Fjord Line CEO Ingvald Fardal, who joined the Norwegian operator seven years ago, came to the company with a strong track record in business innovation. He was part of the team that created Color Line in 1990, and before that he also had a role in the team that started up the Radisson SAS hotel chain, now Radisson Blu. It seems appropriate that he should be overseeing a step change in the ferry industry in Europe with the line’s new LNG ships.
As the first large cruise ferries in the world powered exclusively by liquefied natural gas (LNG) with single-fuel Rolls-Royce engines, Stavangerfjord and Bergensfjord were built and launched over the last two years to significant industry interest. A third ship, Oslofjord, emerged from an extensive refurbishment programme to join the fleet between Norway and Sweden this summer. All three ships are the most environmentally friendly in their class, with significant environmental benefits compared to ships powered by traditional heavy fuel oil. They provide 92% reduction of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and complete elimination of sulphur emissions, with particulate emissions cut by 98%. Greenhouse gases (CO2) are reduced by 23%.
The most recently launched vessel, Oslofjord, was built in 1993 and underwent a total refurbishment at STX Rauma yard in Finland. “We stripped the ship down to the steel,” explains Fardal. “We kept everything below the car deck to the engine room more or less the same, then we put in new insulation, pipes and cables and added a completely new interior in the whole ship. We removed all the cabins because it is now a day-ferry operation. And we put in the largest tax-free store on a day ferry in the world.”
In contrast, the 20,000gt cruise ferries Stavangerfjord and Bergensfjord, which operate between the Norwegian ports of Bergen and Stavanger and Hirtshals in Denmark, offer several categories of accommodation, ranging from standard cabins to luxurious suites. All cabins are equipped with a TV and have a bathroom with shower and toilet. Family travel is catered for with space for an additional child bed in all cabins.
The design of these two ferries grew out of a close collaboration between Bergen Group Fosen and architecture firm Falkum Hansen Design, says Fardal. At its heart is a 24-hour operation that allows certain decks to serve as flexible and intimate common areas, while other decks are clearly defined as locations for cabins.
Falkum Hansen Design, which specialises in the design of passenger ships and also did the design for Oslofjord, developed the design concept of a ‘Lifestyle Liner’ to differentiate the cruise ferries from other ships of this type, taking inspiration from maritime history and the Norwegian America Line’s golden era in the early twentieth century.
The shopping offer on the cruise ferries is outsourced to German operator Heinemann, which has many airport shops all over Europe. On Oslofjord, as well as on the line’s fourth ferry, Fjordcat (designed by Incat), Swedish tax-free operator Inflight runs the shopping concession. Building the new shopping concepts has been an important focus for Fjord Line, says Fardal. “Onboard revenue is developing very nicely, better than expected. This means we can focus on our core business, which is operating ships, food and beverage, and hotel management.”
With the successful arrival of the new-look fleet, what’s next on Fardal’s agenda at Fjord Line? “Consolidation is next!” is his reply. “We spent four years restructuring the company and have invested NK2.5 billion on the three ships. We came from NK300 million yearly revenue in 2012 and are now bringing it up to NK1.2 billion, so for a small company, we’re talking about four times the size in a very short time. The whole organisation is growing – and of course building new ships for a small organisation is a tremendous effort and strain.”
In particular, he is looking forward to getting an overview of how things are going on all the vessels following the first months of business activity. “Next year will be the first year with twelve months’ operation for the new ships,” he says. “That’s really the proof of the pudding, where you get to see the results of seven years of planning and investment. But we can already see that we are on the right track. The customer feedback is fantastic and the volumes are coming according to plan, so I’m pretty confident we will have a good near next year.”
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.