A pronounced increase in the use of central London’s Thames tideway for passenger services, catering to commuters as well as visitors, has been one of the strongpoints of UK waterborne transport development over recent years. Playing a pivotal role in the river’s re-emergent infrastructural importance, operator MBNA Thames Clippers has consistently invested in its catamaran fleet. A new stage in that process is coming to fruition with the planned debut this summer of two further ferry newbuilds from Australia.
MBNA Thames Clippers has grown from a single boat operation in 1999 to a fleet of 13 catamarans. Its traffic throughput in 2014 achieved a new record, with an extra 500,000-plus carryings hoisting the total to 3.8 million passengers. The service network extends from Putney in the west to Woolwich in the east, entailing 19 bridge crossings imposing air-draught restrictions.
The delivery of the two new 35m vessels ordered from Incat Tasmania a.k.a Incat Hulls 075 and 076 will provide additional capacity throughout the Thames Clippers route network, and particularly for the Putney/Blackfriars route launched in April 2013. The company was awarded a five-year contract by Transport for London (TfL) to operate river bus commuter services between Putney and Blackfriars, with intermediate calls at four points. In the context of the metropolis, the fleet additions will also help realise the Mayor of London’s River Action Plan, which foresees 12 million passengers using the waterway annually by 2021. Passenger numbers on Thames ferries and excursion vessels as a whole reached 9.8 million in 2014, up from 8 million the year before.
Each of the Incat ferries for Thames Clippers have been designed by One2Three Naval Architects of Sydney and Perth, with assistance from Revolution Design. Compliance criteria were set by the High Speed Craft Code (HSC) Category A, with UK Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) equivalencies appropriate to operation in UK Category C waters. Each will take 150 passengers and offer a maximum fully laden speed of no less than 25knots, allowable on designated ‘high speed craft zones’ of the river.
The ferries’ efficient hull format and manoeuvrability characteristics were governed by the specific tidal conditions of the River Thames and the challenges of navigating the many bridges, with their limited arch clearances. The lightweight, aluminium alloy construction minimises power requirements for the speeds necessary to meet schedules across the tidal profile, which also results in reduced environmental impact.
Scania main machinery has been nominated for the new ferries, which will employ waterjets rather than propellers as used on various other Thames Clippers vessels. Each installation comprises two DI16 072M marine diesels, rated 625kW at 2,100rpm, driving Rolls-Royce Kamewa 40A3 waterjets through ZF2000-type reduction gears. One engine and drive line is arranged in each of the catamaran hulls. Each engine room will also house a diesel alternator set, supplying the 240/415V AC electrical system.
The seating lounge on the main deck is bounded on each side by large windows, and served by an air-con system based on four independent, air-cooled packaged units and ceiling cassettes. A number of seats are also located outboard on the aft part of the main deck, weather-protected from above by the upper deck overhang. The safety outfit includes four Survitec RFD Ferryman, 65-person liferafts, besides lifejackets for all. The narrow wheelhouse is located amidships and contributes to the design’s streamlined form.