Viking Grace and Viking Amorella both sail on the Turku-Stockholm route between Finland and Sweden
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.
Space for new cruise ships and ferries at the world’s most popular shipyards has been squeezed by orders from big cruise players, so smaller operators like Viking Line are placing their business with less well-known yards. When it came to ordering a new LNG-powered ro-pax ferry, Viking Line opted to go to Xiamen Shipbuilding Industry (XSI) in China, choosing from around 20 yards in Europe and the Far East.
“We want to upgrade the fleet and especially introduce a comparable vessel to Viking Grace on the Turku–Stockholm route between Finland and Sweden, but the new vessel will have a bigger freight capacity to meet market demand,” says Jan Hanses, the line’s chief executive. “The decisive factors for choosing XSI were delivery time and price. The European, particularly the Finnish, yards could not match XSI due to order books of primarily large cruise large vessels.”
“The vessel will replace Amorella on the Turku–Stockholm route so the itinerary will be similar to hers,” reveals Hanses. “We’ll probably arrange a naming competition – when Viking Grace was launched in 2013 we received more than 20,000 suggestions!”
To ensure its existing fleet continues to offer high standards and to improve the onboard customer experience, Viking Line has embarked on a €8 million (US$9.4 million) interior modernisation and upgrade programme. The main aim is to improve passenger cabins and provide a richer assortment of restaurants and expanded spa options. The programme started in 2016 with three vessels: Viking Grace, Viking Amorella and Viking Gabriella.
Viking Grace, which serves the Turku–Stockholm route, was fitted with a larger sauna and a VIP sauna, as well as more modern conference facilities. Teenagers also now have access to an expanded range of games. Work on Viking Amorella included improving the food service facilities in the café and installing an impressive LED wall in the nightclub. Meanwhile, Viking Gabriella was equipped with eight new restaurants and bars, and had her cabins modernised.
Earlier this year, Viking XPRS returned to the route between Helsinki, Finland and Tallinn, Estonia with upgraded restaurant facilities, including in the popular Bistro Bella, which now offers an expanded selection of vegetarian dishes. The ship also has a new daytime and nighttime entertainment venue – Club X – with updated sound and lighting technology. During her dry dock, Viking XPRS was equipped with a new type of propeller that under normal conditions can run on two, rather than three, main engines to reduce both fuel consumption and environmental impact.
Viking Line’s Helsinki–Tallinn route is increasingly popular because Estonia is a favourite destination for both Finnish leisure and business travellers, as well as foreign tourists. The line has responded to this strong demand by adding a new passenger catamaran, Viking FSTR, to the route between April and October. She offers 12 daily sailings, each lasting less than two hours.
Like all of Viking Line’s routes, both Helsinki and Tallinn are in environmentally sensitive areas so the company has several environmental sustainability initiatives.
“We work to ensure that the Baltic Sea and its precious archipelagos are conserved for future generations,” explains Hanses. “For a long time, Viking Line has used more environmentally sustainable technology and onboard concepts, and implemented fuel-saving programmes. We intend our environmental work to be a natural part of our daily work and to continuously evolve. Thanks to our long-term, active commitment, we’ve developed environmental work that extends beyond the requirements of current regulations.”
One important element is the environmentally sound management of residual products from operations, notes Hanses. “Other objectives are to prevent pollution by minimising discharges into the sea and air, and by optimising our use of raw materials. Our efforts also include increasing re-use and recycling of materials to reduce the quantity of waste. All solid waste is brought ashore, and for several decades all wastewater has been pumped to municipal onshore treatment plants in ports. Viking Line actively participates in efforts to save the Baltic Sea by supporting and collaborating with various environmental organisations.”
Last year, Viking Line released a sustainability report outlining the steps it has taken to reduce ship emissions and handle waste in the most environmentally friendly way possible. It estimated that nitrogen oxide emissions are 85% lower on its LNG-fuelled Viking Grace, compared to vessels using marine diesel oil.
Norsepower has recently agreed to retrofit Viking Grace with its Rotor Sail Solution to decrease her fuel burn and costs, and reduce carbon emissions by 900 tonnes annually – the equivalent of cutting 300 tonnes of LNG fuel per year.
The Norsepower Rotor Sail Solution is a modernised version of the Flettner rotor, which is a spinning cylinder that uses the Magnus effect to harness wind power to propel a ship. The solution senses when the wind is strong enough to deliver fuel savings and automaticaly starts the rotors, optimising crew time and resources. Viking Grace will be equipped with one medium-sized Norsepower Rotor Sail unit that is 24 metres high and 4 metres in diameter, making her the first-ever hybrid ship to be powered by LNG and wind-electric propulsion.
Viking Line’s new vessel will also have Norsepower rotor sails, and be the first to use a combination of alternative clean fuels, modern rotor sails, electric propulsion, and a hydrodynamically optimised hull.
With so much on the horizon, Hanses is positive about Viking Line’s future. “Despite a weak economy over the past few years, the Finnish market has been stable for Viking Line and is now showing a slight improvement,” he says. “Demand for cruises is still increasingly focused on Estonia, while the demand for the long routes between Finland and Sweden is stable and the Russian travel market has stabilised so passenger figures have increased slightly. Our international markets have continued to show growth, and we see potential here for increased travel in the longer term.”
Hanses adds: “Not only will we focus on our newbuild, proactive sales and good service levels in 2017-2018, but also on onboard safety. Viking Line shall become even more well known for being a safe, secure travel option where everyone can enjoy themselves.”