Passenger transportation by high-speed ships was very popular in soviet years. The only disadvantage was high cost of such transportation compared to that of land transport, twice as much or even three times in some cases. Unattractive price was among the factors behind gradual deterioration of the high-speed transportation segment. The other one was the fleet wear and obsolescence due to absence of modernization projects.
Fuel consumption is needed to decrease the price of transportation. In 2018, scientific and technical journal “Transport Systems” (Edition No 4) published article by М.L. Mukhina “Performance of hydrofoils and reduction of their fuel consumption”. The subject of research was the Meteor type hydrofoil. The article considers opportunities to reduce fuel consumption of hydrofoils. According to М.L. Mukhina, an optimal mode of operation is crucial for fuel economy. The author also emphasized that most of fuel is consumed when taking off.
As of today, one of the challenges is the absence of an advanced engine for hydrofoils. Ships of Meteor and Kometa types were fitted with М-400 engines under serial production at Saint-Petersburg based Zvezda plant from 1959. Among the ways to develop high-speed fleet today is remotorization. When subject to be removed, М-400 engines are replaced with MAN engines of German origin. MAN engines are also installed on hydrofoils of the next generation, Valdai-45R, Meteor -120, Meteor-2020 and Kometa-120М.
When it comes to a power plant for high-speed ships it should be ready for frequent changing of operation modes. The ideal mode of operation suggests long run of a ship. Diesel engines of Raketa and Meteor ships were not designed for a frequent change of modes, hence fast exhausting of their lifespan.
Among the designers currently engaged in the segment of high-speed sea-going and river-going ships is Alexeev’s Hydrofoil Design Bureau and Zelenodols based design bureau Sea Tech. Serial production is organized in Chkalovsk, (Valdai-45R, Meteor-120R) and Rybinsk (Vympel Shipyard, Kometa-120M). Meteor-2020 is to be built in Zelenodolsk, Olympia – in Khabarovsk. The latter designed in 1993 was first built in Feodosia. Shipyard “Morye” built two ships of this type). Later on, its production was shifted to Kerch where shipyard “Zaliv” laid down two vessels the construction of which has not been completed.
11 ships of Valdai-45R type have been built so far. They were ordered by State Transport Leasing Company (STLC). Those ships are deployed for operation in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District and Nizhny Novgorod Region. Three ships were ordered for the port of Cheboksary with one having been delivered to the customer already.
Besides, the first Meteor-120R was launched on 3 August 2021. It is one of four ships ordered by Mashpromleasing JSC for leasing out to Severrechflot JSC. In the end of 2020, United Shipbuilding Corporation was provided with RUB 6.4 billion which is to be used for subsidized leasing of passenger ships. The list of projects covered by the programme includes two Valdai-45R hydrofoils intended for Yakutia and four Meteor-120R ships. Three Kometa-120М ships were delivered to Crimea.
As STLC told IAA PortNews, the company’s order portfolio numbers six high-speed ships, two Kometa and four Valdai ships. With the state support, STLC is ready to finance construction of over 300 civil ships with the total amount exceeding RUB 300 billion. Amon them are more than 180 passenger ships including high-speed ones.
“We consider it as a promising segment and we see a great interest to high-speed ships from the side of our customers including those in the remote regions of Russia where such ships can ensure new level of mobility and raise the standard of living”, STLC comments.
Over the navigation season of 2019, 36 passenger routes carried 400,400 passengers including 4,770 passengers transported by Valdai 45R. 69 voyages were made on the Khanty-Mansiysk – Surgut – Bannoye route between August 16 and October 25. 2,112 passengers were carried with an average of 31 passengers per voyage. With the route of 422 km (one way) and 69 voyages, the ship covered 29,118 km. High speed characteristics of Valdai let it decrease the voyage time by two hours. 108 voyages were made on the Khanty-Mansiysk – Kirpichny – Nyalino route between September 1 and October 26. 2,665 passengers were carried with an average of 25 passengers per voyage. With the route of 92 km (one way) and 108 voyages, the ship covered 9,936 km.
