Japan’s First LNG-Fueled RoPax Ferry is Launched by Mitsubishi 

Japan's first LNG-fueled ferry launched
Launch of the Sunflower Kurenai (Mitsubishi/Mitsui)

Published Mar 3, 2022 6:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

Japan marked a milestone with the launch of the first of two new LNG-fueled ferries. The vessels, which will be the first for Japan to use the alternative fuel, follow a growing trend in others parts of the world which is adopting LNG as the power source for ferries.

The 17,300 gross ton Sunflower Kurenai was launched at the Enoura Plant of Mitsubishi Shipbuilding Company’s Shimonoseki Shipyard & Machinery Works in Yamaguchi Prefecture. The ship along with a sister ship, Sunflower Murasaki, is being built for Mitsui O.S.K. Lines’ Oita-based Ferry Sunflower Limited to operate between Osaka and Beppu. The vessels are not only more environmentally sensitive than the older ships they will replace but while being larger are also more economical to operate. 

The Sunflower Kurenai is 656 feet long and 92 feet wide. The vessel can accommodate 716 passengers, an estimated 137 13-meter trucks, and roughly 100 passenger cars. The main engine is a high-performance dual-fuel engine, the first of its kind featured on a domestic ferry in Japan, and it can run on both liquefied natural gas and A-type heavy oil. 

Compared to earlier ferries, Sunflower Ivory and Sunflower Cobalt, the Sunflower Kurenai features significantly more loading capacity for trucks, a more spacious lounge for truck drivers, and greater space per passenger. The public areas will include a restaurant that is approximately one and half times the size of the older vessels and an atrium extending through three stories. The older ferries were built 25 years ago and measured 502 feet and 9,245 gross tons. They have a capacity of approximately 90 trucks. 

Ordered in November 2019, the handover of the first of the two new ferries is scheduled for December 2022, following completion of interior work and sea trials. The newbuilding ferry was named during a christening ceremony by the mayor of Beppu City. The Sunflower Kurenai will go into service from January 2023 and will be followed a few months later by her sister ship. 


Mitsui recently ordered two super eco ferries to be introduced in 2025 (MOL)


Mitsui also recently announced plans to build two larger super eco ferries that will also be powered by LNG. The recently ordered vessels are slated for delivery in 2025 will be 15,600 gross tons replacing two older oil-fueled vessels. The new design in addition to using a high-performance, high-efficiency one low-speed engine also features a streamlined shape with an aerodynamically rounded bow that can use diagonal headwinds to help propel the vessel. These ferries will be built by Naikai Zosen Corporation.

While they will be the first LNG-fueled ferries for Japan, European ferry companies are aggressively adopting LNG as the fuel of choice for ferries. Finland’s Viking Line for example took delivery in the last days of 2021 on a Chinese-built 65,000 gross ton LNG vessel, the Viking Glory, which sailed on its maiden voyage on Tuesday, March 1 between Finland and Sweden. Similarly, Estonian shipping company Tallink and France’s Brittany Ferries both plan to introduce their first large LNG-fueled passenger ferries in mid-2022. Spanish ferry operator Baleària is also completing the last of the six planned overhauls of its vessels converting them to operate on LNG, and also introduced a large Incat Crowther-designed RoPax catamaran operating on LNG.