A NEW £10m state-of-the-art freight ship was launched at Cammell Laird today.

Red Kestrel, commissioned by the Isle of Wight ferry operator Red Funnel, floated off with the tide from the Birkenhead shipyard’s slipway to its wet basin during the ceremony.

A flare was set off to start the vessel's short journey.

Red Funnel's first dedicated 'roll-on/roll-off' freight ship, it will provide additional year-round freight capacity on Red Funnel’s Southampton-East Cowes route which currently handles 53 per cent of all freight movements across the Solent.

At 74m in length, it will provide 265 lane metres of roll-on/roll-off freight capacity and will carry up to 12 passengers.

The vessel will enter service in May.

Tony Graham, Cammell Laird's chief operating officer, said: "Cammell Laird would like to thank Red Funnel for placing its trust in us to build this wonderful state-of-the-art ferry, drawing on all our marine engineering expertise.

"We are especially proud to be working for a British ferry company, winning the contract against international competition.

"Today marks an important milestone in the project and we are proud to see the Red Kestrel join a collection of ferries that Cammell Laird has built in recent years.

"Shipbuilding is back in a serious way on the Mersey and it has been brilliant to see the Red Kestrel being built alongside the iconic RRS Sir David Attenborough, which is the largest commercial vessel built in Britain for a generation.

"Cammell Laird sees a big market in ferry repair, conversion and new build and we will be showcasing our work on the Red Kestrel at the Nor Shipping trade fair in Oslo later this year.

"It is tremendous to see more ship owners and ferry operators choosing to build in the UK, this is very much in line with the Government’s National Shipbuilding Strategy which aims to recalibrate British shipbuilding as a major job and wealth creator now and into the future."

Business secretary Greg Clark MP said: "This is another vote of confidence in British shipbuilding and the excellence of our marine manufacturing sector, which we want to build on as part of our Industrial Strategy.

"Red Funnel continues to grow with this new investment in high quality UK manufacturing.

"This announcement is great news for the skilled workers at Red Funnel and Cammell Laird, and the local economies of Merseyside and the Isle of Wight".

Fran Collins, chief executive of Red Funnel, said: "We are delighted by today’s launch of Red Kestrel.

"The addition of a new ship is always an exciting time for everyone in the company and we look forward to taking delivery in April.

"We're thrilled that not only will Red Kestrel increase our total capacity and enhance convenience for our cross-Solent customers but we also take tremendous pride in supporting the revival of world-class shipbuilding in this country.

"It's a very special feeling for all of us and we’re in good hands with Cammell Laird.

"They have been a brilliant partner and we’re very grateful for all their tremendous work."

A keel-laying ceremony heralding the start of Red Kestrel's construction took place in June last year.

The event was attended by 300 guests and saw the ship’s name unveiled for the first time.

Karen George, wife of Red Funnel's chairman, had the honour of pushing the button to lay down the first section of the keel.

In time honoured tradition and as a symbol of good luck, coins, in this case an Isle of Wight silver sixpence dating from 1811 and a halfpenny from 1792 were placed under the keel block during the ceremony.

Both coins have since been recovered and will be presented to Red Kestrel when she enters service.