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Time could be right to think of lightweight construction ferries

The Naval Architect November 2020


composite shutterstockA rethink of the design of ferries for short international crossings could provide a platform to turn things around and move the European shipbuilding sector forward in the process. The European Union’s plan to shipping in its carbon emission trading regime means that the ferry industry now faces a challenge and an opportunity. The construction of ferries used in short international crossings could be radically changed in the future to pave way for greener solutions, believes Vesa Marttinen, development executive at MarineCycles, a Finnish consulting company.


“We could approach the design ferries used on short international crossings from a fresh angle and focus on three key areas. Firstly, they could employ lightweight construction to e.g. save fuel, manning levels could be reduced compared to present day ones and the design of the bridge could be rethought,” Marttinen tells The Naval Architect. 


The design of the bridge today requires a location from where the operations of the vessel are controlled plus a separate ‘back office’. However, in high speed craft, all these are brought together and Marttinen thinks this type of vessel could offer a platform for the design of a new kind of short haul ferry that would not be any faster than ones in service today. 


The hull of the vessel could be built of composite materials that save a lot of weight compared to steel, which again would reduce power requirement of the vessel and hence its fuel consumption and environmental footprint. Marttinen points out that his proposal would not mean a jump into the unknown, but rather to expand the High Speed Craft Code of the IMO to different kinds of ferries. “There is a lot of experience and statistics from the construction and operation of fast ferries: this does not mean a ground zero start,” he noted. 


Many ferry services in Europe could embrace the technology derived from fast ferries, although the exact parameters regarding e.g. the length of the voyage etc. would need to be defined by the IMO. However, as the European Union has earmarked €750 billion in funding for projects to help economies of its member states to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, Marttinen says his proposal could become part of these efforts and benefit from the said funding. 


Until recently, it was the norm that European ferry companies would mostly place their newbuilding orders at European yards. However, this has changed in the recent years as some countries in the Far East have established strong maritime clusters. “Australia has cheap bauxite, the raw material of aluminium, which helped that country to develop a strong position in the construction of fast ferries,” Marttinen continues. China has emerged as a major builder of ro-pax ferries for European owners.


Against this background, Europeans should move from festive speeches to concrete action to develop its maritime cluster and ferries are an obvious area where Europe, including both the EU the UK, could launch a new concept and propel themselves to the forefront of technology, he concludes. 


For the full article please see November’s edition of The Naval Architect.