COLUMN | Challenging logistics for action on Lake Victoria [Aft Lines]

BigLift Shipping’s Happy Star delivers 22 Damen-built vessels to Rotterdam in 2015

Having written about Lake Victoria ferry transportation in the past year, it was heartening to see on reports of the design of a new Ro-Pax for Tanzania’s Marine Services Company (aka Kampuni ya Huduma za Meli) which hopes to operate it between Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya.

Based on the information made available, the scope for the 90-metre, 1,200-passenger capacity ship design is “conceptual and classification engineering”. That sounds like it is progressing to a stage at which shipyards can prepare a decent offer for building the vessel, and that may be the catch. One wonders whether, or how, funds will be raised for its construction especially considering the complexities involved in it being built for the landlocked lake.

It’s reported that components of the ferry are expected to be built in Korea and transported by ship and rail to the city of Mwanza, in Tanzania’s northwest, where the ship will be assembled.

Certainly this is going to be no “garden variety” small RoPax build, but let’s hope it progresses from a design to reality sometime over the next few years.

Certainly there is some substance to the proposal with Sener having previously worked with South Korea’s Posco PlanTec to deliver a similar Ro-Pax to the Tanzanian Government. That said, Mapinduzi II operates in coastal waters, not on the Lake, so none of those difficult logistics to overcome.

Optimistic in the Philippines

Continuing the theme of unusual, arguably optimistic, ferry projects mentioned on Baird Maritime in countries without the best track records in marine safety, construction of a hybrid, trimaran Ro-Pax has commenced in the Philippines.

Now if this were being built at Austal’s Balamban shipyard for the European market it would seem somewhat ambitious. It’s not, though. It’s being designed and built by an (evidently) smallish local yard called Metallica, and what really sets the eyebrows raising are references in the media reports to the vessel being partially “powered by waves”.

Obviously that would be some interesting tech, which perhaps helps to explain the involvement of the country’s Department of Science and Technology and a local university.

According to reports the trimaran “will harness energy from the ocean to augment its energy requirements” and will be able to transport 150 passengers, four vans, and 15 motorbikes.

The technology specialists can make what they will of this: “It is designed to generate its own electrical supply from the waves it gathers from the outriggers of the craft. Ocean waves will drive double action hydraulic pumps that will power a generator to produce which creates the electricity.”

All this, reportedly, for under US$1.5 million. I look forward to updates!

First world problems

Now I don’t want my earlier comment about ferry safety to be seen as too exclusive, so I will just mention a couple of recent headlines out of Britain that caught my eye, each involving car ferries on domestic routes.

One was “Ro-Pax catches fire for third time in 16 months” and the other was “Crash captain thought his ferry was facing the other way”.

Which just goes to show that problems can emerge anywhere. Mind you, if there had been three fires onboard in 16 months one would start to think there was a systematic issue. Or somebody broke a mirror.

Over in the USA, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has determined a series of factors that contributed to a vessel fire in January last year which saw 15 people taken to hospital and one passenger die within several hours of the fire.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt made a very pertinent comment when releasing the outcomes of the investigation into the report on the fire aboard the 22-metre Island Lady on the Pithlachascotee River:

“Safety isn’t something you have, it’s something you do,” he said. “Are vessel operators being required to do it? All over the country this morning, crew training is either being conducted, or it is being neglected. Manufacturer’s recommended maintenance programs are being followed or they are being disregarded, leaving the safety of vessels and their passengers at risk.”

These comments seem most related to NTSB recommendations to the United States Coast Guard, which oversees vessel survey and operations requirements. The recommendations, which had been made to the USCG previously and which were subsequently reiterated, were:

  • For operators of US-flag passenger vessels to implement safety management systems (which it has recommended in 2012); and
  • To require operators of domestic passenger vessels to develop and implement preventative maintenance programs for all systems affecting the safe operation of their vessels, including hull, mechanical and electrical systems. This recommendation was first issued in 2002.

Is anyone else surprised these are not already in force?

On the market

While regulatory change in the US may not happen fast, if you do have a marine plan you want to implement quickly it’s no great secret that Dutch shipbuilder Damen could be your best part for new tonnage.

Of course it is no secret that the company works on the philosophy of building a range of standard designs to stock so that it can achieve economies of scale in manufacturing and purchasing, as well as providing customers with fast delivery. The extent to which it does so has never been clear to me, but I recently noticed that it has a virtual stock listing on its website.

I was drawn to find this after a contact pointed out to me that Damen was having what she described as a “yard sale” of various surplus vessel equipment ranging right up to a fully fabricated helicopter deck. She muttered something about perhaps it pointing to a desire to free up some cash.

Who could really know if there is anything to that: as a private company its very hard to see anything useful regarding its finances, and it is also to be expected that rivals might float negative rumours into the marketplace.

My bet is that its just normal business practice and that Damen will be around for a long time yet – even beyond when a new Ro-Pax enters service on Lake Victoria, after the USCG changes those regulations, and even after a trimaran Ro-Pax is built in the Philippines.

Aft Lines

The best is not always left to last! Finishing off each issue of Work Boat World magazine, Aft Lines is an insider's viewpoint on vessel design and construction developments and controversies, now available exclusively on