Fuelling change

Shipbuilding has been intrinsically linked with the River Clyde for centuries, and since 1903 Ferguson Marine has been an integral part of this industry. At the turn of the 20th century it was brothers Peter, Daniel, Louis and Robert Ferguson who choose to leave their own family shipyard and move to the Newark yard in Port Glasgow, a historic location in itself which can trace its shipbuilding roots back to the launch of the ‘Jessie’ in 1790, to form what was first known as Ferguson Shipbuilders.

Since 1903, Ferguson Marine has been responsible for the building and launching of no less than 362 vessels, however it is in the last four years that the company has undergone what could be argued to be its most significant transformation under the stewardship of present owners Clyde Blowers Capital.

“Clyde Blowers acquired the business with a plan and vision of investing the capital required to turn it around,” explains Ferguson Marine’s Chief Naval Architect, Chris Dunn. “Taking a business with only seven remaining employees, it would go on to invest over £25 million, transforming the shipyard and turning what was an aging facility into a state-of-the-art marine engineering complex. As a result of that investment, faith and support, the workforce has subsequently grown to some 380 men and women, who represent the key ingredient to our success, carrying with them skills and talents often passed down through the generations, a can-do attitude and a real desire to succeed.”

Over the past few years, Ferguson Marine has come to be recognised for having pushed the boundaries of innovation, particularly when it comes to the development of green propulsion technologies. Ferguson Marine was the company responsible for delivering the world’s first diesel-electric hybrid vessels in 2012, the third of which, the MV Catriona was successfully launched in 2015. That same year, the company was awarded a multi-million-pound contract to build two LNG fuelled passenger ferries, the first to be designed and constructed in the UK. The first of these, the MV Glen Sannox successfully launched in November 2017.

“At the same time that we have been working to further the development of green propulsion technologies, we have also been successful in expanding our portfolio of capabilities within the company and expanding our offering,” Chris continues. “This means that we remain able to look at all sorts of opportunities to build different vessels, whether they be passenger ferries, oil and gas support vessels, crew transfer vessels for the offshore wind industry, tugs or fishing boats, all of which continue to be buoyant sectors for us.

“We are regularly contacted by clients in the offshore wind sector regarding the next generation of hybrid crew transfer vessels and we have international customers turning to us for innovative concepts such as hybrid patrol vessels. We have also made positive inroads into the Royal Navy’s Type 31e frigate project, where we are part of two of the three consortiums tasked with undertaking work, and this represents a fantastic opportunity for the company to secure further investment and support for our long-term business plans.”

Understanding the need to differentiate itself from both UK and international competitors, the company has made a concerted effort to embrace the concept of innovation throughout its operations, and as Chris states this has come at quite an opportune time. “There are currently a lot of forces positively aligning behind us, including the environmental lobby and internal industry pressure to modernise the global fleet ahead of the big fuel emission targets coming into effect in 2020. In light of this there is more and more noise amongst vessel owners about how things can be done cleaner, better and more efficiently, and the moves that we have made recently are putting us at the heart of these discussions.”

The next stage of development to be identified involves the use of hydrogen as a fuel source. In July 2018, the company set about working with its project partners to install a small hydrogen injection system on board an existing vessel, a task that it hopes to have completed within the next year. In addition, Ferguson Marine is leading HySEAS III, a major European funded project that aims to deliver the world’s first zero emission seagoing passenger ferry powered entirely by hydrogen developed from renewable sources.

“While the use of hydrogen may not be the final solution, as it were, it does stand out as being an absolutely critical stepping stone as we move to cutting the cord with fossil fuels,” Chris enthuses. “There will of course be a number of challenges that we face along the way, but we have the ambition and belief necessary to take this on in order to show off why hydrogen is such an important development within our industry. That is something that makes me very proud to be a part of.

“We have a clear desire to be leading the revolution when it comes to moving away from fossil fuels and in helping to introduce viable, provable alternatives that will be of benefit for ourselves, our workforce, the country and indeed the planet in the long term. Meanwhile, from a commercial perspective, our activities will help to create a strong niche market for us to bring in new customers and set us apart from our competitors, while at the same time we can continue to push the boundaries of our industry in order to influence change for the better.”

Ferguson Marine
A history dating back to 1903
Launched the world’s first diesel-electric hybrid seagoing ferries
Working towards the world’s first hydrogen fuelled seagoing ferry