An iconic expansion for MBNA Thames Clippers

Sean Collins explains to Rebecca Gibson how the cruise line's new vessels and routes will help it to boost passenger traffic on the Thames

An iconic expansion for MBNA Thames Clippers
Mercury Clipper pictured during her 200-nautical mile journey from Wight Shipyard Co on the Isle of Wight to London

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Founded in 1999 by CEO Sean Collins and his business partner Alan Woods, MBNA Thames Clippers is growing fast. It started with one 80-passenger ferry that served the Savoy Pier – Greenwich Pier route, but its 15 high-speed catamarans now carry more than 8,500 passengers per day on five different routes from Woolwich in the east of London, to Putney in the west. That’s an estimated four million passengers per year.

In the past two years alone, MBNA Thames Clippers has broken not one, but two, industry records. In October 2016, it contracted the Isle of Wight’s Wight Shipyard Co to build two 172-passenger, high-speed catamarans for £6.3 million (US$8 million) – the largest non-government-funded fast ferry order at a UK shipyard in more than 20 years. In summer 2017, it launched both newbuilds and became the owner of the biggest fast commercial passenger fleet operating solely in English waters.

Named Mercury Clipper and Jupiter Clipper by 11-year-old Lennon from Scotland following a radio competition involving more than 1,000 children, the two new vessels took 10 months to build. The project created two dedicated apprenticeships and more than 75 new jobs across the Isle of Wight and London. It also involved more than 100 local suppliers from southern England.

“Mercury Clipper and Jupiter Clipper started service in late June and early August, respectively,” says Collins. “Collectively, the ferries add 14% more capacity to our fleet, and when combined with Galaxy Clipper and Neptune Clipper which launched in 2015, they mark a 30% growth in our fleet in two years.”

When it came to designing Mercury Clipper and Jupiter Clipper, One2three Naval Architects was the obvious choice, says Collins.

“London is a cosmopolitan city with a famous skyline, so we want our boats to look similarly contemporary and iconic as they ply the Thames, but they must also have shallow keel clearance so they don’t become grounded at low tide, and low air draft so they can pass under the bridges at high tide,” he explains. “Our early vessels were designed by the now defunct NQEA in Australia, but One2three designed Galaxy Clipper and Neptune Clipper ahead of their 2015 launch and we were very impressed. This time, One2three made a few small changes to improve the layout and customer experience on Mercury Clipper and Jupiter Clipper and, once again, we’re delighted.”

Traditionally, MBNA Thames Clippers’ fast craft have been built by Incat Tasmania in Australia, but this time Collins wanted to work with a shipyard closer to home. “Incat Tasmania leads the field when it comes to constructing high-speed passenger catamarans, but we’ve always had a burning desire to build nearer home and we were confident that Wight Shipyard could deliver the product we wanted,” Collins says. “Although we employed Holder as our representative, my team has been able to get more involved than ever before and I’ve enjoyed being able to visit the yard fairly frequently. By combining the skills and expertise of our own in-house team and those of One2three and Wight Shipyard, we’ve created two high-quality ferries that were built on time and in budget.” To ensure MBNA Thames Clippers offers a consistent high-quality service across its existing fleet, Collins and his team is currently upgrading the other 13 vessels.

“We’re adding new kiosks and updating the seating and furnishings,” Collins comments. “Although our in-house team will do most of the refurbishments, we’re also working with Wight Shipyard again and Island Marine. We do see the need for additional craft in the future, but orders will be subject to the success of our planned new routes.”

Mercury Clipper and Jupiter Clipper were predominantly built to serve increasing passenger demand on the Blackfriars-Putney route to the west of London. However, they will also play a key role in helping Transport for London to achieve its aim of transporting 12 million passengers per year on the Thames by 2020, and the Port of London Authority to meet its target of 20 million river travellers per year by 2035.

To make both its services and the River Thames accessible to as many commuters and tourists as possible, MBNA Thames Clippers is also expanding its routes. Not only did it introduce services to Plantation Wharf Pier in 2015 and Westminster Pier in 2016, but the company will also launch a new route to Battersea Power Station Pier on 18 September 2017.

“Although Transport for London is constructing a new Tube line to the new Nine Elms and Battersea Power Station development, there will be a high volume of residential and commercial passenger traffic, so there will be a long-term need for our ferry services,” explains Collins. “We’re hoping to add a new pier in Canary Wharf East in 2018 and one at the upcoming Royal Wharf residential development in 2019. In future, we aim to cater to rising passenger demand to tourist attractions like the Royal Observatory and National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, as well as The O2 on the Greenwich peninsula.” Whether they are a regular commuter heading to or from the office, or a tourist wanting to see London’s cityscape from a different perspective, MBNA Thames Clippers’ ferries offer travellers the ideal form of transport, says Collins.

“Compared with other London transport options, our boats offer a fantastic commuting experience – passengers are guaranteed a seat, they have access to wi-fi to check e-mails, and they can purchase breakfast on their way to work and an alcoholic drink on their way home,” he explains, adding that travellers can pay with the same Oyster Card they use across the entire Transport for London network. “Our ferries all have large windows, providing open views of the river and many of London’s major landmarks, so they’re also perfect for tourists who want to see more of the city during their stay.”

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
Tuesday, October 31, 2017