Increasing ferry capacity on the Irish Sea

Andrew Sheen speaks about Irish Ferries’ investment in new ships, services and routes 
Increasing ferry capacity on the Irish Sea
W.B. Yeats has been designed with the felxibility to operate on both short and long routes

By Justin Merrigan |

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

The European Investment Bank (EIB) has provided Irish Continental Group, with €155 million (US$175 million) to finance two ships for its Irish Ferries brand. Built at the Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesellschaft (FSG) shipyard in Germany, the first vessel has already started service. The second is under construction and, when completed in 2020, will become the largest cruise ferry in the world in terms of vehicle capacity. She will be able to accommodate 1,526 cars or 300 trucks, providing Irish Ferries with an effective 50% increase in peak freight capacity.

Named in honour of 20th-century Irish poet William Butler Yeats, the first ship is a luxury cruise ferry named W.B. Yeats. The vessel undertook her maiden voyage from Dublin, Republic of Ireland to Holyhead, Wales this January and will now operate seasonally between Dublin and Cherbourg, France between March and September, swapping routes with the chartered ro-pax Epsilon.

“We wanted a truly ‘cruise’ experience for the French routes, with significant berth capacity,” says Andrew Sheen, Irish Ferries’ managing director. “On this long sea crossing, it is important that our passengers feel that their holiday begins the moment they step onboard. We believe that W.B. Yeats achieves this, offering refined accommodation and fine dining, as well as a unique literary theme throughout.”

How does a luxury overnight cruise ferry adapt to the short sea routes? “W.B. Yeats has the flexibility to close down certain spaces not really required on short sea routes, such as à la carte restaurants and cabin decks,” explains Sheen. “We believe we’ve got the balance right, and early feedback from customers who have experienced the ship has been very encouraging.”

As a modern cruise ferry, W.B. Yeats is an incredible feat of engineering. The structural design, safety systems, installed power, power management systems, command and control systems, and other features are all complex engineering projects in their own right. To ensure reliable operational performance, Irish Ferries looked at the requirements of the routes W.B. Yeats has been designed to serve and also drew on the experience it had built up over the years with the existing fleet.

“Flexibility was key – the ferry needed to be capable of serving both the short-sea Dublin to Holyhead route (which requires double-ramp loading at ports and double return schedules with 180-minute turnaround times) and the longer Dublin to France route where there may only be a single loading/unloading ramp and turnaround times are four hours,” says Sheen. “Internally, we have replicated the proven design of the vehicle decks on [existing ferry] Ulysses, so there are four decks. Two decks are reached by internal ramps and there is also a double-deck drive through. Passengers with Club Class benefit from dedicated stairwell access from the car deck to the luxurious Club Class lounge.”

Sea conditions are very different on W.B. Yeats’ two routes, so Irish Ferries provided FSG with three years’ worth of wind and wave weather data to enable the shipyard to optimise hull design for both.

“An extensive programme of testing was undertaken using computational fluid dynamics programming, backed up with model tests for sea-keeping and efficiency,” comments Sheen. “Large hydrodynamic and cavitation tunnel tests were also carried out at HSVA in Hamburg, Germany, and we collaborated with propulsion system supplier Caterpillar to understand the interaction of the propellers with the hull form and the wake field to maximise efficiency.

“Vortex shedding was minimised by fitting propeller base caps, thus streamlining the flow of water over propellers and the twisted flow, bulb-fitted, flap-type rudders, improving efficiency by around 5%. Passengers will feel the benefit of all this extensive engineering work, with noise and vibrations levels on the ship being in line with cruise ferry standards.”

The propulsion and power generation plant is an iteration of the reliable systems fitted on Ulysses – there are four 8,400 kilowatt engines for propulsion – and was supplied by Caterpillar and MAK. Meanwhile, the engine room is segregated into two discrete parts so if power equipment were to fail, W.B. Yeats will not suffer a single-point failure of propulsion, power generation, control or switching equipment.

Sheen and his team also had to choose the most suitable fuel source – should the company continue using heavy fuel oil or move to LNG? The Dublin – Cherbourg route falls into the North Sea Emission Control Area, so MARPOL Annex VI applies. Using heavy fuel oil would require the ferry to have equipment for in-line exhaust treatment and scrubbing after-treatment. Furthermore, operators sailing in these areas must purchase more expensive and higher quality fuel oil to comply with regulations that came into force on 1 January 2015 and mandated a reduction in sulphur emissions from 1.0% to 0.1%. Although some ferry operators have moved to LNG, that posed considerable issues for Irish Sea Ferries.

“Supply is a problem – Ireland only has a compressed natural gas network in place and does not have an established LNG network capable of supplying the fuel needs of W.B. Yeats,” explains Sheen. “All staff on LNG ships must have LNG training, and there is debate as to whether LNG is environmentally friendly since methane emissions are not currently measured. Fuel energy density is also an issue. Irish Ferries elected to operate on fuel oil, thus maintaining a common fuel requirement across its entire fleet.”

In addition to fuel choice, Irish Ferries has made more environmentally sustainable choices throughout the ship. It has invested in LED lighting; variable frequency drives for high-energy consumers, such as HVAC systems; and lower resistance TBT (anti-fouling) paints to reduce fuel consumption and the harmful release of pollutants to marine life. Onboard, separation systems deal with food waste to reduce landfill, while disposable cups are biodegradable, and paper has been used in place of plastic straws and lids.

“For passenger comfort and onboard services, Irish Ferries believes W.B. Yeats represents a significant step above existing ferry choices,” says Sheen. “From an operational perspective the flexibility of the ship is key in maximising our ability to meet the varied needs of all its customers, both freight and tourism alike.”

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