EcoCoaster sets short-sea efficiency benchmark

EcoCoasters 'Eeva VG' and 'Mirva VG' nearing completion by Royal Bodewes EcoCoasters 'Eeva VG' and 'Mirva VG' nearing completion by Royal Bodewes

Finland’s Meriaura Group plans to transform its fleet with a visionary concept of ice-trading vessel that drastically reduces fuel consumption and which can run on bio-oil. By David Tinsley.

Amid the pervasive and often exaggerated claims as to the environmental compatibility of many new vessels, there are projects which signify true progression in ecological standards. A prime example is the VG EcoCoaster dry cargo ship concept and newbuild scheme, originating in the Finnish maritime cluster. This is now coming to fruition through the debut of the 4,700dwt first-of-class Eeva VG.

As a product of the most circumspect hull design and engineering, the EcoCoaster offers a fuel consumption nearly half that of comparably sized, conventional short-sea traders, and employs dual-fuel machinery with the capability to run on recycled bio oil produced in-house by owning group Meriaura. She also incorporates selective catalytic reduction (SCR) technology.

The powering, fuelling and exhaust treatment arrangements will ensure compatibility with the toughest environmental controls. One of the highlights of the technical specification is the adoption of an electric booster unit for navigation in ice, and another is the use of a long-life, biocide-free hull coating system.

In conjunction with ‘hardening’ and powering to Ice Class 1A certification, allowing independent, year-round engagement in Baltic shipping, the EcoCoaster’s economy and fuel flexibility are intended to give the progressive Meriaura Group an edge in the fiercely competitive and increasingly regulated north European short-sea cargo traffic.


An order for two EcoCoasters was entrusted to Dutch shipbuilder Royal Bodewes by Turku-based Meriaura, with project and ship management functions under the aegis of the latter’s subsidiary VG-Shipping. Royal Bodewes placed hull construction with Polish subcontractor Partner Stocznia in Szczecin. The hulls were then towed to Germany for final outfitting by Bodewes Papenburg, a new affiliate of the Dutch shipyard.

Although the EcoCoaster’s breadth is 13.6m, and thus within the 16m maximum beam for access to, and egress from, Bodewes’ canalside Hoogezand yard in the north Netherlands, the Papenburg premises has no such width constraint and therefore affords the shipbuilder greater long-term scope and flexibility in vessel size.

The hull form optimisation and overall hydrodynamic design, performed in Finland by technical consultancies Foreship and Aker Arctic Technology, together with the dual-fuel propulsion machinery developed and manufactured at the Ghent works of Anglo-Belgian Corporation (ABC), are core to the energy saving performance promised by the new ships.

“Altogether, 45 hull alternatives were considered, of varying lengths and hydrostatics, with the aim of minimising resistance while achieving small wave formation and a good wake field for the propeller,” said Risto Ajanko, Foreship’s senior specialist for hydrodynamics. “The main dimensions of the EcoCoaster were optimised, achieving the best ratio between capacity and fuel consumption.”


Aker Arctic undertook model tests at its ice laboratory in Vuosaari, near Helsinki, to enhance operation in ice. Key characteristics of the hull form are a long and narrow bow for lower resistance in ice channels, flare angles to minimise additional resistance in waves, and a narrow gondola shape in the aft body to improve the wake field.

Groot Ship Design of Groningen supplied the engineering packages for the newbuild project at Royal Bodewes, including the section drawings and production information relating to the hull.  
The use of Ecospeed topside and underwater hull coatings on the vessels is in tune with the EcoCoaster concept’s marrying of sustainability with efficiency goals, as the paint formulation is designed to improve ship performance while affording lasting protection.

Developed by the Antwerp-based company Subsea Industries, the purpose of Ecospeed is to provide through-life, non-toxic protection that keeps the hull very smooth and free of fouling with minimal repair and no replacement. The system is claimed to be unique, combining ease of application with a treatment that supports goals as to hydrodynamic optimisation and long-term underwater protection and maintenance. Despite repeated underwater hull cleaning, Ecospeed’s surface aspect does not degrade but gradually improves. Cleaning can be carried out whenever needed, at any point in its lifespan, without causing damage, according to Subsea Industries.  

Ismos Saaros, VG-Shipping’s director of project management, explained the company’s rationale: “We didn’t want to use a traditional antifouling system because of the chemicals they contain, and found the Ecospeed solution was the most effective coating system for reduced resistance (drag). With a hard coating, we are also permitted to clean the hull underwater in the ports where we operate, without damaging the surrounding environment.”  

The suitability of the coating for operation in ice, with all the implications of ice impact and abrasion, was also a consideration in the choice of Ecospeed, given the prospective Baltic trading profile. In fact, ice navigation poses one of the biggest technical challenges for coatings manufacturers, as the rapid mechanical degradation to conventional antifouling paints can necessitate hull re-coating after just one season.  

Eeva VG and [second-of-class] Mirva VG will not have to be coated again during the vessels’ operational lifetime, saving the company thousands in paint costs and dydocking fees, while preventing damage to the environment through the emissions of toxic chemicals found in soft coatings,” confirmed Subsea Industries’ Manuel Hof.


