Argentinian ferry operator Buquebus has entered into a design contract with Australian shipyard Incat for a dual-fuel LNG high-speed ferry.
This follows in the footsteps of Francisco, the LNG dual-fuelled ferry launched in 2013, which Incat also built.
The main difference in the design of the potential new ferry and Francisco is that the latter was powered by a gas turbine, but Incat is suggesting the former be powered by reciprocating engines. Incat Tasmania chairman Robert Clifford explained “It will be simpler than using gas turbines as these are very complex engines and the delivery of gas is difficult.”
The other way the proposed newbuild stands out is it is much bigger than Francisco at 3,000 m2 rather than 1,000 m2, with a length of 130 m compared to 99 m.
Speaking about the fast ferry market, Mr Clifford said “These are fast ferry business boom times, and I don’t believe that is boom and bust, I believe there is a sustained period of stability for fast ferry building, with repeat customers who want bigger and better boats.”
He explained “The economics of fast ferries are much better than 10-15 years ago and conventional ferries are in many ways getting the worst of it – they have to fit scrubbers or run on low sulphur fuel.”
He said the contrast with the fast ferry market is that these ferries have always had to run on LSO because HFO requires much bigger engines which is not possible on fast ferries, which are trying to save weight.
“This is normal for us but not normal for conventional ships. When fuel costs go up for conventional ferries for LSO post 2020, fast ferries will be so much more competitive.”
However, Mr Clifford believes that LSO is not the only option for fast ferries. “LNG is here for the long term – it might not be the end of the story but it will be around for long time.”
He said that while the weight of the gas tanks needed might be challenging for fast ferries, “we can live with the tanks”. And he added “The technology of the tanks is improving and they are lighter today than they were and we look for further improvement”.
While batteries are an option for small fast ferries, those for larger sized vessels are “a long way away”.
But he said “We keep an open mind on it – it is there for small boats but it is some time before it is there for big boats. But I have talked to a ferry operator about the option of entering port on battery as they are so quiet and then using diesel at sea so that is a possibility.”
But for Mr Clifford, LNG is the way forward for fast ferries. “LNG will be the normal fuel for the next 10 years.”