Prioritising continuous improvement

Canadian ferry operator Marine Atlantic is focused on reducing its environmental footprint while enhancing the customer experience. Chief Executive Paul Griffin speaks with Sandra Speares

Prioritising continuous improvement
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2016 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Canadian ferry firm Marine Atlantic has had a busy year, as the company’s president and chief executive Paul Griffin acknowledges.

Marine Atlantic officially opened its new CAD$20 million ferry terminal at North Sydney in 2015 as part of a CAD$521 million funding package announced by the Canadian government in 2010. Griffin highlights that the new terminal building was developed with environmental efficiency as a key consideration in every design feature, and Marine Atlantic has applied to obtain LEED certification to demonstrate that the building is a leader in environmental and energy efficient design. Interior decoration has been another focus. For example, the murals on the terminal walls show images of the destination point so that customers get a feel for the scenery they can expect.

All work on the project has now been completed and the company has also been upgrading facilities at the other ports where it operates. Recent investments worth about CAD$30 million were made at Port aux Basques, for example, to renew docking infrastructure and upgrade customer amenities and the fuelling system.

Investment in the North Sydney port facility has also been followed by further funding of around CAD$375 million in Marine Atlantic’s service announced as part of the 2015 budget. This enabled the company to purchase two former Stena Line ferries, which had previously been on charter from Stena since joining Marine Atlantic’s fleet in 2011.

Renamed Blue Puttees and Highlanders, the ferries have dramatically improved vessel reliability, added significantly more vehicle capacity, increased the number of cabins and seating spaces available to customers, and introduced many new passenger amenities.

The names of the two vessels are a tribute to the role played by troops from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the World War One and subsequent conflicts. Marine Atlantic’s website also includes references to the sacrifice made by those troops at places like Beaumont-Hamel on the Somme battlefield with its moving Newfoundland memorial.

Marine Atlantic’s other two vessels are Leif Ericson and Atlantic Vision. Last year, the company revealed it was extending its lease on Atlantic Vision for a further three years. As Leif Ericson is coming to the end of her operational life, options for the fleet going forward have been under consideration and Griffin explains the company has been researching what tonnage is available and feeding this information back to the government. Marine Atlantic is a federal Crown Corporation that receives funding and reports to the parliament through the Minister of Transport.

Availability of suitable existing tonnage is obviously one consideration, but a newbuild has not been ruled out as another option. Any existing tonnage taken on by the company in the future will have to ensure it can operate in a harsh environment and meet ice-class requirements.

Marine Atlantic’s fleet operates between North Sydney in Nova Scotia and Port aux Basques in Newfoundland, as well as between North Sydney and Argentia in Newfoundland. The first route takes between six and eight hours, while the second lasts around 16 hours.

The key selling point for Marine Atlantic is providing a good service. “We focus a lot on service and the ratings from our customers – we do continuous surveying – show about a 20% increase in customer satisfaction over the past five years,” Griffin says, adding that this is a significant statistic. “We credit a lot of that to the front-line staff.”

With the introduction of Blue Puttees and Highlanders, the company doubled the number of cabins available to customers. “We introduced very comfortable seating lounges, new food service options and the other thing we have done is a lot of work on service reliability so our on-time performance is hovering at around 90%,” remarks Griffin. “However, weather delays do happen because we operate a pretty rough patch of water in the Gulf of St Lawrence, but we do pride ourselves on clearing up the traffic backlog whenever there is a weather event.”

Griffin adds: “At the end of the day everything we do is for the customers and they are giving us the feedback that they are satisfied with the direction we take. We all recognise in the customer experience business that customer needs, desires and demands will continue to change and also in terms of the design of the vessels and the amenities onboard. What we do onshore will also be a continuous evolution process as customer demands change and technology advances.”

A tourism and advertising campaign by the company has also boosted passenger numbers. In addition, it has benefited from the traffic associated with offshore activity in the region although with the falling off of the oil price and its effect on offshore development, this traffic is expected to slow.

Dealing with environment issues is another important challenge, particularly because the advent of sulphur emission control areas means that failing to tackle the issue of emissions reduction is not an option. Noting that Marine Atlantic has ‘stepped up to the plate’, Griffin stresses the company’s commitment to cutting emissions, explaining that while it considered all available options, including the introduction of scrubbing technology, it was decided that conversion to burning diesel was the best option. Another strand of the environmental policy is the use of shore power, now available in the company’s main ports.

Marine Atlantic joined with Green Marine, the largest voluntary environmental programme for the maritime industry in North America, in 2014. It has now entered all four ferries and three terminals into the environmental programme. Green Marine encourages its participants – including shipowners, ports, terminals and shipyards – to undertake concrete actions that go beyond regulatory requirements aimed at improving environmental performance and sustainability.

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30 December 2016

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