Brittany Ferries Suspends LNG Fuel Plans

An illustration of Brittany Ferries' newbuild at STX France
An illustration of Brittany Ferries’ newbuild at STX France

French ferry operator Brittany Ferries says it has been forced to suspend its plans to upgrade much of its fleet to operate on Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) because a temporary exemption from new emission control area regulations beginning in 2015 has not been granted.

At the beginning of 2014, the company committed itself to an ecological transition plan in response to the revised MARPOL Annex VI relating to sulphur emissions which will come into effect on January 1, 2015. The plan included the installation of gas scrubbers on three ships, the conversion of three newer ships to run on LNG, and also the construction of a new $370 million LNG cruise-ferry at STX France to replace its current flagship.

Brittany Ferries says that the preconditions enabling the plan to be financially viable have not been met and, as a result, it will be unable to bear the costs of the “double penalty” that would be incurred under the current LNG plan.

A statement from Brittany Ferries on Monday said that the change of plans comes despite its efforts over recent years to convince governments of the desperate need for a temporary exemption and despite its ambitious plans to go above and beyond what is required under the new rules in terms of sulphur, CO2, nitrous oxide and particulate emissions.

Jean Marc Roué, Brittany Ferries’ chairman commented: “It is impossible for us to commit to an ecological transition plan which requires such a high level of investment, when, due to the absence of a temporary exemption, we will also incur hefty additional annual costs amounting to tens of millions of euros, due to us being obliged to use diesel instead of heavy fuel oil until our ships have been converted.

“We have worked tirelessly for a temporary exemption but these efforts have sadly been in vain. Without it, the economic viability of our LNG program is in jeopardy. It is my duty to protect the company and its staff at a time when the European ferry industry is confronting numerous challenges.

“All of our partners who have worked with us on this project have demonstrated the technical feasibility and the environmental benefits of this pioneering, futuristic technology. However I have taken the decision to suspend the LNG component of our ecological transition plan. It’s a decision I take with much regret and disappointment.”

Brittany Ferries says that despite these difficulties, the company is still undertaking a wide-ranging, albeit less ambitious transition plan, which includes the installation of scrubbers on the three ships which it had planned to convert to operate on LNG, representing an investment of 70-80 million euros ($76 to $88 million).

Brittany Ferries announced in January that it had ordered a large, LNG-powered ferry to be built by STX France in St. Nazaire for 270 million euros ($370 million) to replace its current flagship, Pont-Aven, on the Portsmouth-St Malo (Spain) route upon delivery in 2017. The ship was expected to be most environmentally-friendly ferry operating in UK waters and the first to use LNG. At 210 meters, the vessel would have also been the largest ship in the Brittany fleet and one of the biggest gas-powered vessels in the world.  With today’s announcement however, significant doubt now hangs over the future of this project.

Brittany Ferries operates from eleven ports, linking four countries: UK – France, UK – Spain and Ireland – France.