Providing a symbol of close cooperation in a crisis

Justin Merrigan asks Michael Guldmann Petersen how Scandlines is continuing to provide vital transport between Scandinavia and Continental Europe despite the Covid-19 crisis

Providing a symbol of close cooperation in a crisis
Scandlines has converted six passenger ferries to operate with hybrid systems to reduce emissions

Established in 1998 by a merger of Denmark and Germany’s largest national ferry companies, Scandlines operates two ferry routes between the two countries with high capacity and frequency, as well as with a commendable green vision for the future.   

Overseeing the daily operations of a ferry business with more than 41,500 departures on eight ships is a challenge managed by Michael Guldmann Petersen who joined the company in 2017 and became chief operational officer in 2018. He also became a member of the board of directors for Scandlines Deutschland the same year.   

In 2019, Scandlines transported 7.2 million passengers, 1.7 million cars and around 700,000 freight units on the routes between Puttgarden and Rødby, and Rostock and Gedser. However, in mid-March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic forced authorities to close the borders between Germany and Denmark and implement temporary restrictions for travellers wishing to enter the countries. While it has been a challenging time for ferry operators around the world, Scandlines is in a better position than most. 

“Both countries agreed that activities crucial to society must not be ground to a halt,” says Guldmann Petersen. “The entry restrictions took into consideration the need for chains of supply to be upheld in a way that did not – as far as possible – prevent companies from receiving goods from foreign countries or exporting goods to foreign countries.  

“With daily transportation of important goods, such as medicine and food, between Continental Europe and Scandinavia, Scandlines is part of this crucial infrastructure. Thus, we continued to operate according to schedule on our two routes between Germany and Denmark.” 

The borders reopened in mid-June but with the second wave of Covid-19 last autumn, new travel restrictions were enforced again. 

“We have been, and continue to be, under significant pressure, and we received compensation to be able to retain employees during the summer period and cover fixed costs in a highly uncertain situation,” says Guldmann Petersen. “Unlike other companies, our status as critical infrastructure has allowed us to serve some of our customers as freight traffic has been sustained to a large extent. The coronavirus crisis and travel restrictions have had a severe impact on our ferry traffic. It is currently Scandlines’ assessment that the border closure and related effects have had a negative impact on the company’s 2020 revenue of more than DKK 1 billion ($160.5 million). Despite this, the company expects to avoid a negative result for the year, so we decided to return government compensation for fixed costs at the end of the year.” 

While the pandemic, the subsequent lockdown and travel restrictions have had, and will continue to have, a considerable impact on Scandlines’ bottom line, it does not affect the company’s floating bridge between Continental Europe and Scandinavia. In 2021, it has continued to operate, primarily transporting lorries.  

“The customers’ safety is of utmost importance to us, and we follow all recommendations from the authorities to make sure everyone observes social distance,” says Guldmann Petersen. “Naturally, our focus is also on maintaining a high standard of hygiene in all passenger and crew areas. Onboard our ferries and in our BorderShops, posters remind customers to keep social distance at all times. Hand disinfectant is available in all passenger areas and in toilet areas, where there are also posters with instructions on correct hand washing procedures. We expect that a large part of 2021 will be affected by the crisis and therefore we work hard to alleviate the effect of keeping the operation running with much lower income for several months.” 

Meanwhile, on the technical side, Scandlines continues to explore new clean technologies. In May 2020, the hybrid passenger ferry Copenhagen, which operates between Rostock and Gedser, was retrofitted with a Norsepower rotor sail unit measuring 30 metres in height and five metres in diameter.  

“The rotor sail solution is a modernised version of the Flettner rotor, a spinning cylinder that uses the Magnus effect to harness wind power to thrust a ship,” says Guldmann Petersen. “The installation is expected to reduce emissions and save fuel by an estimated four to five per cent on average without compromising pre-retrofit speed and voyage times.”  

He notes that it is still too early to draw final conclusions about the performance of the rotor sail. “We have set ourselves a period of at least one year in operation, including autumn and winter storms, in order for us to fully evaluate the solution. However, according to the feedback received from the vessel so far, the start has been very promising. 

“We are receiving many questions from our customers, who would like more details on this additional ‘funnel’. Contrary to our former green investments, like the batteries or the new thrusters, the rotor sail is very visible for everybody. That’s why we have decided to show a short animation on the screens onboard the ferry to explain the operational principle of the rotor sail.” 

According to Guldmann Petersen, the installation of the rotor sail was another important step in Scandlines’ Green Agenda. “Looking back to 2011, we started our journey with the ambitious target to become a zero-emission ferry operator in the future,” he says. “Constant improvements of the energy consumption and increased efficiencies of the vessels are necessary elements to reach that target. The rotor sail is just another piece in that very big puzzle.” 

The goal is to have zero-emission ferries on the Puttgarden to Rødby route within a few years. “We take one nautical mile at a time and invest responsibly in tomorrow’s technology, leading the way towards a greener future,” says Guldmann Petersen. “Our skilled engineers have gained extensive experiences with our green solutions in recent years. The conversion of six of our passenger ferries to hybrid operation was a quantum leap of our green strategy. Now, we are heading towards our goal.” 

And of other fuel possibilities? “We are primarily focusing on battery storage systems for our zero-emission project as we have had very good experiences with our hybrid system, combining traditional diesel propulsion with electric battery propulsion. Nevertheless, we do not foreclose any means of becoming a fossil-free operator and we continuously keep an eye open for any development of sustainable alternatives to the battery storage systems.”

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

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Justin Merrigan
By Justin Merrigan
21 April 2021

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