COLUMN | May ferry news roundup [Ferry Tales]

Ferry Collision

TT-Line’s ferry Nils Holgersson made the news when she came into contact with the berthed Scandlines ferry Urd while entering the port of Travemünde at the end of her regular passage from Trelleborg.

The Urd, which was alongside at the Scandinavia Quay, was holed above and below the waterline causing significant water ingress. The local fire brigade was called to stabilise the ship with further pumps assisting the onboard pumps.  

The 191-metre Nils Holgersson rammed the Urd after she failed to turn sufficiently. The collision ripped a 16 square metre hole into the ferry’s hull, including a vertical tear below the waterline. While luckily nobody was injured in the accident, the damage to the Urd was considerable, as the bulbous bow of Nils Holgersson ripped a large hole in the other boat’s outer skin and caused a crack over two metres long.

Visibility was not a problem according to the testimony of both witnesses and officials, and the ship’s records examined by the maritime police showed no technical defect.

The alleged difficulty, it seems, revolved around the setting of the pod propulsion. When in the open sea, the propeller nacelles are set to ‘sea mode’ so they can only be rotated up to 70 degrees for safety reasons. While in this operational mode, it is not possible to turn the drive completely around. So it appears that “sea mode” was on the drive, and therefore the master was unable to initiate the obvious astern command – leaving the Nils Holgersson heading directly to the Urd.

The relatively undamaged Nils Holgersson was then taken to the Swedish port of Landskrona for repair, while the heavily damaged Urd was assessed in Travemünde before being taken to FAYARD in Odense Denmark for full repair.

In a move reminiscent of the ‘Costa Concordia’ disaster, criminal proceedings have been instituted against the Nils Holgersson’s master before any inquiry is complete. Using voyage recording data from the ship, coast guard investigators established that the engines were not set to “harbour mode” and that could only have been the master’s error.  Leaving aside the rights and wrongs of the incident, it is indeed most concerning that masters are increasingly being criminalised before inquiries are even launched, let alone completed.

The Urd is a ship I myself have connections with for in a former life she was Sealink British Ferries’ Seafreight Highway. We had her on the Irish Sea route between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire in 1988 and although she was unpopular, being considered an unwieldily beast to handle, images of her settling on the bottom at her berth present a sad picture.

Delays in ferry hulls to hit Bergen’s profits

Some hefty problems for Norway’s Fjord Line whose two new dual-fuel ferries are considerably late from their builders, the Bergen Group. Bergen’s practice is to appoint third-party contractors to construct hulls for newbuilding orders.

The Bergen Group said the hull for the first ferry, from Poland’s Gdansk shipyard, should have been at the company’s Fosen Yard in September last year for outfitting and commissioning.  It was eventually delivered after the end of April and with less work done on it by the Polish yard than originally contracted. Gdansk Shipyard has also warned the second hull will be up to three months late.

Bergen Group chief executive Terje Arnesen downplayed any serious criticism of the contracted shipyards, saying that Bergen’s customers and Bergen Group are still pleased with the quality from the hull yards.

Fjord Line ordered the dual-fuel ferries for its operations between Denmark and Norway. The two-vessel order is among a growing list of large cruise ferries on order.

Viking Line has a dual-fuel vessel under construction in Finland while Color Line has indicated it is about to order a dual-fuel vessel for its south Norwegian services. There are also two Norwegian Ro-Ro operators that have ordered vessels capable of running on natural gas.

Three Bids for SeaFrance Ferries

Following the bankruptcy of SeaFrance last year, three bids have been submitted for the former SeaFrance ferries.

When the deadline passed on May 4, there were reports that Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel, DFDS Seaways/LD Lines and Stena Line had submitted applications to buy the three ships, SeaFrance Rodin, SeaFrance Berlioz and the SeaFrance Nord Pas de Calais. They are said to be worth up to €150 million. A fourth ship, the SeaFrance Moliere, is owned by the banks and is therefore not part of the sale process.

The Paris commercial court ruled in November that ailing SeaFrance should be put into liquidation, rejecting two offers to acquire the company. The bankruptcy judge who has to decide on the sale of the ships is expected to announce his verdict by the middle of May. The transaction could be complete by the beginning of June.

The €65 million Eurotunnel offer is for the entirety of the tangible and intangible assets. This means the three ships but also the buildings, the counters in Britain, the stocks of oil and fuel oil, the computers. A Eurotunnel spokeswoman confirmed the company would charter the ships to a workers’ cooperative of ex-SeaFrance employees, SeaFrance SCOP, creating 560 jobs.

DFDS/LD is offering €30 million for the SeaFrance Berlioz, €25 million for sister ship SeaFrance Rodin or €50 million for both. Stena Line is offering €30 million for the SeaFrance Rodin.

If Eurotunnel is successful the ships could be used for a summer service between Boulogne and Dover in addition to the core Calais run. The Côte d’Opale Chamber of Commerce is bidding for a concession to run both Calais and Boulogne ports for the next 50 years, and Eurotunnel chief Jacques Gounon told a French newspaper his group could become a minority partner with the chamber.

M. Gounon said: “It is my conviction that the three local structures – the ports of Boulogne and Calais and Eurotunnel, as a dry port – must have a coherent development policy.”

The new operator of Boulogne and Calais could be appointed by the end of this year.

In the south of France the unions have obviously learnt nothing from the SeaFrance debacle (it is largely they that brought the company down). SNCM workers have suspended a strike that had halted most of the ferry company’s sailings to Corsica for over a week. The 150 strikers were protesting what they called “unfair competition from rival operator Corsica Ferries” but they voted to halt the strike after being promised a meeting May 15with a member of the incoming government.

The strikers said SNCM has been losing market share to Corsica Ferries on routes to Corsica and demand that the latter company be subject to the same French manning and social rules that they are. Corsica Ferries operates under the Italian flag with multinational crews, but its CEO Pierre Mattei has insisted that French social rules are applied, pointing out that its vessels are regularly inspected by French authorities. SNCM said the strike has cost it €2million in lost revenues and affected 20,000 passengers.

LNG-fueled Ro-Ro’s for Bass Strait?

Bass Strait RoRo operator Searoad Holdings is aiming to introduce two new ships, powered by LNG, to service Tasmania in two years time.

Searoad managing director James Bryant said the $180 million investment would double the company’s capacity to 400 containers on each ship. The company currently operates the Searoad Mersey and the Searoad Tamar from Devonport to Melbourne six days a week.

Mr Bryant said the new 185-metre ships would be custom-built, with tenders to be called for their construction. “We’re running at full capacity, so we are taking a 20-year view,” he said.

Mr Bryant said the chance that heavy fuel oil usage may be legislated against in the future was also a factor in the sourcing of gas-powered ships. “Natural gas is an environmentally friendly form of propulsion and so we are getting in early,” he said.

Mr Bryant said the company was designing special drive-on tankers that would contain natural gas to bunker the ships.