How Stena Line is still delivering innovation at 60

Ian Hampton gives Michele Witthaus an insight into the brand’s enduring success on its anniversary

How Stena Line is still delivering innovation at 60
Refuelling Stena Germanica with methanol

By Michele Witthaus |

When Stena Line’s owner, Dan Sten Olsson, launched his company in 1963, he wanted the new business to embody three key qualities when interacting with customers: welcoming, caring and reliable.  

For Stena Line’s chief operating officer fleet and government affairs Ian Hampton, these three simple words are as powerful in 2023 as ever. “They define everything we do and are instilled in all new employees,” he says. 

As maritime transport comes under increasing pressure to lower emissions and work towards net-zero status, Stena Line is adopting a two-pronged approach to sustainability, says Hampton. “This combines building new vessels, while also, where possible, converting existing vessels to run on greener technology and adopting technology that increases efficiency.” 

In 2015 Stena Line achieved a world first by converting its ferry Stena Germanica to run on both diesel and methanol and the company is keen to extend the success of that achievement. The company’s newest ships, Stena Estelle and Stena Ebba, which entered service in 2022, are set up for flexible fuel use.  

“We are building on our experience with our existing methanol ferry by working with the engine manufacturers of some of our current vessels to explore the feasibility of converting existing engines to run on methanol fuel,” explains Hampton. “Our aim for our next newbuild vessels is for them to be methanol and battery hybrids, which we hope to have in operation by the end of the decade.”  

The longer-term plan remains full electrification once the supporting infrastructure can be supplied, he explains. “We could build an electric ferry, but the level of green electricity to recharge a ferry in short turnaround time will take longer than we first thought to supply into the ports and terminals we use. So, for the short to medium-term we need to plan for more achievable options, such as hybrid vessels.”  

Security of fuel supply and supporting infrastructure (for both green and blue methanol) remains a big issue, he says, as does shore power, “which of course has to be obtained from renewable energy sources”.  

Hampton points out that as the life of a ferry is decades long, the industry must look at options to adapt existing older ferries alongside their newbuild plans. “Sometimes it is not prudent, or practical, to modify a ship’s existing engines but where we can, we are looking into converting existing vessels to alternative greener fuels,” says Hampton. “The newer vessels are much more fuel efficient, so we are concentrating our focus on replacing, or converting, the vessels that have the highest carbon intensity index.” 

When it comes making their vessels more sustainable, he says: “The Stena Sphere is a large group of companies, so we are always working with our sister companies, such as Stena Teknik and Stena RoRo in order to find and assess new sustainable technology.” This is allowing the company to develop the green vessels of the future and explore new types of fuel. Another key area of operations where sustainability is also a top focus is onboard services where the team are constantly trying to find ways to make both operations and the customer experience more environmentally sustainable. Small changes can make a big difference, such as reducing cleaning chemicals by switching to electrolysed water, while in some areas of operation it’s led to a proactive approach of switching suppliers. 

Hampton is proud that Stena Line, which today operates more than 25,000 yearly sailings, continues to be a trusted link between people and places. “Everything we do is based on the core values of our passion, sustainability and care,” he says. “This approach is encapsulated in an initiative we have called the Big Little Things, where our employees do that little bit extra for our customers that builds goodwill. All of this is done under an overarching strict safety regime, which underpins everything we do.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door. 

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