Hibernia – Low-emission pilot boat to serve Northern Ireland’s Belfast Harbour
HiberniaBelfast Harbour/Matt Mackey

VESSEL REVIEW | Hibernia – Low-emission pilot boat to serve Northern Ireland’s Belfast Harbour

Belfast Harbour in Northern Ireland has taken delivery of a new pilot boat built by Holyhead Marine Services of Wales. Named Hibernia, the 15- by five-metre (49- by 16-foot) boat will be tasked with transporting pilots to and from ships calling at Belfast as part of the service provided by Belfast Harbour to help ships safely navigate through the port, to and from their designated berths.

Belfast Harbour handles more than 23.9 million tonnes of trade every year and its pilot boat fleet needs to operate 24 hours a day 365 days a year. To ensure downtime is kept to a minimum, the Hibernia's design focused on resilience and operational efficiency. The result is a custom vessel that will replace PB4, the oldest pilot boat in Belfast Harbour’s fleet, which is being retired after 24 years of service.

Custom-built for greater reliability

In line with Belfast Harbour’s strategic goals, Hibernia has a fuel-efficient hull design and Scania IMO Tier III-compliant engines that are able to run on hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) to help reduce carbon emissions by as much as 90 per cent. It is also equipped with a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) exhaust system, which reduces NOx emissions. An engine monitoring system is connected to Machine Medic software so that engine diagnostics and fuel consumption can be monitored remotely.

“What impressed us on the bid from this builder is the attention to our specification and how we were being offered a product to fit the needs of the customer rather than having a one made ‘off-the-shelf’,” said Jamie Faulkner, Deputy Harbour Master. “Holyhead Marine and the designer closely adhered to Belfast Harbour's specific design requirements, resulting in a vessel uniquely tailored to the port.”

Hibernia Belfast Harbour Holyhead Marine Services
HiberniaBelfast Harbour

Faulkner explained that, throughout the design process, feedback from Belfast Harbour’s experienced crew was actively sought and incorporated. This approach ensured that the final layout of the cockpit and wheelhouse met the practical and operational needs of those who would be using the boat daily.

“The layout was designed with ergonomics in mind, ensuring that all controls and instruments are within easy reach of both pilots and crew. This reduces fatigue and increases efficiency, especially during long shifts.”

The wheelhouse provides excellent all-around visibility, which is crucial for safe navigation in the busy and often challenging conditions of Belfast Harbour. Large, strategically-placed windows allow the crew to have a clear view of their surroundings, enhancing safety during operations.

The coxswain is positioned on the centreline of the wheelhouse. Six CCTV cameras are placed on board and screens are within the sightlines of the coxswain. Large wing mirrors are also placed forward so that there is always a clear view of anyone walking to and from the pilot boat boarding deck.

Hibernia Belfast Harbour Holyhead Marine Services
Main helm stationBelfast Harbour/Matt Mackey

The cockpit and wheelhouse are equipped with state-of-the-art navigation and communications systems, tailored to the specific requirements of Belfast Harbour. Hibernia is equipped with the EmpirBus NXT electrical switching and distribution system, which consists of five “nodes” located around the vessel that are linked by a NMEA 2000 network, which controls each node and its switching function.

Designed for incident response and prevention

“Recognising the high-risk nature of pilot transfer operations, it is crucial for Belfast Harbour to thoroughly investigate any incidents which may occur,” Faulkner told Baird Maritime. “To support this, Hibernia is equipped with six IP67 high-definition cameras on a closed network, along with recording capabilities for all VHF audio communications.”

In the event of an incident, the recorded footage and audio can be reviewed through a strict approval process, allowing for comprehensive analysis and the opportunity to learn valuable lessons. This advanced monitoring system helps to ensure that every aspect of an incident can be examined in detail, enhancing safety and improving future operations.

Hibernia Belfast Harbour Holyhead Marine Services
Wheelhouse exteriorBelfast Harbour/Matt Mackey

“The vessel features an aft helm station, allowing the rudder and the engines to be controlled from this position," added Faulkner. "This setup is a significant asset in emergency situations, as it enables a single crewmember to recover a casualty more easily."

The ability to control the vessel directly from the aft deck enhances the efficiency and safety of rescue operations. In particular, this feature provides the crew with better manoeuvrability and responsiveness during critical moments.

Configured for enhancing occupants’ comfort

The wheelhouse itself is designed to be as quiet as possible and so it is resiliently mounted, meaning that noise and vibrations are not transferred to the user. Strict noise requirements covering the wheelhouse (75 dB), the tank space (85 dB), and the engine room (110 dB) were set and satisfied.

As well as the substantial SCR exhaust system, an additional in-line silencer was fitted, further reducing the engine noise. To reduce whole body vibration and shock forces, all seats are full suspension Grammer units that automatically calibrate to users’ individual weights.

The Scania engines drive two fixed-pitch propellers via ZF gearboxes. The engine room, where the SCR is also fitted, has ventilation and ready access for maintenance.

“The installation of the Scania SCR exhaust system presented a significant challenge for the builder due to its size and complexity,” Faulkner remarked. “Although the Scania SCR system is well-established, its implementation on relatively small vessels, particularly in the UK, is rare.”

For Hibernia, the exhaust system had to be custom-fabricated by a specialist to ensure a precise fit. This bespoke fabrication was essential to integrate the system effectively into the vessel.

The electronics setup includes an Airmar transducer, ICOM VHF radios, a Hypro Marine rudder angle indicator, a Plastimo magnetic compass, and a Furuno package consisting of a radar, a GPS, an AIS, displays, a heading indicator, and an intercom. A Luminell searchlight is also fitted, while the safety and rescue equipment includes an MOB recovery platform, a 10-person liferaft, and two lifebuoys.

Hibernia Belfast Harbour Holyhead Marine Services
HiberniaBelfast Harbour

“Comparing Hibernia to PB4 highlights the significant technological advancements that were made over the past 24 years,” Faulkner told Baird Maritime. “Modern pilot boats are now designed to be quieter and more comfortable, featuring advanced person-overboard recovery and life-saving systems. The electronics have also evolved, providing a more ergonomic and user-friendly experience for the crew. These improvements not only enhance operational efficiency but also ensure greater safety and comfort for those on board.”

Baird Maritime / Work Boat World