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Pick Up Speed?

Although the prognosis for the fast ferry sector is good, the "wait-and-see" attitude adopted by many existing shipowners has left the order flow remaining at a moderate level.

In fact, certain of the general shipbuilders who have developed high-speed vessels as one line of business, have found themselves unable to attract fresh work to maintain production continuity in that area of activity. A reluctance to implement new projects has been attributed in some quarters to weakness in the secondhand ferry market.

On the other hand, it is also argued that increasingly stringent international regulations and quality expectations must inevitably bear on the cost of maintaining older, conventional vessels, and thereby raise the comparative benefit of new ferries and the fastgoing mode.

Moreover, the fast ferry field is attracting new entrants from outside the shipping industry, thereby widening the market.

The successful introduction of Stena's 127-m HSS class has raised the profile of the sector as a whole and demonstrated the potential for high-speed passenger and freight transportation on a new unit scale. Nonetheless, opportunities arising in the more modest size categories have rewarded new, dedicated shipbuilding operations, while yielding additional work for established names in the field such as Kvaerner Fjellstrand, Rodriquez and FBM Marine.

Peter Wild of consultancy firm G P Wild (International) this year forecast that additional newbuilding volume over the 1997 to 2001 five-year period could amount to between 68 and 134 vessels in total per annum, including 46 to 90 catamarans, and 14 to 27 monohulls. While unit capacities are growing, there is an expectation of higher speed capability across the size range, which is reflected in evergreater concentrations of propulsive power.

Main machinery performance and technological developments, coupled with the experience and predisposition of the users, will bear on whether or not the upward trend in power and speed will favor gas turbine drives over multidiesel installations.

Environmental considerations can also be expected to come into play, given the prospect of increasingly stringent local and international rules governing exhaust gas emissions. The planned, 95-m Cargo Cat from Incat, to be laid down by the Tasmanian yard on a speculative basis, marks an important juncture in the development of the fastgoing mode. Growing investment in large, high-speed vessels for passenger and vehicle services already poses a considerable challenge to conventional ferries, and the Australian initiative on the pure RoRo front looks set to open up a new area of opportunity by bringing the high-speed concept within the realms of the freightonly carrier.

Incat's latest aluminum wavepiercer type is arranged with 550 lane-m and has been designed to offer 35-knots in fully-laden condition, employing the maximum 1,000-dwt capacity. The propulsive powerplant is rated at 28,000-kW, while fuel burning performance coupled with bunker volume will give Cargo Cat a range of 1,500 nm.

For the future, fast freight ships will presumably have to be viewed in the context of purpose-designed, rapid-transfer cargo systems, and scope for creating a market niche lying somewhere between conventional shipping services and air freighting.

Australia: Moving To The Head Of The Class Australia's shipbuilding industry has successfully attained a leading international standing in aluminum fast ferry construction, backed up by a fertile design sector. Most of its output, and much of its technical consultancy work, is for the export market.

From its modern Henderson premises in Western Australia, Austal recently extended its tally of high-speed passenger catamarans delivered into Chinese ownership to 28, with the delivery of a pair of 40-m vessels for operation in the Chu Kong Shipping (CKS) network based in Hong Kong. The craft represent a change in the Austal line by virtue of a raised wheelhouse, three-deck arrangement, wherein forward views are provided from the upper passenger deck.

Australian shipbuilding has also this year broken new ground in the Mediterranean market, with Austal's completion of the first carcarrying, high-speed ferries for Turkish operator Istanbul Deniz Otobusleri. The 60-m sisterships entered the Marmara Sea service in September, offering the ability to convey 450 passengers plus 94 cars (or up to three buses with 56 cars) at 35 knots.

FBM Marine's success in attracting an order from Athens-based Goutos Lines for a high-specification, 45-knot-plus TriCat constitutes a commercial breakthrough for the U.K. producer in Greece and the Mediterranean region as a whole, and also signifies the increasing receptivity of a major ferry market to high-speed technology. While Attica Enterprises and Minoan Lines have opted for especially high service speeds with modern, conventional passenger RoRo ferry tonnage, there have been comparatively very few Greek commitments to fast-going, lightweight vessels. The deployment of the Royal Schelde-built, twin-hull Captain George on trans-Adriatic duty, though, has provided an important focus for the mode among a traditionally conservative, but highly influential Greek shipowning community.

 
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