Ferry Business - Spring/Summer 2023

FEATURED INTERVIEW The shape of things to come Comprising five different ferry brands, SHK Line Group is Japan’s leading ferry operator. Yasuo Iritani explains to Philippe Holthof why the company is at the forefront of autonomous shipping in a country that is contending with labour shortages and environmental challenges Unlike their European peers, Japanese ferry operators have arrived late to the party when it comes to alternative fuels. Exactly 10 years after the introduction of Viking Line’s Viking Grace, the world’s first large ro-pax ferry powered by LNG, Japan’s MOL Ferry introduced Sunflower Kurenai on 13 January 2023. To be followed by sister ship, Sunflower Murasaki, in May, Sunflower Kurenai is the first large LNG-powered ro-pax ferry to operate in Japanese waters. SHK Line Group, however, is maintaining a ‘waitand-see’ attitude to the fuel. The pathway towards net-zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a long one and whilst LNG was initially proposed as the solution for meeting the 0.1 per cent sulphur cap in Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs), its impact on GHG emissions is highly dependent on methane slip at the production, distribution and operational levels. Japan is not a 0.1 per cent SECA yet which may partially explain why SHK Line Group and other domestic ferry operators have been hesitant to burn LNG as an alternative, cleaner fuel. According to SHK Line Group president Yasuo Iritani, there is good reason why his company has not implemented LNG propulsion yet. “From an environmental standpoint, LNG is currently a good alternative fuel,” he says. “However, the unstable supply chain for LNG remains a huge problem. Our conventional ferries primarily operate long-distance routes at rather high service speeds, so we really need a lot of fuel [storage space]. This, combined with short port stays, makes LNG operation extremely challenging. Rather than walking down the LNG path, we primarily look at methods to reduce fuel consumption and our carbon dioxide footprint.” Fuel efficiency is at the heart of the design of SHK Line Group’s latest generations of ferries. This is why Shin Nihonkai Ferry’s 2017-built 90 The signature atrium on SHK Line Group’s latest generation of ro-pax ferries