ABB recently staged a race at its marine simulator facility in Helsinki where two ferry captains went head-to-head in a competition aimed at determining which of these two systems delivered greater operational and environmental benefits.

Utilising a digital simulator, Ulf Lindroos of Viking Line and Pietro Esposito of Grandi Navi Veloci had to navigate through a predetermined route into the Italian port of Genoa and bring their respective ferries to berth in the safest, most efficient and sustainable manner possible.

The race involved complex manoeuvring in the harbour where the contenders had to complete a fast turn before reversing astern to dock. The application of gusty weather with winds of five to seven metres per second added a layer of difficulty. Neither captain had ever operated a vessel equipped with an ABB Azipod system prior to the race.

“The captains would need to take quite a lot of elements into consideration during this race while they tried to dock the vessel as quickly as possible,” said Jukka Varis, vice president of technology at ABB Marine & Ports. “That includes the safety of the passengers on board, as well as challenging weather in a busy port with lots of traffic.”

During the first run, Lindroos docked a ferry outfitted with ABB’s new mid-power range Azipod system in just seven minutes and 58 seconds, consuming a total of 0,89 MWh in energy. Esposito took almost two minutes longer, with 1,26 MWh energy consumed.

“Captain Esposito was using the conventional shaft-line vessel’s stern thrusters to come into the dock against the wind. It was not only taking more time, but also more fuel, which means more emissions,” Varis noted.

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An independent study by marine consultancy Deltamarin revealed that ferries equipped with the Azipod system can reduce their annual fuel cost by as much as $1.7m.

“In total, the race showed 20% savings on the time and 30% savings on the fuel consumption. You can only imagine how much difference that makes when you count the savings on an annual basis.”

Lindroos was impressed with the Azipod system. “It’s easy to manoeuvre, easy to use, and you don’t need to use a rudder,” he said.

When the captains swapped places and took another pass through the port of Genoa, the results of the second race were consistent with the first.

Esposito was equally impressed with ABB’s podded thruster technology. “I think this is the future of the ship propulsion,” he said.

Azipod propulsion debuted in 1990. The system, which includes an electric drive motor located inside a submerged pod, can rotate 360 degrees to increase manoeuvrability and efficiency.

ABB made TradeWinds headlines earlier this month when it announced Azipod's debut in the dry-bulk market by way of a deal with Oldendorff Carriers, Germany's largest bulker operator. More than two dozen types of ships have been equipped with the propulsion system to-date.