Scotland’s Ferries

Mediterranean's largest high speed catamaran to be powered by Wärtsilä  waterjets
A catamaran ferry, the modern way to travel by ferry

The ferry industry is crucial to Scotland’s survival as a nation and its economic development, not only to get people to and from our islands, but to Europe – formerley known as ‘the continent’ – and Ireland too. Our links are blocked by English political intervention. So, I make no apology for publishing a new report on how much we can benefit from making the right decisions, nationally and for the environment viz-a-viz reintroducing ferry travel. Extrapolating the report raises doubts about the two CalMac ferries, probably out-of-date before they are launched.

And as Scotland’s maritime specialist, Professor Alfred Baird argues, “There is an ongoing industry shift towards alternative fuels such as methanol and batteries, with hydrogen next and a move away from fossil fuels. (The latter is what CalMac’s two ‘new’ boats will burn, assuming they are commissioned). Plus, of course, a rapid move to shoreside electric plug-in for ferries and cruise ships.


A study commissioned by trade association Interferry has revealed startling statistics on the far-reaching extent of the global ferry industry’s value to the world economy.

Research into the latest pre-Covid full-year figures found that, in 2019, ferries carried 4.27 billion passengers – on a par with aviation – and 373 million vehicles across a worldwide fleet of 15,400 vessels. Among other findings, the industry provided 1.1 million jobs, contributed $60 billion to the world GDP and represented approximately 20% of shipping’s economic value to the European Union.

Interferry CEO Mike Corrigan comments: ‘We already knew that the ferry segment punches well above its weight – it comprises only 3-5% of the total shipping industry – but the scale of the findings surprised even seasoned insiders.

‘Now perhaps we’ll get the political consideration that all too often is more focused on airlines, rail operators and road transport. It’s long overdue for governments and the general public to appreciate the huge part that ferries play in passenger and freight transport – and this study confirms our sector’s vital importance in the process.’

The future in ferries

Corrigan announced the findings last week at Interferry’s 45th annual conference in Santander, Spain, hosted by Brittany Ferries. At the event – themed The Future is Ferries – more than 300 participants debated positive solutions and prospects in response to challenges such as Covid and climate change.

In a keynote address, research by London-based L.E.K Consulting into the post-pandemic outlook for Europe’s passenger ferry market was reviewed by Becrom Basu, a partner in the company’s transport and logistics practice. He noted that successful vaccination roll-outs had given governments the confidence to gradually ease stringent travel restrictions. This in turn was releasing pent-up demand that pointed to a significant uplift in European travel towards 2019 levels by next year.

Stressing that the ferry market looked best placed to capture this potential, he added: ‘Online searches for ferries have largely returned to pre-Covid levels, while searches for flights remain significantly lower. Ferries ranked highly as a safe form of travel. Sentiment towards them has improved while aviation has suffered.

‘The pandemic has created a much more positive view of ferries and a large proportion of previous non-users are likely to consider this option for their next trip. Ferries have emerged as a clear winner in the battle of the modes.’

Towards zero emissions – view from the top

CEOs from ferry companies in eight nations in Europe and the Americas took part in panel discussions that largely centred on plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade – with notable emphasis on the need for shoreside infrastructure to support operator initiatives. Among their comments:

Niclas Martensson, Stena Line, Sweden: ‘Zero is a must – it’s a survival tool – but there is no silver bullet. We are talking about different alternatives including hydrogen, methanol and batteries. We don’t yet see that the public is willing to pay for this but we can’t wait for their willingness. The industry must have the mindset to take the first step. We have to protect Mother Earth.’

Patty Rubstello, Washington State Ferries, USA: ‘Our customers want it and they don’t have to pay for it because the government will come up with the dollars. In future we will be fully hybrid. I’m struck by the industry’s single-minded attitude towards reducing emissions. We’re not trying to avoid it, we’re looking for solutions.’

Mark Collins, BC Ferries, Canada: ‘We see reducing emissions like safety – it’s expected. Electrification is the way to go for Canadian operators as we are blessed with a lot of clean hydro power. Meanwhile we see LNG as a sensible interim since British Columbia has the world’s cheapest supply – but all our LNG vessels are designed to be electric in the future.’

Georges Bassoul, Balearia, Spain: ‘Six years ago we decided to go for gas and today eight of our vessels are operating on this, with more to come. We are very proud that emissions are down 40%. We’ve had to work with port authorities on bunkering and train our people. But we know gas is probably transitional so we are also studying other technologies.’

