Bon Voyage!

Passenger vessels navigate sustainability with style

Courtesy Auramarine

Published Apr 14, 2024 9:55 PM by Chad Fuhrmann

(Article originally published in Jan/Feb 2024 edition.)


Fuel efficiency and emissions reduction have taken center stage in the dynamic realm of maritime technology. The passenger vessel sector, in particular, has emerged as a premier platform for showcasing enduring solutions from industry revolutionaries.

If we’ve learned anything from the sustainability movement, it’s that the maritime industry has long demonstrated a collective commitment to evolving ahead of international and regional governance. In fact, against a backdrop of regulatory efforts that are significant if not historical, the industry’s response has been nothing short of astonishing and often well ahead of prescriptive requirements.

The variety of maritime segments all mirror the wider industry’s dedication to sustainability with specialized solutions for the unique challenges with which the industry is confronted. Among this array of stakeholders, equipment manufacturers and service providers are as equally devoted to progress as operators and charterers with the common objective of providing innovative solutions aimed at reducing emissions and increasing overall productivity.

These stakeholders are creating distinctive service and product offerings that focus on alternative fuels, carbon reduction and improved operational efficiency.

Service Providers

The marine industry continuously improves the efficiency of vessels through advances in hull design, propulsion systems and operational practices to reduce fuel consumption. Exhaust scrubbers and low-sulfur fuels are great steps towards emissions reduction. More recently, biofuels have become more readily available with new alternatives that include methanol and ammonia.

In the field of fuels, Finnish company Auramarine has 50 years of expertise. The company introduced its first biofuel solutions a decade ago and actively participates in promoting biofuels and renewable alternatives across the industry. Playing a key role in revolutionary collaborations in the marine sector, the company champions the safe and reliable use of methanol, for example, having developed one of the first methanol fuel supply systems on the market.

CR Ocean Engineering (CROE) is an industry stalwart at the forefront of efforts to meet MARPOL sulfur regulations. With over a century of industry experience, CROE provides scrubbers to ships across the maritime environment that exceed most current emissions regulations. Well known for efficiency, reliability, and ease of operation and maintenance, the company’s systems are capable of reducing emissions to levels well below what is currently mandated.

These service providers offer extensive portfolios built over multiple decades of pollution control, long before both the current focus on these technologies and the laws dictating their use came into vogue. They continuously adapt to changes in environmental regulations with a focus on emissions reduction and consistently excel in meeting these challenges. Interestingly, each of these companies represents a different approach toward the same objective and, in the process, highlights a fascinating juxtaposition of short- and long-term solutions.

A Unique Market

The passenger vessel sector, distinct from other maritime segments, presents its own special challenges. Passenger vessels, ferries and cruise ships ply some of the most pristine waterways in the world, areas that are deemed more environmentally sensitive than the heavily trafficked trade lanes frequented by their cargo-laden counterparts.

More importantly, perhaps, the sector carries as its particular payload the judges, juries and executioners of public opinion in the form of passengers.

Colossal global organizations like Amazon are committing to zero-emission shipping in the cargo sector and, while the passenger vessel market is clearly different, its objectives in the environmental space are very similar but with an added twist. With its unique public profile and associated level of scrutiny, the sector must maintain a greater sensitivity to societal influences and media exposure.

Juhani Anttila, Sales Manager for Auramarine, points out that while the need for emissions reduction in the cargo sector may be obvious, opportunities for emissions reduction must be explored in other areas as well. “Passenger vessels and cruise ships tend to operate in urban areas with strict environmental regulations,” he explains, “and popular destinations are often in environmentally vulnerable areas,” concluding that, in addition to increasingly strict regulations, “low emissions also offer some competitive advantage in the minds of passengers.”

Many stakeholders in the passenger vessel market believe that the sector has been too slow in its transformation into a more environmentally conscious industry. However, the effort is ongoing with vessel owners, service providers and suppliers all collaborating and complementing each other in delivering the results that the client base is ever desperately seeking, which is – ultimately – a sustainable future for maritime tourism and transport.

