Best remote area pilot boat: Svitzer Marlin

by Baird Maritime - published on 16 February 2024 627 -

Best Remote Area Pilot Boat – Svitzer Marlin (Photo: Dongara Marine)
article courtesy BAIRD Maritime, Australia

The rough, hot and rugged Pilbara region of Western Australia is host to some of the biggest and most important ports in the world for the shipment of vast quantities of iron ore, LNG and other bulk minerals.

Those ports are very big and very busy. They also have tricky entry and egress. Thus, top quality pilotage is required for berthing very large bulk ships and gas tankers. That obviously necessitates equally top quality pilot boats.

The related companies of Southerly Designs and Dongara Marine are also Western Australia based. They grew out of the lucrative local lobster fishing industry but, more recently, have become globally renowned for their safe, fast, efficient, economical and very elegant pilot, patrol, crew and SAR boats. The 17-metre aluminium Svitzer Marlin illustrates those talents and capabilities perfectly.
“It is the first vessel we have designed using the Volvo Penta IPS propulsion system, as well as one of the first significant purpose-built pilot boats in Australia to use this system,” Andrew Taylor, Managing Director of Southerly Designs, told Baird Maritime. “The IPS drives have several advantages but probably the most notable is the performance increase with greater speed, lower power, and therefore reduced fuel consumption, reducing both operating cost and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Taylor added that while the pilot boat was a fairly simple vessel from an equipment and outfitting point of view, many of the challenges and lessons were related to the minor details that are necessary to incorporate a new propulsion configuration.
“It’s the first example of our new 17.2-metre pilot boat series, which are smaller variants of our 19.2-metre vessels,” added Rohan Warr, Dongara Marine’s Managing Director. “It is differentiated from our previous pilot boats by using the Volvo Penta IPS. With a total power of just over 900 kW, the boat achieved an average fully loaded maximum speed of just under 36 knots. That is outstanding performance that we are confident will compare well to any similar vessel.”

Warr remarked that the combination of the Southerly Designs hullform and IPS drives also translates into excellent fuel efficiency. At 80 per cent power, the vessel cruised at 28 knots and used less than 6.5 litres of fuel per nautical mile.

“Beyond the obvious cost savings, this excellent fuel economy also results in lower emissions,” said Warr.

For Dongara Marine, even though Svitzer Marlin was a first of class vessel, the build proved quite straightforward, and Warr said the company was able to work well with both Svitzer and Woodside as the end user.

“Of course, as with any custom shipbuilding project there are always things to work out along the way, but we have a skilled and experienced team so that doesn’t pose any abnormal challenges. The fact that we have built pilot boats before, and are always building custom vessels, is a huge benefit in that regard.”

He added that in terms of lessons learned, the key factor was really establishing the performance of the finished vessel. With a new design, and a new propulsion configuration, there is always a degree of uncertainty. Hence, getting the shipbuilding and boat performance data is useful for future vessels.
When asked about trends that are impacting the Australian workboat industry, Taylor replied that there is growing interest in and demand for energy efficient or low greenhouse gas emissions technology across all sectors.

“Implementing these technologies as they become viable, or compulsory, for various operations will become a strong focus of future commercial vessel design. We have a continuing focus on following these emerging technologies and incorporating them into our designs, all while providing realistic advice and guidance to our clients who are considering options in these systems.”

Taylor added that, along with the need to ensure crew/passenger comfort and safety, environmental and emissions standards are having a significant impact on the considerations within most sectors with which Southerly Designs is involved.

“Active ride control, gyrostabilisers, and walk-to-work systems are all becoming prevalent in the new designs we are developing,” he told Baird Maritime.

“In terms of new vessels,” Warr added, “the obvious trend impacting the small commercial craft industry is reducing environmental footprint. It’s taking a while for alternatives to diesel-fuelled engines to come through into vessels of the size we build, but we expect use of hybrid options to increase in the short term. Longer term, the jury is probably still somewhat out on alternative fuel options that make sense for smaller vessels, and there are technology and infrastructure aspects to that. So that is something we follow.”

Warr clarified that that there are other ways to make operations greener. Dongara Marine was able to achieve significant fuel efficiency gains with Svitzer Marlin, which he said is a credit to both the hull design, the company’s production team for keeping the boat light, and the Volvo Penta IPS drives.

“We are also doing some work with hydrofoil technology now, again as a way of improving performance and fuel economy.”
For Warr, other advancements that have become evident are outboard engine power increasing and the proliferation of diesel outboards. Those developments also open up some new possibilities that did not exist previously, especially for vessels operating inshore. Dongara Marine will therefore deliver its first diesel outboard-powered boats soon, with each having 900 hp (671 kW) on the transom.

“Automation to support reducing crew workloads and lower manning/unmanned operations is another area where there is clear emphasis.”

The year 2023 was a busy one for Dongara Marine, as Warr explains. Last year, the company completed six new vessels and five significant refit projects, plus a range of maintenance jobs.

“That total of 11 jobs completed equalled 2021 as our previous busiest year, though in fact we are busier than ever as we started 2024 with another 10 projects underway,” he told Baird Maritime.

Warr added that 2023 was also notable for being the first full year of operations of the company’s new shipyard in Geraldton, which was officially opened in March.

“Our investment in the yard shows our confidence in our future. It is already bringing dividends, enabling us to undertake more refit and maintenance work, and providing the capacity to contract and build and refit substantial numbers of vessels simultaneously.”

In addition to the 10 projects Dongara Marine was already working on at the start of the year, the company had six more under contract and signed another in early January. This total includes two pilot boats, a 26-metre patrol vessel, two large crayboats, and a series of RIBs among others.
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