The first voyage of Kometa-120М in Crimea was made on 1 August 2018 on the Sevastopol – Yalta route. The navigation season lasted till October 1. In 2019, the Kometa operated on the same route between June 1 and September 30. It carried some 39,000 passengers, 11% more than planned. From the moment the ship was put into operation, it carried over 61,000 people. 16% of voyages was cancelled in the navigation season of 2019 due to unfavorable weather conditions (2.5-meter high waves and wind of 17 m/s and above) and exercises of RF Navy’s Black Sea Fleet in the area. No voyages were cancelled for technical reasons.
Sea Tech design bureau in Zelenodolsk continue modernization of the Meteor design with the new one known as Meteor-2020. Its cruising range will be up to 700 km and it will also be operated in the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District. The same bureau is designing a sea-going hydrofoil, Katran-M which is to replace the Kolkhida and Katran ships.
It should be noted that one of the targets of Russia’s Transport Strategy till 2030 is to increase passenger transportation by inland water transport especially on socially important routes. This target can be achieved particularly through the development of high-speed ships including hydrofoils. The research and technological groundwork as well as competence needed for its development have been preserved in Russia.
Nevertheless, the key economic driver of the high-speed water transport development is its efficiency which can be achieved through application of the optimal structural solutions with space-weight saving based on involvement of advanced materials, particularly composite ones.
Besides, a reliable, safe, efficient and environmentally sustainable power plant is needed.
Under consideration is the issue of water transport as well as air transport to be transferred to electric propulsion. A range of modern electric ships including high-speed passenger ships has been developed by Saint-Petersburg based NPK Morsvyazavtomatica LLC. The company is engaged in development and production of shipborne and multipurpose industrial electronics. The company is currently working on three designs: Cityvolt – a single deck monohull river-going ship of Fontanka type; Ecocruiser - high-speed catamaran of the river-sea class able to compete with ships of Meteor and Kometa types; Ecovold – a double-deck river-going catamaran. While Cityvolt is being designed, the construction of Ecocruiser hull is about to begin. Morsvyazavtomatica designers are striving to make the ships environmentally friendly, noiseless and economically efficient. Just like in the segment of air transport, electrically powered river and sea ships, especially high-speed ones should be equipped with batteries featuring minimal weight-and-dimensional characteristics while having maximum charge storage capacity. Besides, an electric engine should have the required capacity and power. Such engines are being developed for airplanes and helicopters. The work on development of electric propulsion systems for air and water transport is underway at NaukaSoft and SuperOx companies.
In the framework of the Technosreda festival’s business programme, Natalia Bulyukina, Chief Engineer of “USC-Iceberg” Central Design Bureau JSC, emphasized that electrically powered water transport requires essential investments, hence the issue of sources of finance and mechanisms mitigating market risks. A comprehensive state programme for development of electrically powered water transport can be a viable solution. As part of the festival’s demo space and apart from its exhibition stand, USC had a special basin to present a model of emergency rescue ship with a solar power system.
When speaking at PortNews’ webinar “From Volga to Yenisey: will river cruise shipping survive?” Victor Olersky, Chairman of Vodohod BoD, emphasized that construction of electrically powered ships is economically viable although they cannot be as fast as ships of Meteor design with a diesel engine. “Of course, the speed will not be 30 knots, just 20 knots, but it is still a step forward”, he said. Meteors are not used elsewhere except for the traditional route between Saint-Petersburg and Peterhof (if the Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous District is not taken into account). Therefore, this replacement is reasonable since the route is only 22 km long and it can be covered in half an hour.
Practical steps are already being undertaken. In May 2021, a meeting of Krasnoyarsk Territory Governor Aleksandr Uss and representatives of Vodohod was held to discuss the prospects of launching leisure e-vessels on the Yenisey river. It was decided to open a line between Krasnoyarsk and Divnogorsk in 2022 with an electrically powered ship operating on it. Besides, there is a plan to open routes on the Krasnoyarsk water storage basin and to the Ovsyanka settlement.