Isle of Wight ferry operator Wightlink plans to introduce new flagship vessel in two years’ time as part of a £45 million investment.

The ferry will be built specifically for the Portsmouth-Fishbourne route across the Solent, with a capacity for 178 cars and more than 1,000 passengers.

Improvements to terminals at the company’s ports of Portsmouth Gunwharf and Fishbourne have also been outlined.

Better facilities for customers are being promised along with faster loading and unloading times to reduce congestion, particularly at Portsmouth Gunwharf.

New boarding ramps will allow vehicles to be loaded and unloaded on two levels simultaneously.

The capacity of Wightlink’s current flagship St Clare will be increased so it can use the same ‘double deck’ loading system.

Chief operating officer, John Burrows said: “Wightlink is proud to invest in our lifeline service to and from the Isle of Wight.

“Since 2009 we have bought five new ships for our Portsmouth to Ryde Pier and Lymington to Yarmouth routes, and we are delighted to be announcing today’s investment in our Portsmouth Gunwharf to Fishbourne route.

“Our new ship will be the most modern, comfortable and environmentally friendly ferry crossing the Solent and we look forward to carrying many more islanders and holidaymakers every year.

“The works to our terminals will see improved customer facilities, quicker and quieter loading and unloading, and reduced traffic congestion.

“The introduction of a second tier of boarding lanes at Portsmouth will have a particularly positive effect on reducing traffic and improving road safety for pedestrians in and around the harbour.”