A healthy order book for ferry operators worldwide

The ferry industry is gearing up for growth with more than US$1.3 billion of new vessels and associated infrastructure set to be built over the next four years. Justin Merrigan reports

A healthy order book for ferry operators worldwide
Irish Ferries’ W.B. Yeats and its newbuild, that will debut in 2020, will use both traditional fuels and scrubber technology

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Never before has the ferry industry witnessed such high numbers of orders for new tonnage, not to mention an exciting range of vessels to come.

It is tempting to suggest that these new orders are driven by the quest for alternative fuels, but if one looks closer, that may not necessarily be quite the case. Take Stena’s eight new E-Flexer vessels; only one will be powered by LNG, while the rest will run on traditional fuel, although they are designed to meet gas-ready class notation and prepared for catalytic scrubbers so they can be converted in future. Meanwhile Irish Ferries’ W.B. Yeats and its yet-to-be-named newbuild, which will debut on the Dublin to Holyhead route between Ireland and Wales in 2020, will both use traditional fuels and scrubber technology.

Instead, it’s more likely that the current drive for new tonnage is simply down to timing. Existing tonnage needs to be replaced and now that the ferry sector is continuing to recover after the 2008 global financial crash, operators have access to vastly improved vessel financing options.

There has been a continued drift of ro-pax orders to China. For example, all eight Stena RoRo’s new E-Flexer class ferries will be built by Chinese shipyard AVIC International. In June, Stena confirmed that three of these vessels will enter service on the Irish Sea – the first on the Dublin to Holyhead route in early 2020 – while one will be on a long-term charter to DFDS for use on the Dover to Calais route between the UK and France. Meanwhile, Brittany Ferries will charter two ferries – one that will debut in 2021 and the LNG-powered vessel, which will provide services between Portsmouth, UK and Spain from 2022.

“The second E-Flexer represents the next step in our long-term investment strategy,” says Christophe Mathieu, CEO of Brittany Ferries. “If you think about it, this will be Brittany Ferries’ third new ship post-Brexit, after Honfleur and the first E-Flexer. I think this is a clear statement about our commitment to the future and investment in fleet renewal. Like Honfleur, the new ship will be powered by LNG, so it is also a real commitment to sustainability.” 

Irish Ferries revealed its plans for a new €165.2 million (US$188.4 million) 1,800-passenger ro-pax ferry with 5,610 lane metres this January. The vessel will be built by Germany’s Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft and join Ulysses on the Dublin to Holyhead route, replacing the chartered Epsilon in 2020. The newbuild will be able to carry 330 freight units per sailing – a 50% increase in peak freight capacity compared to Ulysses. This will follow the line’s new cruise ferry, W.B. Yeats, which will debut this September and operate between Dublin, Holyhead and Cherbourg, France.

“Our new cruise ferry W.B. Yeats – and the expectation of our second new cruise ferry yet to come – herald in a new era in ferry travel between Ireland, the UK and continental Europe bringing with it new standards in terms of passenger and freight capacity, comfort and reliability beyond anything previously envisaged,” says Andrew Sheen, managing director of Irish Ferries. 

vElsewhere in Northern Europe, Swedish operator Kvarken Link is to order a new Wasaline ferry for the route between between Vaasa, Finland and Umeå, Sweden. After a comprehensive analysis, Kvarken Link has invited four shipyards to the final round to hand in their binding offers for a new ferry. Three of the shipyards are from Europe and one is from Asia. The new ferry will be delivered in April 2021. 

In the Mediterranean, Virtu Ferries is preparing to take delivery of its largest high-speed ferry yet, the Incat-built, 110-metre-long John Paul II. Incat is also set to deliver a 109-metre craft for Spain’s newly enlarged Naviera Armas in spring 2019. 

Incat CEO Tim Burnell says both vessels incorporate a new bow arrangement. “Over the past two years Incat, Revolution Design and a team of independent expert consultants have been undertaking extensive computational fluid dynamics and tank testing with an emphasis on optimising the centre bow and wave-piercing hulls.”

Both catamarans offer similar passenger and vehicle capacity as Incat’s successful 112-metre ferries, but with substantial performance improvements. “They have vastly improved speed, lower fuel consumption and enhanced directional stability,” says Burnell.

Elsewhere in the Mediterranean this year, Spain’s Astilleros Gondán yard delivered the last of four eco-efficient fast ferries to Baleària for service between Ibiza and Formentera. The 28-metre vessels have capacity for 350 passengers and operate at a maximum speed of 28 knots. Eco Aqua, the first of the four newbuilds, was chosen as the most outstanding Spanish naval construction of 2017. Next up for Baleària are two LNG-fuelled ferries that are being built by Italian shipyard Cantiere Navale Visentini. The first, Hypatia de Alejandría, is undergoing final outfitting ahead of her early 2019 delivery.

In Canada, BC Ferries is looking for a shipyard to build five new ferries to replace some of its aging fleet – one will be fuelled by natural gas and four will be powered by electric hybrid propulsion systems. The first two are likely to be delivered in 2020, while the other two are expected to be completed in 2021.

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26 February 2019

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