Power and people – ensuring the future success of ferries

Interferry CEO Mike Corrigan outlines the key challenges being addressed by the association

Power and people – ensuring the future success of ferries
European Sea Ports Organisation secretary general Isabelle Ryckbost and Mike Corrigan at their Brussels meeting in May 2022, where they agreed a joint OPS action plan

By Mike Corrigan |

How can we attract and retain the highly skilled workforce that, more than ever before, is required to serve the fast-evolving ferry industry? And how do we ensure a long-term future for our industry and personnel in an age when environmental sustainability will become increasingly crucial to the viability and appeal of ferry travel?  

These issues have long been at the core of Interferry’s thinking but questions gathered pace in 2022 and prompted the ‘Power and People’ theme of our 46th annual conference, which will be held in Seattle, Washington, on 1-5 October. 

Challenging regulations for reducing greenhouse gas emissions demand that operators make interim cuts of around 50 per cent by 2030 and achieve net zero status by 2050. Fully electric or hybrid power systems have been clearly identified as the ship propulsion solutions to help our sector achieve such daunting targets. Ferry operators are leading pioneers in the transition to decarbonisation, but we can’t do it alone. The innovations being implemented onboard ships must be matched by massive expansion of the shoreside electricity grid. This will enable ferries to recharge their batteries for propulsion rather than merely for cold ironing consumption at berth, which is the level of provision at most existing facilities. 

As such, Interferry has launched a global lobbying campaign urging governments and port authorities to invest in onshore power supply (OPS) infrastructure, and we have already made significant progress. In May 2022, we agreed a joint programme to promote the provision and use of OPS with the European Sea Ports Organisation, and further influential alliances are in the pipeline. 

Notably, Cruise Lines International Association president and CEO Kelly Craighead indicated support for a joint statement of intent when we met as speakers at the World Ports Conference in Vancouver, also in May. I now plan to seek similar support from other shipping association partners whose goals are aligned with ours.  

Craighead will be a keynote speaker at our own conference, examining the parallel universe that exists between the ferry and cruise businesses, both of which have to confront the challenges of crewing their vessels and meeting zero emissions goals. 

Sessions held under the Power theme will explore the details of making OPS a reality, fuelling the future – including green hydrogen production – as well as propulsion efficiency and battery technology. Meanwhile, sessions for the People theme will include presentations about engaging young people in a maritime career, workforce outlooks and trends, and dual courses of study. In addition, working on the assumption that not all our working requirements can be met by hiring enough skilled people, we will also discuss how automation can fill any gaps. 

Each of the two days in the speakers’ programme will also feature three presentations on green vessel projects, with designers, builders and operators outlining leading-edge developments ranging from fast urban transport electric ferries to large hydrogen fuel cell-powered passenger vessels.  

Both days will also conclude with our popular panel sessions. On the first day, the roundtable discussion on conference topics will involve key ferry leaders representing the diversity of our association. The panel on day two will focus on innovation, bringing together a wide range of activists for transformational change in what promises to be a highly thought-provoking session.   

There is no doubt that the ferry community, like other sectors of the maritime industry, is facing an unprecedented wave of human and technological challenges. But equally – as I’m sure our conference will testify – there is also no doubt that our proven ingenuity and determination will win the day. Power to the people! 

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