Going green

Mauricio Orozco, Ultramar, Mexico: ‘Regarding let’s go green and reduce emissions…it strikes me that we might be causing emissions someplace else to get that fuel to your boats. I would love zero emissions vessels but we have only one port with charging facilities.’

Spiros Paschalis, Attica Group, Greece: ‘Operators can’t do it alone. We need a joint effort with port authorities and equipment manufacturers.’

David Sopta, Jadrolinija, Croatia: ‘Ports must be equipped with the infrastructure to supply green fuel. If financing all falls on ferry companies it’s not fair because it’s not just our problem.’

John Napton, Condor Ferries, UK: ‘We depend on ports and they have to be involved. The key message from this conference is that to reduce emissions our port partners need to come on board.’

Morgan Mooney, FRS/San Juan Clipper, USA: ‘The fact that the global ferry industry is able to meet again after the pandemic and share our vision reinforces what Interferry constantly reminds us about…that we are stronger together.’


The ultimate drive towards electrification: CEO Mike Corrigan has now signalled Interferry’s intention to get governments, ports and energy companies onside in order to provide adequate power infrastructure so that ferries can plug in.

He asserts: ‘Going forward, we will use the findings from our study on the ferry industry’s size and economic impact to push decision makers towards funding port-side power development. A unified approach is critical in supporting operators’ own commitment to achieving the emissions reduction targets set by the IMO, European Union and other regulators on the path to zero.’


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13 Responses to Scotland’s Ferries

  1. alextoneseznamcz says:

    Another type of catamaran here, on the route from Melbourne to Hobart in Australia. Average speed 43kts. (Almost 80 kmh.)

  2. Kyle More says:

    I believe the two newbuildings at Port Glasgow were originally meant to be dual fuel – LNG/Marine Gasoil, however it quickly became apparent that the provision of LNG bunkering facilities at the vessels’ home ports of Ardrossan and Uig were unlikely to be available in time, if at all, so as you say they will burn conventional fuel. In addition the LNG was to be road tankered up from Essex with an enormous carbon footprint making a nonsense of their green credentials!

  3. Grouse Beater says:

    “Don’t think catamarans are too clever in rough water; the one from Troon to Larne was always getting cancelled as soon as the sea state was above 4…. Only a monohull would survive the Minch in January.” Slimshady via Twitter.

  4. Gordon Gallacher says:

    A Catamaran is also used by Pentland Ferries, between Gills Bay and Orkney’s St Margaret’s Hope on South Ronaldsay. It’s an excellent service.

  5. alfbaird says:

    There are several difference between high-speed vessels (speed above 30 knots usually) and slower medium-speed vessels (speeds typically below 23kn), irrespective of whether they are monohull or multihull.
    Comfort on high-speed vessels in very rough seas is an issue. High-speed craft also require more power and will typically have a lower payload than medium-speed craft. This applies to both monohulls and multihulls. In the high-speed sector multihulls (i.e. catamarans and trimarans) tend to be preferred because they offer greater payload by virtue of wider beam, and better seakeeping than monohulls. Most high-speed craft are made of aluminium or composite materials.
    Medium-speed vessels mostly have a steel hull. The number of hulls a boat has seems immaterial in the medium-speed sector as far as sea comfort is concerned. As Pentland Ferries and many other operators globally have proved, a medium-speed steel-hull catamaran can readily operate all year round on rough sea routes, and perhaps provide an even more reliable service than high windage, deeper-draft monohulls. Research tells us the catamaran also exhibits a number of significant advantages over a monohull of similar payload/speed, including:
    – better manoeuvrability in port (4 props, wide hull spacing, shallow draft, low windage)
    – lower operating cost and lower emissions (catamaran requires about 50% power of monohull)
    – greater payload per ship length (catamaran has 50% wider beam than monohull)
    – lower capital cost (Pentland Ferries 100-car catamaran cost under £15m whereas a 100-car CalMac monohull costs £50m++ – hence at least 3 times the difference!)
    – catamaran typically takes under 2 years to build, monohull can take 4 years, or much more in the case of CMAL

    So all in all, if I were (ever again) advising Scottish Ministers what to do, I would urge them to buy medium-speed steel-hull catamarans to replace the entire CalMac fleet – all based on proven designs which need no further interference from less competent vested interests such as civil servants or unions. And that is precisely what I did advise, however Scottish Ministers continued to take the advice of their officials and unions and decided to opt instead for more very expensive monohull ferries based on poorly developed in-house specifications, leading to what the recent Holyrood Committee investigation rightly described as ‘a catastrophic failure’ in ferries policy – and which our many long-suffering island communities know only too well.

