passengers
  • L.O.A.:                               21.7m
  • Engine:                              Ford Diesels, 193.96kW x2
  • Gross Tonnage:                 61.04




The present service


imageOn 1 October 2012 Transport Malta signed a contract with Marsamxetto Steamferry Services Limited for the “Provision of Scheduled Maritime Ferry Services for the Grand Harbour and the Port of Marsamxett”. The contract was signed for a period of 8 years till 2020. The Operator, chosen through a competitive tender, operates two simultaneous services, one in each Harbour. The Operator is obliged to operate the service all year round, with departures operating at a maximum interval of 30 minutes from each landing place, within a minimum stipulated schedule. The Operator enjoys exclusive use of strategic landing places and contributes a total of €300,000 of its revenue, over the whole period, to the Transport Authority. The Operator has a number of obligations to ensure the right level of service including the employment of crew fluent in both Maltese and English languages and who must wear a uniform and visible identification, the display of fare prices at the landing places and on board the vessel, the issuing of a receipt for every ticket sold and the obligation to maintain a website providing on-line information, timetables and an early warning to inform the general public of any disruptions and changes to the Services due to bad weather.

The Ferry Service between Sliema and Valletta continued using the same vessel MV Cominotto.

The Ferry Service to the Three Cities started operating in December 2012.


Princess  Ariel“, a deep V hull craft built in 2010 and fully certified and licensed to carry 12 passengers was chosen for this Ferry Service. She is powered by a single outboard  225hp engine and if the weather turns she is equipped with roll down side protection screens that enclose and shield passengers from the elements. Princess Ariel is the sister to the water taxi “Princess Jahzara” also operating in the Grand Harbour.  From 2010 Princess Ariel  was used as a water taxi by the Malta Water Taxi Services Ltd until in December 2012 she was acquired by the Marsamxetto Steamferry Services Ltd to operate a Ferry Service between Valletta and the Three Cities till June 2014.

From July 2014 MV Akvaryum started being used as ferry boat between the Three Cities and the Barrakka Lift.


MV Akvaryum Particulars:

Passenger License: 46 Passengers
L.O.A.: 11.2m
Engine: Ford Diesel, 96.98kW
Gross Tonnage: 20.42

The Akvaryum was built in Izmir, Turkey. It was bought by Captain Morgan Cruises in May 1992. It carries 46 passengers and when used for underwater safari it can  accommodate 18 passengers in its Observation Keel.


Up till May 2015 the service operated as follows:

Winter Schedule:

Monday to Saturday: 07:00 hours till 18.00 hours

Sundays and Public Holidays: 10:00 hours till 16:00 hours

Summer Schedule:

Monday to Saturday: 07:00 hours till 19.00 hours

Sundays and Public Holidays: 09:00 hours till 18:00 hours

Authorised Fares

The maximum fares that can be charged are detailed in the table below.

Type of   Ticket ( Per Trip One Way) Euro   (€)
Ticket   for Adults 1.50
Children   up to twelve (12) years of age 0.50c
Karta   Anzjan and Blue Badge Holders 0.50c
Type of   Ticket (Return) Euro   (€)
Ticket   for Adults 2.80
Children   up to twelve (12) years 0.90c
Karta   Anzjan and Blue Badge Holders 0.90c
Special   Rates Euro   (€)
Weekly   Pass (valid for 7 consecutive weekdays) 10.00

Ferry users are entitled to the free use of the Barrakka Lift on the same day.




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In June 2015 the timetable of the ferry services linking Valletta to Sliema as well as Valletta to the Three Cities was extended because of growing demand. Services, across Marsamxett and Grand Harbour, started to be operated up to 12.30am every day between June and September.

The capacity on the Marsamxett service between Valletta and Sliema was also increased with the introduction of a catamaran. A bigger boat was also introduced on the Valletta-Vittoriosa-Senglea route in 2014.Services during the day are every 15 minutes. There are longer intervals during the night.

The services are operated by Fortel Group.

MV Topcat One Particulars:

Builder: Exeter Maritime Services
Year built: 2014
Hull Length: 19.0m
Length overall: 19.3m
Beam (moulded): 6.6m
Beam (extreme): 6.92m
Draft: 1.4m (USK)
Fuel: 2x900L
Passengers: 96-200
Crew: 1-2
Engine (REC): 2x175hp
Power Range: 2x150hp – 2x450hp

Topcat One was built by Exeter shipyard Exeter Maritime Services. She has a capacity for 160 with 100 seats in the main passenger lounge and 60 seats on the upper deck. Propulsion is provided by two Watermota Doosan LO66TI diesel engines each rated at 150hp at 1,800rpm driving Teignbridge fixed pitch propellers. Teignbridge also supplied the shafting, sterngear and rudders.

On trials Topcat One achieved a top speed in excess of 11 knots.

To speed passenger loading the ferry features innovative, purpose designed bow configurations for quick and easy passenger access and disembarkation at dedicated terminals to which the ferry will dock bow on.

Topcat One was added to the fleet in November 2014 operating the Marsamxetto Harbour.





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 Topcat Two came into service on Saturday 14 August 2015. This ferry stated being used in the Grand Harbour.  Topcat Two is the sister ship of Topcat One.




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