Looking ahead in ferry operations

10 Oct 2016
‘Manchester Port’, the first British ship to be designed for unmanned engine room operation, befitting of the engineers’ professional status

‘Manchester Port’, the first British ship to be designed for unmanned engine room operation, befitting of the engineers’ professional status

No fewer than 56 pages of the November 1966 issue of The Motor Ship were devoted to a special survey of ferries operating in European waters.

Fifty years ago, most of the ferries on the English Channel, Baltic, North and Mediterranean Seas were operated by railway companies. It was noted that steam propulsion had all but disappeared from the scene, though the relatively small fuel consumption associated with the short voyages meant that few vessels were operating on HFO, the extra capital cost of fuel treatment and heating plant negating the lower operating cost. Geared propulsion and controllable pitch propellers were becoming the norm.

One limiting factor was the failure of harbour authorities to provide facilities that matched the advances in ferry design, though the ports of Southampton, Hull and Le Havre were singled out for praise. The survey concluded that more standardisation of ship and port design was needed – such would lead to substantial economies for all parties.

The French Railway company SNCF outlined its future plans, which included more versatile ships, able to carry any combination of freight, passenger and private car traffic. Such ships would be built for speed - both at sea and turn-around in port - manoeuvrability and good seakeeping, enabling them to maintain schedules year-round. In other words, exactly like today’s ro-pax ships. SNCF was looking at diversifying into container carriers and hovercraft as well as highly-developed roll-on/roll-off vessels. Most tellingly, the company was anticipating the building of a Channel Tunnel, in which it, as a rail operator, would have an “unfailing interest”.

Other articles covered port developments, catering on board, materials for ferry interiors and the economics of large hovercraft, as well as a look at considerations for long-distance ferry operation. By ‘long distance’, the writer meant the sort of routes then in operation in the Mediterranean and North Sea, though distances of over 600 miles, i.e. a run from Britain to Spain or Portugal, were foreseen – these, it was though, would prove faster, cheaper and more relaxing than travelling across country by road. The main hurdle to be overcome was, unsurprisingly, shore facilities. Few ports were able to accommodate ro-ro loading, few had vehicle marshalling areas, and fewer still the necessary immigration and customs posts and other terminal facilities. The author looked at Lisbon, where such facilities were in existence, to paint a picture of the sort of embarkation and disembarkation experience that is the norm for today’s ferry user.

However, other considerations proved wide of the mark. If ships could be fitted with bow thrusters then CP propellers could be avoided – this was mainly because 50 years ago fixed pitch propellers were held to be more efficient. It was also thought necessary to provide hatches and cranes to allow vehicles to be unloaded in tidal ports when conditions made the use of linkspans difficult. Most surprisingly, to anybody used to today’s ferries, it was thought that carrying freight vehicles was not economic, and the way forward was to concentrate on passenger car traffic – though the seasonal nature of this was acknowledged.

#Automation continued to attract attention – a new 12,000dwt cargo liner, the Manchester Port, built in Middlesbrough for Manchester Liners, to operate from the Manchester Ship Canal to the St Lawrence Seaway, scored a number of firsts. It was the first ship to use British-built Pielstick machinery and the Sofrance fuel filtration system, the first with a remote bridge-operated windlass, and the first British ship designed for unmanned engine room operation, with engineer officers “performing duties appropriate to their professional status and not employed as sea-going mechanics.” Hear, hear, we say.