Armed with experienced newbuild and repair departments, Dutch shipyard takes on complex conversions
As Niestern Sander shipyard installs a new stern on the ferry Münsterland in a complex conversion project, this 120-year-old Dutch company is also engaged in an innovative newbuild, with others in the pipeline.
While the shipyard worked on the ferry back in the water in early April, in late January Niestern Sander laid the keel for an innovative shallow-draught, walk-to-work icebreaker destined for the sub-zero conditions of the east coast of Sakhalin.
Simultaneously, Niestern Sander is enhancing a standard platform supply vessel with a walk-to-work system and installating an extra accommodation module for 40 people and related repair work.
In these contracts the shipyard’s versatility is apparent. “The combination of both a newbuild and a repair department proves its value in complex conversion projects like these,” says sales manager Bert Veenstra.
The shipyard prides itself on innovation and has won awards to prove it. In 2015, Niestern Sander grabbed the Netherlands’ prestigious KNVTS ship of the year award for the Kroonborg, an 80 m-long maintenance and walk-to-work vessel for Royal Wagenborg and end-user NAM, operator of the Groningen gas field.
Described by the owner as “like a Swiss army knife at sea,” the ship was the first of its type to be fuelled by GTL, synthetic diesel derived from natural gas.
And in late 2019, in an all-Dutch operation involving the northern Netherlands’ maritime cluster, the shipyard produced an all-electric utility ship powered by a 5,000 kg battery pack driving two large electric motors. Capable of operating with zero-emissions, the vessel was another first.
“A newbuild and a repair department proves its value in complex conversion projects”
Innovation is in the shipyard’s DNA, says Mr Veenstra. “Niestern Sander operates on a LEAN and cooperative management approach. For instance, Münsterland is a balanced project that was planned with the customer AG-Ems, Niestern Sander, business partners and suppliers”, he explains. “Everything was predefined from the very start and the various steps closely followed in practice, tested along the way, and communicated throughout with the parties involved.”
The 90 m-long ferry is being converted to operate on LNG for German group AG-Ems in a novel operation. The new stern will incorporate dual-fuel engines, LNG storage tank, propulsion and all other installations such as pipes and systems.
The shipyard is making something of a specialty of converting vessels to LNG. Some of the knowledge it acquired for the 1986-built, 78.7m-long, 12.6m-wide Münsterland came from the LNG system installed on Ostfriesland, a sister ship to Münsterland that also operates in the Wadden Sea, in 2015. Although the conversion of Ostfriesland was done by another shipyard, in both cases Wärtsilä supplied the LNGPac fuel storage, supply and control system.
For the ship’s new stern, Niestern Sander incorporated other lessons learned from Ostfriesland. “Munsterland’s aft is a derivative of the Ostfriesland stern, where improvements have been made that have resulted from among other things hydrodynamic tests [that enabled us] to better determine the position of the thrusters,” Mr. Veenstra says. “From the previous AG-Ems LNG retrofit we learned we could realise a smarter concept of propulsion by switching from two gas engines to just one. That was also of considerable benefit to the implementation of the entire conversion.”
Although both ferries have IMO Type C LNG tanks that store the fuel at -162°C and 5 bar pressure, the tank of the Münsterland is bigger, holding 53 m³ compared to the 45 m³ of Ostfriesland, after the shipyard figured out how to make the most of the space in a conversion. “The larger volume was made possible by an enlarged inner diameter of the inner tank and improved insulation with a smaller layer width,” Niestern Sander explains. “The gas valve units can now be accommodated in the tank storage room so that this space in the engineroom has become available.”
To improve the vessel’s efficiency, Niestern Sander also took the opportunity to redesign the stern: “The new shape will reduce the hull’s resistance.” says Mr Veenstra.
The ferry’s parent company has a good track record with LNG. In 2015, its subsidiary company Cassen Eils installed a full Wärtsilä dual-fuel LNG package for another ferry, the 83m-long Helgoland, the first German-flagged vessel to use LNG as a primary fuel.
“We have been called first movers in the EU and we want to stay that way,” said chief executive Dr Bernhard Brons in a release. “This includes not only being the first to rely on LNG but also consistently developing and pursuing this initiative.”
When the ferry returns to service in early summer and resumes its usual run between Eemshaven in the Netherlands and the island of Borkum, it will be 90 m long, nearly 12 m longer than the original vessel, but still with a maximum complement of 1,200 passengers. It will also feature a revamped interior and engineroom.
Niestern Sander is a company that prides itself on getting on with the job, rather than talking too much about it. “We are usually down-to-earth people who make announcements about projects when the time is right,” Mr Veenstra says. However, the company is clearly proud of the ice-breaking, walk-to-work ship that is setting new standards.
Equipped with Wagenborg ice-breaking technology and thrusters from German propulsion expert Schottel, this tough 76 m-long and 14 m-wide vessel will be able to break through ice up to 100 cm-thick when it is delivered in late 2021. It will carry an icebreaker class 5 notation.
Because it boasts a draught of just 3.15 m for shallow waters and a transit draught of 4.0 m in open waters and a grounded bottom notation, this world-first ship will be deployed year-round by Russian owners Mercury Sakhalin and Pola, as it transfers crew from the shallow Nabil Port to offshore platforms.
Cleverly, there are multiple, motion-compensated gangway positions for winter and summer operations, useful in a region where temperatures vary wildly from -30°C to +35°C.