To this end, CROE and industry peers collaborate and listen to their client base and end users in finding solutions within their individual areas of expertise, helping the entire industry meet environmental targets and mandates. CROE works closely with partners and supplier networks to better understand how they can collectively contribute to customer targets and ambitions.

“We rely on many suppliers to provide the individual components that we require, and we continue to encourage them to improve their component reliability, efficiency and costs,” states CROE’s President & COO, Dominique Philibert. “We are thankful to them for their steady stream of improvements and for helping us achieve our own success, which of course improves the outcome for our customers.”

Additionally, CROE prides itself on its flexibility, adjusting services and deliverables to meet ever-evolving environmental regulations. The company consistently refines its systems to meet different regulations, viewing carbon capture and sequestration as the next step.

“We will be ready for it when it reaches the industry,” Philibert says. As applicable regulations and requirements change, CROE adjusts systems or develops new ones to address them. “That has kept us in business for many years and we continue on that path.”

Auramarine likewise emphasizes the importance of continuous improvement, remaining actively involved in the integration of emerging fuel system technologies in the passenger vessel sector. According to Anttila, “Our focus is on fuels. We recognize that as one of the main areas that has an impact when increasing efficiency and reducing emissions.” The company engages in open dialogue with shipbuilders and owners and participates in regulatory committees and educational initiatives to raise awareness of sustainable practices.

Different Methods, Same Goal

Following a hybrid power conversion of one of the company’s passenger vessels in 2023, Hedda Felin, CEO of Hurtigruten Norway, stated that the company is officially moving beyond fossil fuel-powered ships. She affirmed that the company is hereafter dedicated to designing, building and operating ships with a focus on reduced emissions and improved efficiency.

However, she also acknowledged that “It’s important to start with ships in operation today.”

This simple statement succinctly sums up the conundrum faced across the maritime spectrum. Vessel owners in particular are asking how much effort they should put into the decarbonization process. Indecision too often becomes the key to flexibility or, as CROE’s Philibert says, “That concern of not doing enough reduction or of being criticized later has caused many shipowners to not do anything at all.”

The primary question for stakeholders relates to whether existing vessels should carry on as designed with traditional engines and address emissions via “downstream” solutions like scrubbers or if the investment should be made now in alternative fuels and hybrid systems.

From CROE’s perspective, any technological advances that can reduce emissions is laudable but must be balanced with economics and feasibility. “We believe that the use of heavy fuels with exhaust scrubbers is the best first step to reducing emissions,” says Philibert. “Until alternative fuels take over the market, we strive to make fossil fuels as environmentally safe, acceptable and sustainable as any other fuel.”

Having a similar objective, Auramarine takes the opposite approach, focusing on alternative fuels and transitioning existing systems to efficiently operate on these substitutes or change between them as needed. With a range of systems designed for a variety of alternatives, the company provides reliable fuel systems and improved infrastructures for conversions.

In the passenger vessel market, this means systems for biofuel, pilot fuel and fuel changeover. Auramarine tailors installations and reduces coordination with multiple suppliers. In short, according to Anttila, “Our clients appreciate our flexibility in responding to their needs.”

Both companies anticipate an expanding need for emissions reduction and new fuel solutions in the maritime sector, and both are unfailing in their efforts to stay at the forefront of related developments. Across the industry, transitioning to cleaner alternatives remains a challenge but partnering with forward-thinking service providers supports the passenger vessel sector in finding solutions that are feasible regardless of each company’s specific strategy.

Standout Performers

Passenger and cruise vessels stand out among an industry full of high achievers in this space. Not only does the sector reflect the industry’s adaptability and commitment to sustainability, but the vessels themselves are conspicuous platforms for innovation in a tightening regulatory environment.

This market in particular, subject to its own unique challenges, has played a crucial role in pushing the boundaries of environmentally friendly practices, contributing to a cleaner and more sustainable maritime future. 

Chad Fuhrmann is the owner of REvolution Consulting X Engineering.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.