The best route

Trading as one of the largest logistics companies in Scotland, David MacBrayne is an award winning ferry company, harbour operator and ship management specialist that manages a sizable fleet on some of the world’s most challenging waters. “The ferry operations part of the group, CalMac Ferries Ltd, is the largest operator in the UK, working across a 200 mile stretch of the west coast of Scotland, incorporating 24 islands and many remote mainland destinations,” elaborates CEO, Martin Dorchester. “We have, in one guise or another, been providing vital lifeline services to the areas we serve for more than 160 years and play an integral part in the sustainability of communities and business life. Last year we carried 4.9 million passengers, 1.1 million cars, 92,000 commercial vehicles and 11,000 coaches on 130,000 sailings and we are also presently one of the largest headquartered firms in Scotland with around 1500 employees.”

CalMac previously appeared in Shipping & Marine magazine during August 2015 and has since won a significant contract to operate Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, representing an impressive achievement for the company. The tender to manage the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service contract was publicised by the Scottish Government during 2013 and was an important undertaking for CalMac, as Martin observes: “This was essentially a must win for the company as without it we would cease to exist in our current form. Everyone in the business has been focused on it and I’m delighted that our successful bid demonstrated our ability to provide innovative service improvements and value for money for customers. We will be introducing around 350 service improvements over the course of the contract, details of which we will be releasing when the formal procurement process is concluded. However, among the things that people can look forward to seeing are more opportunities for local employment; a refreshed on-board retail offering; investment in on-board facilities; closer, more responsive working with communities; and an innovative approach to vessel maintenance to minimise disruption to services, especially during the winter refit period.”

With 31 vessels sailing across its fleet, its ferries range in size from the 70 tonne MV Elgg to its state-of-the-art 8000 tonne MV Loch Seaforth, which started on the route connecting Ullapool and Stornoway route during 2015. CalMac was also the first ferry company in the world to pilot the use of hybrid electric ferries with its MV Lochinvar and theMV Hallaig, both of which are now in fulltime service. A further hybrid electric vessel, the MV Catriona is currently undergoing sea trials and is set to join the fleet in the months to come. Balancing the maintenance of a large fleet with the needs of the company’s customers can be a challenging prospect, especially when combined with the introduction of new vessels and technologies. However, CalMac has the in-house knowhow and experience to allow it to manage these complex requirements while further enhancing the fleet through the installation of a new ecofuel management system.

“The fleet maintenance programme always presents us with challenges. Each vessel needs a period of annual dry dock and with more than 50 journey combinations possible, we have a complex modelling exercise to go through every winter to satisfy the needs of each community, while keeping lifelineservices running. Furthermore, all of thisneeds to be done across some of the mostinhospitable seas in Europe. However, we have recently completed installing a state-ofthe- art fuel monitoring system and are the first UK ferry operator to use this technology so extensively. Project Eco ship will both reduce carbon emissions and save significant fuel costs in all ten of the major vessels in our fleet. Smart technology links sensors on the vessels’ engines to a touch screen display in both the bridge and engine room. The ship’s master and chief engineer are able not only to monitor fuel consumption in line with speed and power, but also in real time, to identify any engine variations as they occur and make adjustments as appropriate,” Martin explains.

“This information is also fed back via cloud technology to systems in head office, where analysis over time will allow us to correlate complex links with weather, tidal and loading conditions, speed across the water, vessel adjustments and sea state to build a fuller picture and optimise vessel performance,” he continues. “It is estimated that it will cut carbon emissions by at least two per cent and initially save around £450,000 in fuel costs every year, but the initial data we’re getting back says this may be a conservative estimate. Continuing with our commitment to be as green an operator as we possibly can, the next two large ferries we will take delivery of will be dual fuel capable. The engines in these vessels will be able to run on either liquefied natural gas (LNG) or conventional diesel fuels, further cutting emissions.”

In recognition of the impressive level of service that the company is able to provide despite operating in some of the world’s most challenging waters, CalMac was recently named as the Guardian newspaper’s ‘Ferry Operator of the Year.’ Additionally, The Independent newspaper’s travel awards for 2015 voted the company as the ‘best ferry operator’ in the world, while CalMac was also named best ferry operator at the National Transport Awards and the British Safety Council gave an international safety award to the MV Finlaggan during the same year. “It’s great for everyone in the businesses to get national recognition for the services we provide,” Martin says. “Being a customer facing, lifeline service has its challenges, not least when sailings are cancelled through weather or other circumstances out our control, so it’s nice to be reminded now and again that actually, we’re all doing a great job.”

Further to the success of the award of the Clyde and Hebrides ferry service tender and its recognition through several industry awards,  CalMac has also won a significant contract in association with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to provide military port services. This in conjunction with the company’s other activities will ensure that the business remains as a leading player within the ferry market for years to come. “David MacBrayne through a joint venture – Solent Gateway Ltd – has also been chosen by the Ministry of Defence to run Marchwood Military Port near Southampton. It is a 35-year concession with significant commercial opportunities. We are currently going through a transition period before taking over port operations and I look forward to developing this side of the business as well,” Martin concludes. “We are also committed to providing more opportunities for local employment, including more apprenticeships. We currently take on 20 apprentices a year and this is set to increase. Other initiatives we will introduce include a £6 million investment in vessel and port improvements and the introduction of smart and integrated ticketing systems on key routes. Over the next three to five years specifically, I want to take the company to the next level, building a business that is a recognised pan-European port and ferry operator.”

Caledonian MacBrayne

  • UK’s largest ferry operator
  • Modern fleet of 31 vessels
  • Significant new contract awards