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Highly informative, Professor. Much obliged.

  7. Catamarans generally have a smaller weather window – ie they have to stop operating in rough weather before monohulls do – due to waves slapping the underside. This is not just a comfort issue, but increases metal fatigue and affects the structural integrity.
    I also disagree that catamarans are quicker to build. Aluminium hulls may be, but an aluminium hull will get trashed in the north Atlantic & North Sea.
    Also, manoeuvrability in port is not an issue for monohulls fitted with bow thrusters.
    I may be biased, having managed both types of vessel and had very bad experience with catamarans.
    Lastly, avoid the high-speed ones at all costs – these you have to operate like aeroplanes with a much larger fleet and a significant proportion undergoing maintenance at any one time.

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    “Dear Professor Baird
    Would be good to know more as why that’s true now. The Stranraer (Troon) catamaran was totally unreliable, with the old ferry used as the backup until force 12. The seas up north have a short chop compared to the Atlantic, could be that? Earlier cancellation for both?”
    Fiona Grierson via Twitter

  9. alfbaird says:

    Sheikh MaBunnet

    I believe you may be confusing high-speed ferries with medium-speed ferries. Please, could you let me know the specific catamaran you say you managed and if it was a steel-hull medium-speed ferry, i.e. low service speed say under 23kn, or a high-speed (30kn+) alumium (i.e. ‘light’) craft.

    Fiona Grierson

    As I said in my initial comment above, there are fundamental differences between ‘high-speed’ craft and ‘medium-speed’ ferries, irrespective of hull form. Any high-speed (‘high velocity’) craft tends to be more uncomfortable in bad weather irrespective of whether it is a monohull or multihull. A point worth noting, however, is that the much larger 120m length, 40m beam high-speed ‘HSS’ catamarans operated by Stena on Stranraer-Belfast maintained a very reliable year round service for some 15-20 years prior to being withdrawn due to the increase in fuel price, i.e. economic reasons rather than operational.

    A further point worth noting is that higher sided monohulls tend to roll more violently in rough seas than catamarans due to their narrow beam and higher windage, with bow slamming another negative aspect due to the deeper draft of the monohull. In the case of Pentland Firth, on occasions of winter storms invariably we see the Pentland Ferries medium-speed catamaran operating whilst NorthLink’s monohull remains in port. Part of the reason for this is not the uncomfortable sea passage (for any hull form), it is rather the case that the higher sided monohull is more difficult to berth in small shallow harbour confines during high winds. This is also believed to be the main reason CalMac’s cancellation rate is so high in winter, i.e. their high-sided deeper-draft monohulls are more difficult to manouvre in confined port areas during high winds. Hence wave/sea conditions on passage are not the only factor determining ferry reliability, the design and capability of the vessel is also an important feature.

  10. Robert McAllan says:

    Indeed Gareth, commentary by alfbaird both ‘highly informative’ and insightful coming from a professional within the Maritime Industry. When Scotland achieves Independence it is imperative ministerial posts are held by persons with expertise in the portfolio accorded to them, not as in the current situation whereby the First Minister gives you a ‘like’ for obsequiousness.

  11. Grouse Beater says:

    Life is one long adventure of learning. To meet someone who has a lot to teach and not stop to listen is an opportunity wasted.

  12. alfbaird says:

    Sheikh MaBunnet “I also disagree that catamarans are quicker to build.”

    I can only point you to the following concrete evidence which suggests otherwise:

    Pentland Ferries 75-car steel-hull catamaran ‘Pentalina’ was ordered in 2007 and completed in 2009, cost £7m. i.e. 2 years to build.
    CMAL/CalMac’s similar car capacity ‘Finnlaggan’ was ordered in 2007 and did not enter service until 2011, cost was £24.5m. i.e. 4 years to build.

    Pentland Ferries 100-car steel-hull catamaran ‘Alfred’ was ordered in 2017 and completed in 2019, cost £14.5m. i.e. 2 years to build.
    CMAL/CalMac’s similar capacity ‘hulls 801/02’ were ordered in 2015 and 6 years later have yet to be delivered, the initial cost of £97m for the pair now expected to be approx £300m (cost of ships, yard, port mods, and ‘consultant’ fees etc) i.e. 6 years and counting….

    Pentland Ferries medium-speed steel-hull catamaran MV Alfred also won ‘Ship of the Year’ 2020:

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