Why the UK ferry industry is prioritising sustainability

Discover Ferries' Abby Penlington shares how operators are reducing carbon footprints

Why the UK ferry industry is prioritising sustainability

Brittany Ferries

Brittany Ferries’ LNG-powered Santoña produces 20 per cent less carbon dioxide emissions than diesel-powered ferries of the same size

By Adam Lawrence |

Ferries are long-term investments for their owners and operators. As they are built to last for an average of 25-30 years, the industry is relatively slow at rolling out new technologies. But, says director of UK-based industry body Discover Ferries Abby Penlington, the sector is coming to a tipping point, with many operators either having or planning to introduce new ships with innovative, less polluting propulsion systems. 

“Five new ships have entered service in the past two years, of which one is hybrid, two LNG and three more efficient diesel vessels, and a further 15 will join fleets by 2027,” says Penlington. “Hybrid ferries are providing a stepping stone towards zero emissions. These new vessels are designed to run more efficiently today but can also adapt to take advantage of future technological developments and become even more efficient, for example, when ports have the infrastructure to support vessels plugging in to shore power.” 

Operators including P&O Ferries, Brittany Ferries, Stena Line and several others are investing heavily in hybrid technologies. “As well as fewer emissions, they are significantly quieter and offer a smoother ride – great for passengers, residents near ports and marine life,” says Penlington. “In terms of fall in carbon emissions, P&O Ferries estimate that its new hybrid ferries P&O Pioneer and P&O Liberté will reduce carbon emissions by 40 per cent initially, with more reductions to come when infrastructure allows.” 

Scottish operator Caledonian MacBrayne was the first British line to introduce hybrid technology in 2011. It now has three of the vessels in use, with four more to enter service alongside two LNG ships in the next two years. Isle of Wight operator Wightlink is drawing up plans for an all-electric ferry. “A zero-emissions commuter service is due to launch between the Irish ports of Belfast and Bangor in 2024,” says Penlington. “Designed to fly above the water and use 90 per cent less energy than conventional ferries, the ship is being developed by the Belfast Maritime Consortium with Condor Ferries.”  

Propulsion technology is not the only way in which the ferry sector is tackling sustainability. Ports are becoming greener too. “Portsmouth International Port is the first UK port to install solar canopies; 2,600 panels sit above Brittany Ferries’ car lanes providing shade for the vehicles while generating power,” says Penlington. “Together with a 1.5-megawatt per hour battery to store unused power, the renewable energy project could contribute up to 98 per cent of the port’s electricity consumption in ideal conditions. Having already reduced its direct carbon emissions by 95 per cent since 2007, the Port of Dover is targeting net zero emissions by 2025 and was recently awarded funding as part of the Green Corridor Short Straits (GCSS) consortium.” 

The industry is also trying to protect maritime biodiversity, including working with marine conservation charities such as ORCA, MARINElife and the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.  

“Thriving seagrass beds are important habitat for marine life with up to 80,000 animals living in a single hectare of seagrass. They help prevent erosion and store 10 per cent of the ocean’s carbon,” says Penlington. “Wightlink teamed up with scientists and students from the University of Portsmouth in an environmental project to examine – and ultimately encourage – the growth of seagrass in the Solent off Ryde. The project gathers information about the Solent beds, which in turn paves the way for the planting of more seagrass.” 

In addition, says Penlington, operators have undertaken projects focused on food waste minimisation, increased recycling and segregation of garbage, sustainable water solutions, and reviewing and reducing single-use plastics to reduce passenger carbon impact and promote a more environmentally friendly travel experience for their customers. 

“The drive towards zero emissions is one of the most important challenges facing the industry, but one which also presents an opportunity,” says Penlington. “At a time when customers are looking for alternatives to flying, the ferry industry is already able to offer routes in the British Isles and to Western Europe with more environmentally friendly vessels. When combined with the opportunity to learn more about, and witness first-hand the magnificent biodiversity that British waters have to offer, ferries are in a strong position to gain new customers.” 

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door. 

Contact author


Subscribe to the Cruise & Ferry newsletter

  • ©2024 Tudor Rose. All Rights Reserved. Cruise & Ferry is published by Tudor Rose.