Exciting times ahead for ferry shipbuilding

Justin Merrigan shares the latest updates about some of the notable ferry newbuild projects

Exciting times ahead for ferry shipbuilding
Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s new diesel-electric ro-pax Manxman pictured during its float-out ceremony at Hyundai Mipo Dockyard in South Korea

By Justin Merrigan |

Has there ever been such an exciting time as this when it comes to newbuild projects in the global ferry sector? The unprecedented rate at which technology is advancing is breathtaking and the rate of fresh orders for hybrid and zero-emission ferries is increasing.  

Scotland’s Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL) has placed a £89 million ($108 million) order with Turkey’s Cemre Shipyard in Yalova for two new battery hybrid ro-pax ferries, which will be operated by Caledonian MacBrayne on services to Islay and Jura. “We very much look forward to welcoming these two new vessels into the CalMac fleet,” says Robbie Drummond, managing director of CalMac Ferries. “This will help us deliver a service we can all be proud of.” 

The main propulsion will be supplied by a hybrid system comprising electric batteries and diesel engines running on low-sulphur marine gas oil to significantly reduce emissions. The system will drive two stern-mounted azimuth propulsion thrusters. Each ferry will be fitted with twin bow thrusters for enhanced manoeuvrability. 

Operating on the busiest service route in the Clyde and Hebrides network, the 95-metre vessels will have onboard facilities for passengers, as well as 275 lane metres for trucks on the main deck and capacity for a total of 107 cars on both the main and hoistable decks. As such, the new vessels will bring an almost 40 per cent increase in vehicle and freight capacity to the Islay routes. 

The first ferry is expected to be delivered by October 2024 and will enter service following sea trials and crew familiarisation. The second vessel will follow in early 2025. Together, the newbuilds will replace Hebridean Isles and allow Finlaggan to be redeployed to another route. 

In China, CMI Jinling Wehai Shipyard (CMI Jingling) is making good progress with Stena RoRo’s series of 12 E-Flexer ferries. In 2022, the shipyard successfully delivered ships seven and eight to European operator Stena Line. Stena Estelle began service on the route between Karlskrona, Sweden and Gdynia, Poland in August 2022 and Stena Ebba is due to start sailing the same crossings in December. At 240 metres long, the sisters are the largest E-Flexer ferries in Stena Line’s fleet and have 50 per cent more cabins, space to accommodate 30 per cent more passengers and 15 per cent more cargo, compared to existing E-Flexers.  

CMI Jingling is also working on three hybrid E-Flexers for Stena RoRo, two of which have been specified by Brittany Ferries. One of the vessels (the 11th in the series) will be named Saint-Malo and serve the route between Saint Malo, France, and Portsmouth, UK, from 2024, replacing current vessel Bretagne. Shortly after the delivery of Saint-Malo, the second, as-yet-unnamed hybrid will join the fleet, replacing Normandie on the popular route between Caen, France, and Portsmouth. 

Canadian operator Marine Atlantic will charter the third hybrid E-Flexer for five years, with an option to purchase it after the contract expires. CMI Jinling Wehai cut the first steel for the E-Flexer in May 2022. Twin Wärtsilä dual-fuel main engines will be able to operate on LNG, marine gas oil or marine diesel oil and provide a service speed of 23 knots.  When delivered in 2024, the ferry will replace either the chartered Atlantic Vision (built in 2002) or the smaller, 1991-built Leif Ericson, and will provide crossings between North Sydney and Argentia.  

Marine Atlantic’s E-Flexer will be 202.9 metres long, making it smaller than Stena Line’s but bigger than Brittany Ferries’ 194.7-metre E-Flexer. It will be able to carry 1,100 passengers, and offer 146 passenger cabins, 40 sleeping pods and 486 reclining seats. In addition, it will have a total of 2,571 lane metres for vehicles, including 476 lane metres specifically for cars. 

Elsewhere in Canada, BC Ferries has embarked on a New Major Vessel (NMV) contract to construct between five and seven ferries, each accommodating 2,100 passengers and offering 2,200 lane metres for vehicles. Naval architect LMG Marin will provide conceptual design and technical support services and will also assist with BC Ferries’ procurement process for a shipbuilder.  

BC Ferries expects to conduct a competitive process and enter the design-and-build contract with a shipyard before the end of 2024. The first of the NMVs is expected to enter service by 2029. 

“We are honoured to be awarded the role of NMV design agent by one of the world’s biggest ferry operators,” says Torbjørn Bringedal, managing director of LMG Marin. “It is an important and challenging project that may allow us to implement and scale up already proven low- and zero-emission solutions into large size ro-pax vessels.”  

In Australia, Incat Tasmania has cut the first plate for a 130-metre-long fast catamaran for South American operator Buquebús. The dual-fuel craft will be the ninth Incat has delivered to Buquebús and is expected to operate at a maximum speed of more than 40 knots when it enters service between Argentina and Uruguay. The vessel will accommodate 2,100 passengers and 220 cars, making it the largest aluminium fast ferry in the world. It will also feature the biggest duty-free shop to ever be installed onboard a high-speed ship, with 3,000 square metres of commercial space.  

Several shipyards have also launched or delivered vessels to operators in 2022. In the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review, we reported that Hyundai Mipo Dockyard had laid the keel for the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company’s new diesel-electric ro-pax Manxman. The ship was floated out of dry dock on 14 June, exactly on schedule despite the challenges posed by the global Covid-19 pandemic. 

“The contract with the shipyard was signed two years ago and specified the launch date as 14 June 2022, and we’re immensely proud to have achieved that milestone,” says Brian Thomson, managing director of the Steam Packet Company. “This has been accomplished despite facing closed borders, travel restrictions and global supply chain issues. It’s a remarkable achievement for everyone working on the project.” 

Singapore’s Sembcorp Marine has completed the handover of Dragsvik, the second of three identical battery-powered ro-pax ferries for Norwegian operator Norled. The zero-emission vessel will be capable of operating at a service speed of 10 knots, and its lithium-ion batteries will be charged using green hydro-electric power. The ferry can also run on a combined battery-diesel hybrid backup mode when required. The 82.4-metre-long vessel is designed to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers and crew, with the capacity to carry 300 people as well as 80 cars, or a combination of up to 10 cars and 10 trailer trucks. 

Dragsvik will eventually join Hella, the first of the three sister ships built by Sembcorp Marine, which successfully began service in May 2022 and operates Norled’s short-sea connections between Hella, Vangsnes and Dragsvik. Both ferries will augment Norled’s sustainable fleet of innovative zero-emission vessels contributing to maritime decarbonisation.

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