Sustainability headlines the agenda for ferry operators at Interferry

A review of highlights from the Interferry Conference, which took place in Santander from 2-6 October 2021
Sustainability headlines the agenda for ferry operators at Interferry


Ferry executives discuss industry issues during the second Leaders Panel at the Interferry Conference

By Jon Ingleton |

The 45th Interferry Conference closed on 6 October with the traditional technical visits, this year to Santander Teleport and Astander Shipyard.

Santander Teleport is well-regarded in the communications business and wins regular accolades in numerous industry ‘best of’ lists. The company will be hosting and maintaining a satellite access station for Inmarsat’s new Inmarsat-6 satellites, the first of which is scheduled to launch at the end of 2021.

Repair and conversion specialist Astander Shipyard – which is located at the end of the Bay of Santander – has completed five successful scrubber retrofit projects for Brittany Ferries between 2014 and 2016. Today, the shipyard is busy with paint works and completing decks three and below for Evrima, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection’s first cruise ship.

Despite challenging circumstances for events, Interferry put on another flawless conference, hosted by the charismatic Christophe Mathieu, CEO of Brittany Ferries.

The overriding state-of-the-industry view was that while the sentiment towards travel in general is declining, the outlook for ferry travel is almost entirely positive. Of the nine speakers in the two Leaders Panels, eight expected passenger volumes to be back in line with 2019 totals by the second quarter of 2022. Only US-based Washington State Ferries anticipated a slower recovery, due primarily to the loss of significant commuter traffic while businesses continue to embrace working from home.

Interferry CEO Mike Corrigan (pictured hosting the second Leaders Panel) reported on some remarkable findings from a recent review of the economic impact of the global ferry industry. Most notably, at least 4.27 billion passengers and 373 million vehicles were transported by a global fleet of 15,400 ferries in 2019. Considering that the world’s airlines carried 4.5 billion passengers in 2019, it seems reasonable for the industry to demand similarly favourable treatment by governments.

For the first time in many years, safety was a secondary topic for the regulatory update provided by Johan Roos, executive director of European Union and International Maritime Organization affairs at Interferry. This was due to Interferry’s membership reporting a perfect record in recent times. For Roos, and for most operators at the event, legislative issues around sustainability topped the agenda as the industry collectively considers how best to achieve net-zero emissions.

Sustainability isn’t a new topic, but impending deadlines have re-energised the conversation. The future fuel question remains unanswered, but electricity is currently edging over hydrogen and other renewables in the ferry market battle, whether as a stand-alone or hybrid solution. To further complicate newbuild decision-making, greater efficiencies will inevitably be achieved by a supporting mix of technologies – many of which are still in development, or currently just theoretical.

Ferry traditionalists were agog during Billy Thalheimer’s presentation about Regent’s new electric flying ferry concept. The company is currently building a quarter-sized prototype that will undergo rigorous testing in Florida in early 2022, before building its first 12-passenger ferry that will have a 180-mile range and a top speed of 180 miles per hour.

Interferry’s role in supporting its membership, and fighting for the wider ferry industry, will be critical in this journey towards sustainability. It’s an association that boxes well above its weight and every ferry operator should be a part of it.

The Interferry Conference will continue its journey around the world in the years ahead, calling at Seattle, Washington in 2022, Hobart, Tasmania in 2023, and Marrakech, Morocco in 2024.

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