Scottish operator CalMac has big ambitions – and its strong relationship with Ferguson Marine Engineering shipyard is crucial to achieving these, reports Rebecca Moore
CalMac Ferries is looking at full electrification, hydrogen and LNG options while standardising its fleet and has highlighted the importance of forming a strong partnership with a shipyard to achieve these goals.
The Scottish ferry operator will lease two LNG dual-fuelled ferries under construction at Ferguson Marine Engineering shipyard in Port Glasgow as part of a £97M (US$128M) contract on behalf of the ferries’ owner Caledonian Maritime Assets Ltd (CMAL).
It launched the first of its two LNG ferries in November 2017 at Ferguson Marine’s Port Glasgow shipyard. The 102 m, roro vehicle passenger ferry, named Glen Sannox – which can operate on LNG and marine gas oil – is a big deal as it is the first UK passenger ferry to run on LNG.
Glen Sannox is designed to carry 127 cars or 16 HGVs or a combination of both and up to 1,000 passengers. The vessel is due to be delivered in Q4 2018 or Q1 2019.
Glen Sannox and its sister vessel represent a hugely important milestone for Ferguson Marine. Just over three years ago, in August 2014, the shipyard (then called Ferguson Shipbuilders) went into administration and was sold in September of that year to Scotland’s Clyde Blowers Capital. So it is a real feat that it is now building these significant LNG-fuelled ferries.
Building from scratch
Describing the ferries’ importance to the shipyard, Ferguson Marine chief naval architect Chris Dunn told PST “These are highly technical ships which were built from scratch while the yard and workforce were [also] being built up from scratch. There were logistic challenges and a lot of up-skilling involved when building a ship while building up a shipyard.”
The fact that this is the first LNG ferry to be built and designed in the UK “pushes the bar higher”. Mr Dunn added “Our message is that nothing is impossible.”
He said the yard’s catchphrase for the ships describes them as “ferries with green credentials”, although the yard does not want to restrict itself to just one type of vessel.
Glen Sannox and its sister vessel will each feature a 35 m long gas tank underneath the vehicle deck in the middle of the ship. Wärtsilä has provided two 6-cylinder 34DF main engines capable of operating on either LNG or conventional diesel fuels for each vessel. The manufacturer has also provided two auxiliary engines, gearboxes, shaft lines, seals and bearings, controllable pitch propeller systems, tunnel thrusters and its LNGPac storage and supply system.
“This is a benefit for us, as it is much easier dealing with just one company,” commented CalMac managing director Martin Dorchester. He expects the vessels to initially run on marine gas oil while the LNG bunkering infrastructure is developed in Scotland. Driving trucks on to the vessels to bunker them will be a “stepping stone” towards developing small-scale LNG infrastructure in Scotland, which he said will lead to “innovative” bunker barges and stations.
He told Passenger Ship Technology that the new vessels would help CalMac bid for new ferry routes. “We are ambitious for more routes in Scotland and when we have these 100 m vessels we can bid for other contracts, as it frees up other vessels in the fleet to be available for other routes.”
Batteries powering ahead
But CalMac is not just using LNG; it has been running hybrid-battery ferries since 2013 and has three in its fleet, all built by Ferguson Marine. Mr Dorchester told Passenger Ship Technology that he felt that the natural fit was for batteries for smaller ferries and LNG for larger ferries.
The company is particularly interested in batteries as the technology “has moved on hugely” in the five years since CalMac’s battery-powered vessels were first built.
Mr Dorchester said that, due to the advances in battery technology, the operator would upgrade its current hybrid vessels once their batteries came to the end of their lives. “If your builder is just five minutes down the road [Ferguson shipyard is located close to CalMac] then it is not the big thing it was previously,” when CalMac used shipyards located much further away.
Indeed, due to the strong advancements in battery technology, Mr Dorchester said that the company was also looking at using pure battery power in future. “The public think of battery power as clean and that is an important message for us, as a ferry operator, to put out,” he summed up.
“Much as I love building new ships, I am more interested in their ongoing maintenance [because] the relationship with Ferguson Marine and its engineering expertise can be used for drydock and renewal of the existing fleet.” Martin Dorchester (CalMac)
In another electric area, CalMac has also been working on a hydrogen ferry project with the aim to build a ferry powered by this fuel. The company started the project in 2010 and has been working on it with partners including Ferguson Marine.
CMAL director of vessels Jim Anderson told delegates at a panel discussion about electrification at Interferry’s annual conference in October “We are actively working on a hydrogen ferry project and have done a cost model capex [forecast] and it can be done.”
He said the company was “very hopeful” that it can build a hydrogen vessel, as the economic model works due to the excess of renewable electrical power in Scotland, allowing the ferry operator to purchase it at a very competitive tariff. Mr Anderson said the new technology needed for a hydrogen-powered ferry was challenging, in particular its fuel storage, which would “take up a lot of space on the vessel”.
It would also to bunker more often – on every second day – which the company would need to build into its time table. Nevertheless “it is very possible and we are looking to do it”, Mr Anderson summed up.
Mixing it up
CalMac’s plans for its fleet show how far ferry operators have come when it comes to alternative energy. They are not just looking at one type of fuel, but a mix of different energy sources to best match vessel profiles and routes.
CalMac is standardising its fleet – and Ferguson Marine will play a crucial role in not just standardising it but also applying different fuels. Its strategy is for its largest ships to be 100 m long, the medium-sized vessels to be 80 m small and the smallest 45 m.
Mr Dunn said “The Holy Grail is that we can look at advanced requirements for [45 m and 80 m] newbuilds and say that the 45 m should be a battery-hybrid and the 80 m powered by hydrogen.” He said that the aim was to have three or four models that the shipyard could use across the fleet to make it easier to maintain, manage and control the ferries.
But CalMac’s relationship with Ferguson Marine does not just span newbuilds – Mr Dorchester emphasised that it was just as important for maintaining its current fleet of 34 ferries.
“Much as I love building new ships, I am more interested in their ongoing maintenance [because] the relationship with Ferguson Marine and its engineering expertise can be used for drydock and renewal of the existing fleet.”
Mr Dorchester summed up one of the highlights of the strong relationship that CalMac has built with Ferguson Marine, saying that they “are bringing engineering expertise back locally and allowing us to use local skills.”
It was announced in November – after PST’s conversation with him – that Mr Dorchester would be leaving the company in March 2018 to take up a new role as chief executive of Includem, a specialist Scottish charity supporting some of the most vulnerable young people and their families across Scotland. He can certainly be confident that he has left Scotland’s largest ferry operator in a very strong shape and at the forefront of the use of alternative fuel in the ferry industry.
• A video of Glen Sannox’s construction and launch can be viewed here.
Snapshot CV Martin Dorchester
Martin Dorchester is the chief executive of the David MacBrayne Group and operates as managing director of CalMac Ferries. In a career spanning 30 years, he has operated nationally and internationally with organisations covering logistics, technology and finance.
As chief executive of the retailer Dixon’s B2B operation, he built up the largest Apple reseller business in the UK. Mr Dorchester was part of the team that brought five radio authorities together to create the UK’s communications regulator, Ofcom, and worked with the London Borough of Hackney on developing its infrastructure for the 2012 Olympics.
Mr Dorchester is also a keen lecturer and academic and has written a number of papers covering areas including emotional intelligence in management development. He will leave the company in March 2018 to take up a new role as chief executive of Scottish charity Includem.