North Sea Passenger Lines


For centuries ships have connected the countries and people around the North Sea bringing cargo and passengers from one place to the other. However, it was not until the introduction of steam power in the 1820s that vessels were freed of the uncertainty of the wind and regular lines with steady departure and arrival times emerged.

At the starting point the regular lines connected major cities around the North Sea but over time minor cities and harbours were also included. This was not least true when the growth, from around 1850 onwards, of the railroad networks in Britain and Europe onwards made transportation on land much easier – and even more so when the automobile arrived in the beginning of the 20th century.

Originally the regular lines were based on cargo rather than passengers but improving economy and especially the growth of tourism changed the concept of the ships from primarily being cargo liners with accommodation for passengers to floating hotels with good cabins, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and a tax free supermarket on board. From the 1960s onwards the number of passengers on board the North Sea lines grew to very large numbers and the vessels used in this traffic became ever larger. 

The concept of the floating hotel seemed to be a fixture but by the end of the 20th century increasing competition from cut-price airline services among other things, together with an EU-mandated abolition of duty-free sales on board vessels plying between EU member states, placed the economic viability of the passenger lines under great pressure. Quite a few of the lines were closed down and on the remaining lines new vessels, based on the Ro-Pax principle, were introduced. Once again freight was considered more important than carriage of passengers.  

The book and the exhibition tell the story of the North Sea passenger lines over a period of more than one hundred and fifty years. Each contribution has a national or even regional perspective but they all link together and prove just how the North Sea connects rather than divides the people around it.

The North Sea Passenger Lines-project which will be staged 2009-12 came through with financial support of The Association of North Sea Cities, whose backing of the project is gratefully acknowledged.