The EcoCoaster hull design and main machinery have been optimised for a service speed of 10.5 knots in open-water conditions. To reach the power required for Ice Class 1A categorisation and performance, the ship incorporates a diesel electric-driven booster unit, within a power take-off / take-in/ take-home set-up, using a Renk gearbox with two clutches.  

The main engine is an eight-cylinder DZC-series model, designed and manufactured at the Ghent factory of medium-speed engine specialist ABC for dual-fuel operation on either marine gas oil (MGO) or light bio-oil (LBO). Rated for a maximum output of 1,650kW, the installation will meet or exceed environmental edicts, including the 0.1% sulphur cap introduced in Emission Control Areas (ECAs). An IMO Tier III level of NOx emission compliance is assured by a catalytic converter.

When sailing through or forcing ice, the power from the main engine can be augmented by 834kW from the diesel-electric boost device, whereby the PTO shaft generator will act as an electric motor in PTI mode. This will be energised by the two 560kW auxiliary gensets, based on Cummins diesels.  The gensets, 834kW shaft generator/motor and frequency-driven 500kW bow thruster are electrically connected to each other via the main switchboard.


The proprietary bio-oil fuel, known as VG Marine EcoFuel, is produced at the Uusikaupunki refinery in Finland, controlled by VG-Shipping. The fuel is completely derived from recycled vegetable oils and by-products of the food processing industry.

While the immediate recipients will be units of the Meriaura fleet, it is planned to make EcoFuel available to other operators at some future stage. Meriaura Group president Jussi Malkia has indicated that the company’s goal is to have at least 50% of the fleet composed of EcoCoasters within five years, providing a baseload demand for EcoFuel.

VG-Shipping contends that its new marine fuel is a truly environmentally sustainable and climate-friendly alternative, and notes that even biofuel now has its detractors: “Bio fuels are often considered as being ethically debatable, as rain forests are exterminated in order to cultivate commodities needed for the production, and these commodities are also competing with foodstuffs in terms of land acreage,” stated the company.

Each ship’s ABC main engine is served by a complete IDENOx selective catalytic reduction (SCR) silencer system developed and manufactured by the Dutch company Axces Emission Technology. The remit was to ensure that the NOx content of the exhaust gases should not exceed 2.26g/kW/hr, in accordance with the Tier III standard, and that exhaust noise should be attenuated to at least 45dB(A).

The scope of supply for Axces included the integrated catalyst housing and exhaust gas silencer, the ceramic catalytic elements, arranged in cassettes and secured in panels in the housing, the urea dosing pump, 42-litre day tank and transfer pump, urea injector, mixers, programmable electronic control and data logger with all sensors, and soot blower between the catalyst elements.

The urea injector is mounted on the connector pipe between the engine and SCR housing.


Eeva VG and Mirva VG have each been fitted with a Thordon COMPAC seawater-lubricated propeller shaft bearing system supplied and installed by Caterpillar Propulsion under contract to Thordon distributor Duwel Sweden. The overall solution, comprising COMPAC bearings, Thordon water quality package, and a forward shaft seal, obviates the risk of causing pollution through leaking oil, and exceeds current and anticipated environmental regulations. It carries a 15-year bearing wear-life guarantee.

Pekka Werdi, VG-Shipping’s technical manager, said “The revolutionary hull form minimises drag, enhances the propeller wake field and optimises the ratio between capacity and fuel
consumption which, compared to similar vessels, helps us achieve our emissions target. It would have made no sense to counter these environmental and efficiency gains with a propeller bearing system with a potential risk of leaking lubrication oil to the sea. The Compac system not only removes this risk but reduces vessel operational costs without detriment to performance.”

The box-like, single cargo hold accounts for 64.8m of the 103m overall hull length and for 11.2m of the 13.6m breadth, and provides an enclosed volume of 216,000cu ft. Two movable bulkheads and partial tweendecks confer additional flexibility, enabling the simultaneous transport of different types or grades of cargo. The pontoon hatch covers allow for deck stows with load bearing at 2t/m2 and incorporate special openings for grain.    

At the time of writing, Eeva VG was set for September delivery, with Mirva VG due about two months later. Design work has also been undertaken for a higher-capacity variant.
Meriaura has a track record in enterprising, environmentally-compatible solutions. The company’s 2012-built deck carrier Meri was reportedly the world’s first cargo ship to use 100% biofuel. The vessel transports heavy and outsized project cargoes and indivisible items such as machinery and steel sub-structures. She has also been deployed in demanding offshore wind farm installation projects around the British Isles and in the southern Baltic.


Length overall


Length, b.p.






Draught, design


Draught, scantling


Deadweight, all-told


Deadweight, carrying capacity


Gross tonnage


Hold volume


Air-draught in ballast


Main engine power


Service speed, open-water

10.5 knots

Electric boost power (ice-going)


Bow thruster



Bureau Veritas




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