Having taken part in the world’s first fully remote ‘in-water’ drone hull survey, Brittany Ferries is looking to the future with two new hybrid-powered ships – and a revolutionary all-electric, sea-skimming, high-speed ‘flying ferry’.
Classification society Bureau Veritas recently partnered up with marine drone specialist MaDfly to successfully complete the world’s first fully remote, in-water hull survey, using a mini ROV (remotely operated vehicle).
The survey – conducted on behalf of the French International Register (RIF) – validated the integrity of the entire underwater hull section of Brittany Ferries’ veteran 152m (500ft) ship Bretagne, which regularly carries more than 2,000 passengers, and almost 600 vehicles, between Portsmouth, UK and the French port of St Malo.
As the remotely-operated drone moved slowly along the hull – providing a real-time, high-definition live video stream along with audio, photographic and video recordings – a remote Bureau Veritas surveyor was able to conduct all of the necessary, and comprehensive, surveying tests and requirements.
According to Bureau Veritas, the benefits of the new system include safer operations, as no divers are needed in the water; a reduction in preparation time due to having a single operator and minimal equipment; high quality images from the drones; and reduced risk of disturbance to ship operations.
“New technologies are being improved daily to achieve more and more marine maintenance services in a safer and much more cost-effective way,” said Thierry Guillot, MaDfly’s CEO. “We’re delighted to be the first company in the world to achieve a vessel survey with an ROV for Bureau Veritas – and especially for Brittany Ferries, who have supported us from the very first day.”
Laurent Leblanc, vice president of technical operations at Bureau Veritas Marine & Offshore, added: “Underwater remote surveys improve safety and reduce risk, time and costs to produce high-quality results. Maintaining the integrity and safety of a ship is a crucial task, and today technology is bringing digital classification to another level, providing new opportunities and options to our clients and the entire industry.”
Brittany Ferries has also just ordered two new hybrid LNG-electric ships which are due to come into service in 2024 and 2025 between Portsmouth, St Malo, and Caen. They will operate solely on battery power as they arrive at, and depart from, the ports.
“We are certain to face tighter regulations in the years to come, and our customers, quite rightly, demand cleaner, greener vessels, while our port partners expect us to be good neighbours,” explained Brittany Ferries CEO, Christophe Mathieu.
High-speed flying ferries on the horizon
However, the boldest leap being taken by Brittany Ferries is its firm intention to use a new, high-speed all-electric form of ferry travel – the Seaglider.
Currently under development in the US through Boston-based start-up REGENT (Regional Electric Ground Effect Nautical Transport), the Seaglider uses a phenomenon familiar to pilots of fixed-wing aircraft – the ground effect. This helps the performance of flying vehicles when an area of high-pressure air becomes trapped between the wings and sea as they fly at a low altitude.
Said to combine the comfort of hydrofoils, the aerodynamic efficiency of hovercraft, and the speed of aircraft, the battery-powered Seagliders could, according to Brittany Ferries, be ferrying up to around 150 passengers between the UK and France by 2028, at speeds of more than 180 mph – six times faster than today’s conventional ferries.
Dennis O’Neill is a freelance journalist specialising in maritime.