The place of ferries in the sustainable transport debate

How green are ferries compared with transport alternatives? Three Northern Europe-based operators share their sustainability strategies with Michele Witthaus

The place of ferries in the sustainable transport debate
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.

What would you consider to be the most significant contributions your company has made to sustainable passenger transport in recent years?

Erik Lewenhaupt, head of sustainability at Stena Group: Stena Line has the ambition to become a leader in sustainable shipping, both when it comes to our ships and to our ports operations. Apart from safety, which is priority number one, we work continuously to minimise our carbon footprint in terms of air and water emissions, and to improve waste handling and support responsible consumption onboard. Our significant contributions to sustainable shipping include our methanol engine conversion project, our upcoming battery trial, shoreside electricity investments, phasing out the use of plastic disposables and using closed loop scrubbers.

Veiko Haavapuu, finance director at Tallink Grupp: When the stricter Emission Control Areas (ECAs) regulation came into effect in January 2015, Tallink Grupp made a strategic decision to start using more environmentally friendly, but more expensive, low-sulphur marine gas oil and at the same time to invest in vessel monitoring systems to achieve more efficient vessel operations. Other alternatives would have been to continue to use high-sulphur content heavy fuel oil and to invest in scrubbers, which we did not consider to be a sustainable long-term solution. When we saw the first results of using the vessel monitoring systems, we decided to continue to expand the programme. Just by operating the vessels more intelligently using more data from operations, we have gained 4-9% fuel efficiency per vessel in our fleet.

In January 2017, Tallink Grupp introduced a new dual-fuel shuttle vessel, Megastar, on the busy Tallinn-Helsinki route between Estonia and Finland. The environmentally friendly ship uses LNG as main fuel and she will comply with the new and stricter emission regulations for the ECA areas, including the Baltic Sea. Using natural gas as fuel reduces noise and exhaust-gas emissions. Dual-fuel engines in gas mode produce 25% less carbon dioxide, 85% less nitrogen oxide and practically zero sulphur oxide and particles emissions, compared to traditional diesel or heavy fuel burning engines.

Nigel Wonnacott, head of communications at Brittany Ferries: In the past three years, we have invested a90 million (US$106 million) to retrofit exhaust emission-reducing scrubbers to six cruise ferries. This was an important interim step for the company in improving the sustainability of its fleet, with benefits of significant sulphur and particulate reduction. We have also announced plans for the first LNG-powered ship to operate on the English Channel. To be named Honfleur, this ship will be delivered in 2019. This is an important statement of our confidence in the future, but also our drive to protect the environments in which we operate.

How do your ferries fit alongside the other transportation and travel options in the regions where you operate, and what trends do you see in this context?

Lewenhaupt: Northern Europe is likely the busiest region in the world when it comes to ferries due to the geography and ease of travel/trade in the European Union. On the travel side, we have seen an increasing competition from low-cost airlines for a number of years, while the freight works more as a complement to road/rail transportation and develops with trade. Our business is roughly a 50/50 split between travel and freight so we rely on returning and happy customers in both segments to be successful.

Haavapuu: Tallink Grupp’s routes connect the largest cities in the North Baltic Sea region and this makes sea transportation a crucial part of local economies and trade in the area. In 2016, all Tallink Grupp’s routes showed both growth in passenger numbers and cargo transportation volume. Around 8.7 million passengers travelled between Tallinn and Helsinki by ferries and planes in 2016, of which the vast majority (8.5 million passengers) used sea transportation.

Wonnacott: We are the only operator on the Western Channel and we are therefore a popular choice for travellers seeking the best of regions like Normandy and Brittany in France, and the north coast of Spain. Transport links continue to improve, most recently the significant enhancement of high-speed train services linking Paris to Rennes in Brittany. We have also renewed the charter for Pelican, our freight-only service linking Poole and Bilbao, Spain. Demand for this route continues to be strong and we hope to see more growth from operators in the next 12 months.

What are the key environmental sustainability challenges you face going forward and what are you doing to address them?

Lewenhaupt: Without doubt, the biggest impact is ships’ propulsion. To find the next fuel that will cut the industry’s dependence on oil is the main challenge, both for the planet and for the industry to stay competitive. We believe the future will consist of several different solutions depending on the size, trade and age of ships – we expect battery-powered and hybrid vessels for short sea routes and methanol, LNG or renewable fuels for deep sea. We are testing a couple of new energy sources – methanol and batteries – in live operation.

Haavapuu: The Baltic Sea area where we operate has a unique marine ecosystem and it is our priority to have environmentally sound operations to preserve the environment for future generations. The decisions and actions we have taken are showing the direction towards more environmentally friendly and sustainable sea transportation, making Tallink Grupp a pioneer in this area.

Wonnacott: With the launch of Honfleur we are addressing a familiar transport problem: we want to implement cleaner fuel for our ships, but the local refuelling infrastructure does not yet exist. Of course, maybe in the future, we’ll see LNG storage in ports but we cannot wait for this. So, we’ve developed an innovative solution and a world first for our new ship. LNG containers will be delivered to Ouistreham in Normandy by truck, then driven on to the ship in port. From there, an onboard crane will hoist them into a fixed position aft of the superstructure, where they will feed an LNG master tank. The process will take place in reverse when the tanks are empty. This solution is a really important first step – maybe a giant leap – for us and the ferry sector as a whole in terms of large-scale introduction of LNG vessels.

Which do you regard as a more important driver of sustainable ferry operations – regulation or innovation – and why?

Lewenhaupt: Carrot or stick? Sadly, up until now, regulation is usually what has driven innovation, but let’s hope that changes.

Haavapuu: We believe the increasing awareness of the impact of human activities on the environment raises the bar for all means of transportation – including sea transportation – and that also drives innovation.

Wonnacott: Regulation has its place of course. But the issue we have is that localised regulation can ‘gold plate’ measures that are already defined on the international stage. That’s a very difficult position for shipping as a whole. The real driver of innovation in sustainability comes from a genuine will to do more to protect the environments in which a business operates. We remain a company that’s committed to the land and the sea – we are still owned by the collective of French farmers who launched the company 44 years ago. For us, sustainable development is not a business imperative, nor a corporate social responsibility goal, it’s what we are all about.

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