Securing the sustainable future of the cruise industry

From clean fuel to new bridge layouts and tougher security on Europe’s rivers, Sam Ballard investigates some of the innovations that are making operations safer and more efficient

Securing the sustainable future of the cruise industry

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

Captain Jamie Marshall, vice president of fleet operations at BC Ferries, is first to acknowledge the importance of innovation in order to stay ahead in marine operations. “We are currently in a large newbuild programme, where we will be constructing 12 vessels over the next 10 years with Remontowa yard in Gdansk, Poland,” he says.

Among those vessels are three Salish class ferries that can handle 145 automobiles and 600 passengers. “They incorporate the latest bridge and engine room technology, are double-ended and have an integrated Sperry Marine bridge,” comments Marshall. “They have two Schottel thrusters that are collared by three Wärtsilä duel-fuel LNG and diesel engines. Our plan is to run them on LNG, making them one of the first ferries in Canada to operate on that fuel.”

Enviromental factors aside, the financials are one of the main reasons that the company is turning to LNG. It already burns fuel with a sulphur content of less than 1%, but the cost compared to LNG is big. Marshall estimates that BC will reduce its fuel bill by 40% by turning to LNG. Given that across the fleet it burns about 120 million litres of fuel every year – at about US$1 per litre – it is a game-changing amount of money.

It won’t just be new vessels that will run on LNG fuel, the company’s Spirit class vessels – which handle 2,100 people and about 400 cars – are going to be converted to LNG too. Each one burns one million litres of fuel every month. That’s not to dismiss the environmental argument altogether, however.

“Environmentally, we’re going to be reducing greenhouse gases by between 15-25%,” Marshall says. “We’re reducing sulphur oxides by 85% and nitrogen oxides by about 50%, and we’ll virtually eliminate particulates, which you get when you burn diesel oil. It’s a really significant reduction.”

Given that each one of the newbuilds is designed to last for at least 40 years, the ability to run on LNG fuel is future-proofing BC Ferries against increasingly stringent legislation from governing bodies such as the International Maritime Organization and the Canadian administration.

The extensive building programme isn’t just bringing the company up to date when it comes to environmental legislation either, Marshall adds. The company has used the opportunity to undertake a bridge standardisation programme throughout its new and existing fleet.

“We have 35 vessels and 17 bridge layouts – for training and familiarisation or lifecycle of equipment and supply chain consistencies it makes sense to reduce the number of classes of vessels in terms of bridge layout,” he remarks. “We’re going from 17 down to five layouts. It’s going to mean that our training costs go down drastically too. Having that many systems and pieces of equipment also increased the chances of human error. Standardisation means that we are better positioned to take care of the human factor relating to accident and incident reduction. In the next five to seven years we should have a standardised bridge on most our vessels.”

The new bridge standardisation initiative fits in well with BC’s wider training programme – Standardised Education and Assessment (SEA) – which was implemented about five years ago.

“A lot of this came from the sinking of Queen of the North in 2006,” Marshall explains. “We had an external safety audit and the auditor general of British Columbia, George Morfitt, made some recommendations that precipitated the training programme.”

Essentially, SEA takes BC’s previous training programme whereby new recruits would shadow or buddy with a senior officer and makes it far more comprehensive. It also standardises the quality of training.

“We now give each new starter a dedicated trainer, rather than their manager who also has to carry out their own daily duties and is potentially being distracted,” Marshall explains. “The trainer takes new recruits through a series of practical and written proficiency tests before a ‘clearer’ runs them through final tests and gives clearance.”

Having standardised bridges will make the whole process far simpler, predicts Marshall. “The new standardisation programme raises the bar to where we want it to be. Previously, the quality of training and knowledge officers and deck hands were given would have depended on who they were paired with – it may have been a very competent officer, or it may not. The new system ensures that we know everyone has the same level of knowledge and practical experience. Ferry operators on the east coast of Canada and Carnival Corporation are interested in incorporating our comprehensive programme.”

The safety of passengers has arguably never been as prescient as today. Terrorist attacks in Belgium, France and Germany have meant that scrutiny around systems has never been so intense. Even Europe’s rivers, traditionally one of the world’s safer travel areas, are having their processes inspected like never before.

“Passenger safety has always been crucial to us, however, within the last couple of years there has been more of a focus on what we can do to increase it,” says Rudi Schreiner, co-founder and president of AmaWaterways. “We’re introducing a system whereby passengers will have to use a keycard to access the vessel – even if they are simply passing through to get to their own ship. It’s a result of security fears in Europe, but really it’s been highlighted by ocean cruise passengers who have started river cruising and are apprehensive about how companies monitor those coming onboard.”

For ocean passengers who are used to having their identity checked when they come onboard, it is simply par for the course. For river passengers who are used to walking through the lobbies of foreign vessels that are docked closer to the shore than theirs, it hasn’t really been a concern. The threat of a terrorist attack on a cruise ship was highlighted in January 2016 when Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, the UK’s highest ranking naval officer in Nato, said that Islamic State could target a cruise ship for their next attack. While he was alluding to ocean cruise vessels within the Mediterranean specifically, it hasn’t stopped other areas of tourism looking into their own procedures.

“We are now working as an industry to come up with a solution,” Schreiner comments. “We need to know who is coming through our vessels, we need to know that they have permission to be there.”

The move is one that has set AmaWaterways at the forefront of security within the river cruise industry. While ocean titans like Carnival Corporation are partnering with security agencies like Interpol, it’s important that the river industry does what it can to make sure that its passengers are as safe as possible. Especially now that their core destinations – countries such as France, Germany and Belgium – have come under sustained attack.

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Friday, September 1, 2017