The Flying Scotsman

ICFR speaks to Sea Transport Solutions' chairman
The Flying Scotsman

By Justin Merrigan |

Australia is renowned for its expertise in high-speed light craft design and construction and its designers and shipyards have an impressive record of efficiency and innovation. Australian-built ferries, super yachts, patrol boats, fishing boats and recreational vessels are used worldwide.

One of the leaders in its field is Sea Transport Solutions, due in no small part to the enthusiasm and vigour of Ballantyne. Such is the boundless energy of this Australian-based Scot that he is known as the Flying Scotsman: a nod to the amount of time he spends travelling the world to visit clients. For exaple, creating a series of designs for 46 countries required visiting 70 countries 10 times!

Sea Transport Solutions is part of the Sea Transport Corporation group of companies in Queensland, which provides technical services, project control and survey and valuation consultancy for the marine industry all around the world. Its technological breakthroughs have unquestionably raised vessel standards while minimising the environmental footprint, in turn delivering profitability and economic advantages to its clients.

He lists as one of his many career highlights the decision to go to sea as a deck officer. Fascinated by the design of ships and the science of naval architecture, he later returned to Glasgow and undertook further studies in naval architecture; a three-year course which opened the door to ship design and would lead him to become a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Naval Architects.

Returning to Australia to join Australian National Line as operations superintendent, Ballantyne was anxious to strike out independently to develop and market some of his design ideas. Accordingly, the consultancy ASD Marine was founded in 1976 with a colleague from the ANL. This was eventually to become the Sea Transport Corporation, under his direction.

Combining his experience and passion for ships and the sea with astute business wisdom, Ballantyne has grown Sea Transport Solutions into a leading marine design and consulting player that specialises in state-of-the-art and sustainable vessel design. Today he leads a team with a diverse range of skills and a unique understanding of technical, commercial and operational aspects of ship design, construction and operation.

Ballantyne firmly believes the more a naval architect knows about the sea and the operation of ships upon it the better, and encourages his younger staff to spend time at sea. Ultimately, this produces efficient and professional staff with relevant experience, he says.

“The shipping industry offers a career full of opportunities and urges people to get the broadest possible experience. There are plenty of opportunities in shore-based careers which can be secured by a competent seafarer.

“Most naval architects get a degree without having to go anywhere near a ship, which I think is wrong. Car designers drive, plane designers fly, architects ashore have to live and work in buildings and naval architects don’t have to go on ships.

“My trainees have to go to sea and my best design guys have a good working knowledge of boats and ships. Ship owners and operators want to speak to guys who understand the day-to-day operations of ships, and that’s why we get a lot of business from our own innovative designs.”

Looking back over the years, Ballantyne reflects on advancements in ship design and construction, but doesn’t beat about the bush when it comes to his views on ferry safety and environmental legislation.

“Design has become easier with computers and 3D modelling and CNC has made construction easier. But on the negative side, class and flag rules have become more based on ‘ORAS’ – ‘Overly Risk Averse Syndrome’.

“The IMO for instance has wandered totally away from focusing on safety of life at sea. Really for the last decade it has focused mainly on environmental rules and to me this signals an unhealthy influence within the organisation and is threatening the viability of ro-pax ferries globally.

“Environmental legislation is way over the top, and again the green agendas are focused on demonising dredging, ports and ships. The western developed nations should pull their heads in.”

He adds: “I also believe the proportion of seafarers within the walls of IMO should be increased, and the green scourge removed, in particular the US and Australian delegations, which for the smallest fleets in the world seem to have far too much to say.”

He has equally strong views on hull design when it comes to safety. “We own a quad-screw catamaran ro-pax ferry, and you may note that all ferry capsizes and sinkings over the last 20 years have been monohulls. Our company has been designing medium-speed ro-pax cats for 32 years now and, despite heavy criticism from the fast ferry brigade in the early years, our designs are well ahead of the curve in viability and damage stability, whereas most of those critics have long gone.”

There is respect in the industry for this straight-talking visionary. In recognition of his achievements in the field of naval architecture and his work in providing safer, more economical and environmentally compelling commercial vessel designs, Ballantyne was recently awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Science by Scotland’s University of Strathclyde.

This article appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2014 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read other articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.

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