Setting high ferry standards in Scandinavia

Rikard Ternblom explains to Justin Merrigan how Fjord Line is building on its recent successes to remain a serious player in Scandinavia’s cruise ferry sector

Setting high ferry standards in Scandinavia
Bergensfjord was one of the world's first and biggest ferries to be driven solely by gas
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.

Linking Norway with Denmark and Sweden, Fjord Line has expanded rapidly in recent years, largely because of investment in quality tonnage and the expansion of passenger and cargo services. The company, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2018, has grown from its fledgling days in 1993 and currently employs around 600 people. Of these employees, 430 work at sea year-round, and 170 work onshore in Bergen, Stavanger, Egersund, Langesund, Kristiansand, and Sandefjord in Norway, as well as Hirtshals in Denmark and Strömstad in Sweden.

In 2013 and 2014, Fjord Line made its biggest investments – two 170-metre-long flagship vessels named Stavangerfjord and Bergensfjord, which were the first and biggest cruise ferries in the world to be driven solely by gas. Built at the Fosen Yard in Rissa, Norway, the ferries have BV12PG engines that do not use oil for pilot injection so they emit 98% less nitrogen oxide, 23% less carbon dioxide and zero sulphur oxides, compared to vessels of a similar size. This enabled Stavangerfjord and Bergensfjord to take the two top positions in the World Ports Climate Initiative’s Environmental Ship Index.

Since making these big investments, Fjord Line has recorded growth in all areas. For example, passenger numbers hit more than one million passengers on the four routes in Norway, Sweden and Denmark by September 2016 – an entire month earlier than the year before.

“Our result before tax improved by over NOK200 million (US$252 million),” says Rickard Ternblom, CEO of Fjord Line, who joined in 2015. “A total of 1,224,045 guests chose Fjord Line during 2016 – an improvement of 10% compared to 2015. For the second year in a row we welcomed over one million guests onboard our four ships. 2016 was an important year for Fjord Line. We moved on from years characterised by heavy investments in tonnage, towards focusing on the most important day to day job: to move people in every sense of the words.”

Now, Fjord Line has won Sandefjord Municipality’s competitive tender to operate additional sailings out of Sandefjord to the Swedish port of Strömstad. Currently, Fjord Line operates Oslofjord on the route and she will undergo an eco-upgrading soon. Ternblom is now considering different options concerning a second vessel for the service, with no definite decision whether it will be a newbuild or a ferry from the secondary market.

“Fjord Line has the right to operate two ships on Sandefjord-Strömstad from 1 January 2020,” he says. “We are currently in a process which will culminate in either upgrade or newbuild. Hopefully we will conclude during 2017. We’re really hunting for a hyper-modern vessel, which will help us put up a serious fight when it comes to attracting clients in the short and long-term. This naturally requires an extraordinarily competitive ship in terms of logistics and providing a ‘wow’ effect for passengers.”

Ternblom is encouraged by the route’s performance. “Since our first sailing on 20 June 2014, Fjord Line has managed to achieve competitive time slots from Sandefjord and Strømstad,” he explains. “Our aim from the start was to achieve 33% market share, and as of June 2017, we are very close to achieving our aim. Border shopping in Sweden is important for many Norwegians, and this route is a preferred transport method for many inhabitants in Vestfold and surrounding counties. We insourced the retail/tax-free operations on all ships during 2016, an important strategic decision that gives us more flexibility and hopefully increased income in the years to come. Fjord Line will continue to develop the onboard product on the Sandefjord-Strömstad route to ensure we always have a competitive product.”

Meanwhile, Stavangerfjord and Bergensfjord will each receive 64 new cabins, adding to the 306 they currently have and representing a 20% jump in passenger capacity. The work will be carried out by original builder Fosen during the fourth quarter of 2017 and January and February 2018.

“We’ve had a long and flourishing cooperation with Fosen, but most importantly, its offer was the best one from Fjord Line’s point of view,” says Ternblom. “Both cruise ferries have achieved a solid position in our target markets since first appearing in traffic in 2013 and 2014 and have helped Fjord Line to solidify our position in the market. However, there have been times during the peak season or at weekends and school holidays, where we have had little or no spare capacity available. We saw the need to extend our cabin capacity in 2016 and believe this will give even more passengers the possibility of choosing the comfortable way between Norway and the Continent in the years to come.”

The new cabins on each vessel will be built forward on Deck 10 of the ships. “Many of the new cabins are in our upgrade categories and have panoramic windows,” Ternblom says. “Another part of the contract is for the expansion of the onboard buffet restaurants and this will allow us to welcome 125 more guests to each restaurant. For Fjord Line, these upgrades and expansions are based on our conviction that the market in Western Norway will continue to experience a rise in the number of passengers.”

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