Setting an example in the ferry industry

Max Tan tells Charlie Bartlett why Majestic Fast Ferry’s new twin-hulled ferries will make the company faster and safer than other Singaporean operators

Setting an example in the ferry industry
Officers must carry out 20 empty sailings before routes are approaved
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.

Majestic Fast Ferry recently made headlines with a new vessel delivery from the company’s PT Cahaya Samudra Shipyard on Batam Island, Indonesia. After setting sail from Singapore’s HarbourFront terminal in early June, Majestic Dream became the 11th vessel to join Majestic Fast Ferry’s fleet. But the company’s fast turnaround is far from complete. The new vessel is part of a series of which four ferries are still to be delivered – one this October and the rest in 2018.

“Formerly, the company was known as Pacific Ferries and at the time of the takeover in 2014 there was only one vessel,” says Max Tan, managing director of Majestic Fast Ferry. “Today we have 11 high-speed ferries.”

Majestic Dream has been deployed on the route across the Singapore Strait, between Singapore’s Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal and the Indonesian islands of Batam and Bintan. This allows residents of Batam island to take a 55 to 70-minute combined ferry-and-bus journey to Singapore’s hub airport Changi, the largest in the region. Majestic Fast Ferry has seen increased numbers of passengers since the launch of Majestic Dream’s Batam-Tanah Merah service, and the company expects even more once the highly automated Changi Airport Terminal 4 opens at the end of the year.

Maintaining a swift embarkation and disembarkation process is essential to ensure passengers heading to the airport can make their flights, says Tan. “The moment our ferry arrives and our passengers disembark, Singapore Cruise Centre has staff to speed up the flow of people. We are by no means the first operator to have services here and so Singapore Cruise Centre is experienced in handling high numbers of passengers arriving and departing.”

In moving from Singapore’s traditional single-hulled ferry design to Incat Crowther’s famed twin-hulled designs, Majestic Fast Ferry borrows a technology that has been tried and tested in other sectors, such as offshore personnel transfer where speed, rather than carrying capacity, is the priority. Twin-hulled vessels offer a number of operational advantages. “If we look at ferry companies around the world, most of the new vessels are catamarans because of the stability and fuel efficiency,” says Tan. “On top of that, these vessels can achieve higher speeds.”

A combination of two narrow hulls, rather than a single wide hull shape, allows Majestic Dream to present an optimised hydrodynamic profile, reducing drag as much as possible and proffering optimal speed and shorter travelling time. The vessel’s wider and rectangular deck shape allows it to increase passenger capacity by as much as a third, while reduced bow slamming and vastly improved stability gives passengers a more comfortable ride. Meanwhile, Majestic Dream’s two fuel-efficient MTU 16V2000M72 diesel engines reduce travelling time by 25-30% compared with the three-engine vessels elsewhere in Singapore’s collective fast-ferry fleet. “Each hull has a direct propulsion engine,” explains Tan. “There may be a marginal difference in terms of the weight saving, but really the main difference is in power, and fast speed as well.”

Tan indicates that it is not difficult to improve on the existing vessels in the Singapore fast-ferry market, at least in terms of technology. “With this design, we should be around 25% more efficient than our local competitors in Singapore,” he says. “There are many operators who are about 26 up to about 32 years old – this is the average fleet age. Our average vessel age is between 7 and 9 years.”

Despite this, when asked if competing fleets in the region will be likely to order catamarans, Tan is sceptical. “Many of the people in this sector have a very traditional mindset, and they still favour the monohull design with three engines. They will continue to build new vessels, but these will still be monohull.”

However, notes Tan, operating in the Singaporean market is not without its difficulties. He estimates that between 2-3% of his passengers are bound for the airport. “Because this is a new route, a lot of people are unaware of it,” he says, adding that this is despite Majestic Fast Ferry being able to offer a much faster transit time across the Singapore Strait. “Our ferries halve the crossing time, and with this new route it’s about 35 minutes.”

While take-up for Majestic Fast Ferry’s services will no doubt increase as time goes on, Tan finds that jarringly, his newly built and technologically advanced fleet faces a competitive disadvantage thanks to local flag regulations that only affect new vessels, not older, non-high-speed-craft (HSC) vessels.

“For each new route I want to run, I have to make 20 trips – empty – so that my officers will have the experience necessary before we can submit for a route approval,” he explains. “Being HSC ferries, my vessels have advanced navigational and safety equipment conforming to latest safety standards, but our competitors have very old, non-HSC ships, and these wouldn’t have to run empty trips. And these do not have the latest safety standards or navigational equipment onboard, which is contradictory and totally the opposite of what it should be.”

Given this requirement, it may yet be a while before Majestic Fast Ferry’s efficiency gains offset the cost of these empty voyages. “Basically, we are being penalised, for building newer and safer HSC ships,” says Tan. “It’s a very difficult market, but we will have to continue.”


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