Somers Isles Shipping Ltd. (SISL) commenced operations in July 1985 offering a direct service between Jacksonville, Florida and Hamilton, Bermuda. The first few voyages were operated with the vessel ‘Clifford R. Simmons’ but in August 1985 it was replaced by the time chartered ‘Somers Isles’ and the fifth vessel of this name is now in service. In 1986, the U.S. port was changed to Fernandina Beach, Florida which is approximately 40 miles north of Jacksonville. The ‘Somers Isles’ was the first vessel to call at the Forest Products Terminal operated by Nassau Terminals Inc. in Fernandina Beach.
The service schedule operated by SISL provides two direct voyages every three weeks. The three weekly rotations commences with a sailing from Fernandina Beach on a Friday arriving in Bermuda the following Tuesday morning and departing Bermuda Wednesday morning. The next sailing from Fernandina Beach is the following Saturday; arriving in Bermuda the next Wednesday and remaining there until the Friday, at which time it heads back to Fernandina Beach to begin the cycle again. This service schedule provides 34 to 35 round trip voyages per year with a port-to-port transit time of three and a half days. The distance, port-to-port, between Fernandina Beach and Hamilton, Bermuda is 880 nautical miles. As of the end of December 2014, SISL had provided 1,007 round trip voyages between Florida and Bermuda.
The SISL service is primarily a one-way trade with the cargo flowing from the US to Bermuda; in 2014 98% of cargo volume was carried on the eastbound leg with the westbound leg carrying primarily empty containers. The type of cargo carried covers the whole range of consumer goods, foodstuffs, other essentials and construction material as nearly everything that is consumed and used in Bermuda is imported. Some break bulk cargo is carried on the service; about 5% of volume in 2014 was break bulk and comprised mainly building material, boats and vehicles. The container traffic is nearly all twenty-foot units as the restricted road system in Bermuda will not allow forty-foot containers to be landed, except in very special circumstances.
In 1986, when the SISL service was relocated to Fernandina Beach, the company set up a wholly-owned US subsidiary company, North Florida Shipping Inc. (NFS) to represent the line in the US and provide agency services in Fernandina Beach. Property was purchased by the subsidiary company on which a container repair facility and office building were built. NFS employs a total of seven staff.
In 1987, SISL purchased its first containers instead of relying only on leased equipment. Today SISL owns the majority of its equipment which includes dry and reefer containers, flat racks, chassis and gensets.
SISL is a Bermudian owned and operated company. It is managed by Container Ship Management Ltd. based in Hamilton, Bermuda and has a board of directors of seven comprised mainly of Bermudian businesspersons, the Chairman is Mr. Michael Collier, a retired Bermudian banker. The agents in Bermuda are a long-established local agency, Meyer Agencies Ltd.