Fleet renewal, digitisation and battling airlines are among Jadrolinija’s top priorities
It has been a busy and fulfilling four and a half years for Croatian ferry operator Jadrolinija’s former chief executive officer Alan Klanac.
Jadrolinija is state-owned and in September this year the Croatian government replaced him and the operator’s management board, but it was clear from his comments to Passenger Ship Technology that he was proud of what they had achieved. David Sopta, former assistant to the foreign minister, has now become managing director.
When he took the operator’s helm in 2013, he had many strategies to juggle as the company emerged from the global financial crisis. “Our fleet renewal programme was very important and we were also facing increased digitisation especially from online ticket sales, wifi and loyalty programmes.” By the time they left, he and his management board had succeeded in bringing these things to fruition.
Jadrolinija operates a fleet of 50 ferries with a total capacity of 30,000 passengers, 4,000 vehicles, operating on 37 routes and run by a team of 1,700 staff. Its fleet includes three large ropax vessels for travel to Italy and eight high-speed passenger ferries. The remainder are largely double-ended ferries on shorter routes of around 90 minutes.
Despite his departure from Jadrolinija, Mr Klanac is still very much involved in the ferry sector. As president of the international ferry industry association Interferry, he was instrumental in bringing the 42nd Interferry conference to Split, Croatia, in October this year. While it is too early to disclose his next move, it seems certain he will stay within the ferry sector: “I love this industry and my goal is to remain a driving force in it,” he said.
Looking back at his time at Jadrolinija, he singled out how renewing the fleet was a top priority and explained how the company achieved this under his leadership. In his time in charge, Jadrolinija added six ships, four of which were ropax newbuilds and two were second-hand high-speed craft. One of these ferries was “urgently needed and readily available”, the other – a carbon fibre sandwich composite vessel – was five years old when the company purchased it from Norway.
This is not the end of the fleet renewal programme. Mr Klanac said that under his management, the plan was to build 22 more ships during the next 10 years. Jadrolinija’s “huge fleet is steadily getting older, so we really needed to be on top of our game in terms of renewing vessels, and it is a very good time to be investing heavily”.
One area in which the company is very committed is the exploration of alternative energy sources, including LNG and batteries. When Mr Klanac was first appointed as chief executive of Jadrolininja, he put a plan in place to launch a national project to investigate the use of LNG. Government funding would have been needed for the project but this did not materialise so Jadrolinija reached out to several LNG suppliers to inquire about fuelling a double ended ferry in an LNG conversion. The final conclusion was that LNG was an option, but not an easy one.
Mr Klanac explained that the company “wanted to keep the propulsion concept the same but change the fuel to LNG. This was difficult because it required converting from mechanical to electric power for the propellers.”
In addition, moving to a gas-electric concept from a diesel-electric was a big challenge because the sea water in the Adriatic is warmer than that in, for example, the North Sea. The electric drive would need to be cooled down, for which water at 10°C – as found in areas such as Norway – would be more beneficial than water of 30°C, which is the temperature in the Adriatic during Croatia’s summer.
Losing that cooling effect “would lead to huge energy losses of 10-15%, thereby losing all the benefits of converting to LNG,” he said.
Another challenge for Jadrolinija converting to LNG would be that there are currently no LNG bunkering stations in Croatia. This would mean that suppliers would need to ship the fuel by truck from nearby countries such as Italy. Mr Klanac reasoned that the distance to Italy was too far and that, instead, small liquefaction plants would have to be established in Croatia to take natural gas from pipelines to supply it to the ferries.
So Mr Klanac views using LNG as a good fuel hedging strategy; “if there is comprehensive LNG supply, then ship operators can fix costs via contracts,” he said. The Croatian government is looking into establishing floating LNG terminals to connect to a gas grid that is being put in place.
As an alternative to LNG, Mr Klanac favoured hybrid power. “I believe hybrid diesel-battery power would be a better option for short routes; electric power is readily available.” Under Mr Klanac Jadrolinja had been investigating retrofitting current vessels with batteries but it remains only a concept.
Despite looking at alternative power, Mr Klanac is happy with the use of diesel fuel at Jadrolinija. “The ferries have been operating on marine diesel oil of less than 0.1% sulphur content for the past eight years, so are already very clean, and due to economies of sale we get a very good [fuel] price.”
Even without the use of alternative power, Jadrolinija has been able to make its vessels very energy-efficient. Mr Klanac gave an example: The company introduced four newbuilds four years ago each with four engines of 1,500 kW with capacity for 600 passengers and 150 vehicles. They replaced vessels with 60 cars capacity and with power of 3,500 kW. So, despite having almost three times the car capacity, the new vessels consume less than half the fuel compared to the older vessels. “This is an amazing change brought about by a different ship design, different propulsion system and good solid engineering,”
Despite his recent departure from the company, Mr Klanac still ponders its potential. “I see possibilities in creating more vessels with a smarter design. Ferries that have less environmental imapct and require less energy show that diesel fuel should not be disregarded for the future.
One of the biggest challenges that Jadrolinija faces is competition from airlines. The ferry operator juggles being both a ‘lifeline’ service for the islanders and a seasonal service for tourists. “We as an industry have to work strongly to build the perception that ferries are a better way to travel than by air on medium-distance routes, and that ferry travel is the way forward,” Mr Klanac said.
“Ferries that have less environmental impact and require less energy show that diesel fuel should not be disregarded for the future” Alan Klanac (Jadrolinija)
To beat the challenge of the airlines, he said that “seamless boarding procedures and an integration of ferries with the overall public transport system including also the aeroplanes” is needed.
“If we are competing with airlines, we also need to show customers tangible benefits such as onboard comfort. If the ferry journey is not a comfortable and pleasurable experience, we are doing something wrong,” Mr Klanac added.
To this end Jadrolinija refitted the interiors on four of its passenger catamarans. The aim (under Mr Klanac) is to continue with interior refits where needed. Mr Klanac said “Sometimes old ferries are not a bad thing, they are reliable and fit for service, and sometimes they just need investment to renew their interiors.”
The company also implemented online ticket sales and pre-paid travel cards to help ease queues at port ticket offices.
Looking back on his term at Jadrolinija, Mr Klanac listed his proudest achievements during his role as chief executive as arranging for the 42nd Interferry conference to take place in Croatia in October this year, building new vessels and opening six new routes. Above all was his praise for the strong team of staff “who run and improve the already good service that Jadrolinija provides.”
Looking back at his time with the company, he thanked “my management team and all the employees at Jadrolinija. Every single person contributes to make Jadrolinija what it is today, and I know you will continue to keep up the good work.”