Cruise & Ferry Review - Spring/Summer 2023

“ The ferry trip is not just a means of transportation as we have devised ways to enjoy the onboard life” power but it had no effect for us. Besides the installation cost for shore power facilities, the power delivered to the ships doesn’t come cheap. As per our experience it’s not a cost-effective solution. As earlier pointed out, many of our services are characterised by long sea journeys and short turnarounds, so the environmental benefits of switching to the onshore grid when alongside is marginal.” In addition to the environmental challenges, Japan is experiencing the effects of an ageing society. More than half of the crew members currently working on ferries are over 50 years old and the industry is struggling to attract younger workers because they are not prepared to be away from home for long periods of time. Automation and artificial intelligence technology could potentially provide a solution to tackle the shortage of deck and engine crew, but passenger ships will probably always require a minimum number of human staff to help evacuate passengers in case of an emergency. SHK Line Group has been an active partner in The Nippon Foundation MEGURI2040 Fully Autonomous Ship Program, a stepping stone towards fully autonomous shipping. In January 2022, Shin Nihonkai Ferry subsidiary Tokyo Kyushu Ferry successfully conducted an autonomous seven-hour trial onboard the 2021-built, 31,408gt Soleil. The industry-first trial was carried out by a consortium comprising Mitsubishi Shipbuilding (which built Soleil) and Shin Nihonkai Ferry. “These autonomous trials were part of a one-year project with Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism and the main purpose was to acquire data for practical use,” says Iritani. “We were able to collect all required data. When built, Soleil had an automatic manoeuvring system capable of automatically navigating along the planned route, avoiding obstacles based on radar and image analysis system information. “During the January 2022 trials, Soleil proceeded while judging the situation on the spot, detecting ships ahead and passing them automatically. In addition, it was equipped with various systems that remotely monitored the engine and also predicted failures. The chief engineer of Mitsubishi Shipbuilding commented that the demonstration of unmanned navigation and its practical application was 50 per cent complete at this stage. However, he also told us that certain operations had to be dealt with manually, something that needs to be addressed in the future. The ultimate goal is to develop a fully autonomous Smart Coastal Ferry.” Operating under the wings of Shin Nihonkai Ferry, Tokyo Kyushu Ferry, is the latest addition to the SHK Line Group portfolio, serving the 21-hour Yokosuka-Shinmoji route since 1 July 2021. Although purpose-built for this new six-times-weekly service, Soleil and sister ship Hamayu were replaced by Shin Nihonkai Ferry’s Suzuran and Suisen in November 2022. The latter two vessels are pretty similar in size to their predecessors but have a higher passenger capacity and a somewhat lower cargo intake. “The new route has been well received in the market on the grounds that there aren’t many ferries connecting the Tokyo and Kyushu areas,” says Iritani. “The 527-nautical-mile distance is far more comfortable by ferry than by car. We aim to offer a cruise ferry product with typical Japanese facilities such as a large public bath with a view, an FEATURED INTERVIEW 92 The planetarium on Hamayu