Another Superferry? A hard look at Japan

/ Risto Kempas

Written by Risto Kempas (FHS)

I've been having quite a lot of discussions lately with people of different backgrounds and interests. My question has been, "what kind of a ship would you think had a good probability of profitability in the Baltic sea region?"

Well, you know where this is headed, so I'll cut to the chase. It appears we'd even get some airline passengers on a ship if there was a cruiseferry serving Travemünde and Helsinki.

I hope you'll allow me this train of thought. I'm by far no one of authority on ships. I spent many years examining how aviation works and I'm silly enough to think that a London-New York airship-service would bring in a healthy profit by grabbing some of the Concorde and Queen Mary 2 crowds.

I can't help but look at the Japanese Hamanasu and Akashia RoPax ferries and especially their drive section. Does it work there and would it work here? I read a lot of praise about the hybrid CRP pod, but that is industry press and has no relation to the real world. What did things look like when they were drydocked the first time? I've read quite a bit about cavitation and cavitation erosion lately. It is a very fascinating subject. On Hamanasu and her sister: With that electric pod being rather expensive kit, did erosion occur and to what extent? I'm envisioning worrisome thoughts of salt water breaching the enclosure.

I came across an idea of Mr Oskar Levander and his concept replaces the electric pod with a mechanical pod. This would obviously produce a more streamlined pod, but would it also help reduce the cavitation erosion issue? How would the reduced drag compare with the complex gears needed to deliver axial power to the pod?

Another worry that I have. I do subscribe to the KISS principle of keeping things simple. GTS Finnjet was a very redundant ship. Only Neptune himself could have halted her on her tracks. Both powertrains were completely isolated from each other. In practice and in theory a major fault in control, GT/DE, gear or propeller would still allow for continued operations on a single shaft with a handsome top speed of 21-24kn. With ships being unique as they are, her Achilles heel with the original gearboxes was sustained operation on a single shaft.

This was a cruiseferry that liberated an ice breaker from her icy prison with sheer brute force.

And here is my concearn, would the hybrid CRP pod be reliable enough for single ship ops on the given route? By changing to the mechanical pod you'd bring increased risk to rudder operations in a fault condition of the geared and angled shaft. And how about that ice? Can you have proper pack ice slam against the pod? The last winters have been rather warm, but you'll never know what lies ahead.

This brings up another question. Hamanasu and Akashia work in tandem. What kind of machine spares were ordered for them? Spare propellers certainly, but surely no complete pod with mount as spares?

Would we need a complete pod and mount as spares to have a changeover capacity at drydock in the event of acute damage or hefty accumulative cavitation erosion? A cost issue certainly. Another point is the sensitivity issue of the single pod being the sole provider of rudder motion. Imagine the media sensation if rudder capacity is lost on the high sea. Tug job or bravely crawling home with thrusters providing the sole source of directional stability? In any event, a very bad day.

What we learned with Finnjet was at the end that a change in the concept was the worst you could do. People ache for continuity in their chaotic lives. You have to provide a fixed timetable, fixed destinations and you can't overlook marketing, especially when you do make changes. Nothing is worse than arriving late. By saying that, the vessel would require excess engine capacity.

Travemünde confirmed that they could serve a 250m cruiseferry. You do have to marvel people and that is one selling point. Sheer arrogant length. You can't go top heavy in order to keep her fast and there is no reason to do so. The route has proven that it is good to have a handsome amount of lanemeters and you could expect an average of 1000 passengers for each run. Sure, you'd need more capacity for the summer. In the spirit of Enzo F. "always sell one car less than the market hungers for". My thinking is that you could build a rather low and delicate superstructure on that long body. Why not take some notes from Airbus and give her plenty of GLARE structures for the upper body? Expensive, but lightweight. It will save on fuel later on.

A while ago the talk of the trade was to be able to jet yourself from cabin to entertainment with as few steps as possible. The blaming finger was hoisted and pointed towards Finnjet and her long body. The thinking resulted in fat and tall ships with a short body, complete eyesores. So, do take back that blaming finger and explain to me please how cruisers much longer than Finnjet still win over heavyset American passengers? Surely there is a lot of walking required?

Somehow I could see this work for Finnlines to complement the current vessels during the high summer season. A superferry would also bring in headlines and more business fleetwide. 3 return voyages during the week and what to do with the spare day? Now this might sound rather ghastly, but how about bringing in some easy money by shuttling between Helsinki and Tallinn, let's say on a Saturday when Finns are thirsty for a vanload of cheap alcohol? The sheer selling point of a superferry making the run should bring in some business from the competition on that route. This could also be used for the slower winter season.

Regarding machinery, I've uploaded a couple of unrefined plans on our website. Operating a superferry doesn't mean you have to expend an excessive amount of money running her, but perhaps a little more in the build phase. The original Finnjet never got what she was built for and thus the easy upgradeability to more cost-efficient gas turbines was completely overlooked. Gas turbines are finally breaking thru on commercial vessels and in part thanks to the pioneering work done by Finnjet and her fine people who promoted her concept. My thinking here is that you can't overlook diesel engines either. The ideal concept would be to unite both forms of power production. Offer wide flexibility with both types being able to provide reasonable power on their own. And produce the base load on either type, which the other type then augments. I'm not a fan of diesel-electrics, we're not talking about a submarine here. I'd hope to see direct drives for gas and diesel and no generators and motors eating up production and weighing the vessel down. The hull form of the Hamanasu and Akashia also provide for ample engine placement options.

What good old Finnjet overlooked were the options that a hot gas plant can provide. It is an obvious source for steam generated electricity and heating. Certainly the equipment would weigh a certain amount and provide for more maintenance work, but you'd potentially be able to strike one boiler and reduce the number of AD plants.

With fuel cells being developed, would this turn into a dinosaur, guzzling on dinosaurs? With all the development behind the cells already, let's remember that this is a 19th century invention, I'd have expected a lot more and in a much smaller package by now.


With this writing I congratulate the good people of Cork and Swansea who shouted long enough and were heard. They are expecting the delivery of a 28-year old cruiseferry, which will rebuild their missing connection for a project cost of under 10million. We're obviously not missing a connection between Helsinki and Travemünde and I shall have to do a lot of lobbying to find over 200million for this...

Next Post