Vietnam’s shipbuilding industry has a new reference on the European market, by way of a UK-designed, steel-hulled catamaran ro-pax ferry delivered for service between the Scottish mainland and the Orkney Islands, writes David Tinsley.

Contracted by the family-owned company Pentland Ferries, the 85-metre Alfred supersedes a smaller-capacity vessel on the route linking Gill’s Bay, in Caithness, with St Margaret’s Hope, on the archipelago’s South Ronaldsay.

Alfred arrived in Orkney on October 9 following passage under her own power from Strategic Marine’s Vung Tau yard in Vietnam, and is expected to be phased into the regular schedule during early November after final fittings and tests.

The vessel was designed by Southampton-based BMT Nigel Gee and is laid out for 430 passengers and up to 12 trucks plus 54 cars, or a maximum 98 cars alone. The present mainstay of the Gill’s Bay/St Margaret’s Hope run, the catamaran Pentalina, was purpose-built in the Philippines 11 years ago, and can take 350 passengers and 70 cars. Carryings have increased substantially over the period since her introduction, necessitating a larger ship.

Alfred is understood to have commanded a price of around £14 million (US$18m). The ferry has an aluminium superstructure on twin steel hulls which have been hydrodynamically-optimised for the one-hour traverse of the Pentland Firth, a stretch of water which can be subject to very rough conditions.

Proven Japanese four-stroke, medium-speed diesel machinery has been specified for propulsion, in the shape of four Yanmar 6EY17W engines. Each six-cylinder, 170mm-bore unit delivers 749kW at a crankshaft speed of 1,350rpm, such that the installation will ensure a service speed of 16 knots while affording a power reserve for schedule keeping in adverse weather and for schedule recovery in the event of delays.

The installation thereby provides a total power concentration of 2,996kW, affording both operational flexibility and redundancy, along with the reliability, durability, relative simplicity and ease of maintenance associated with the Yanmar brand. Pentland Ferries alludes to its fleet addition as “the most environmentally friendly ferry of its kind in Scotland,” as a mark of the vessel design’s hydrodynamic efficiency in conjunction with the low fuel consumption offered by the EY17W engine series.

Strategic Marine started out as Geraldton Boat Builders in Western Australia, with a focus on high-speed aluminium vessel construction. The Vietnam shipyard was opened in 2009, to realise a strategy of breaking into steel shipbuilding. The Australian company sold its Singaporean and Vietnamese subsidiaries to Singapore-listed Triyards Group in 2014.


Length overall 84.5m
Length, waterline 80.6m
Breadth, moulded 22.0m
Draught, design 2.75m
Passenger capacity 430
All-car capacity 98
Max. truck capacity 12 (plus 54 cars)
Deadweight 550t
Main engine power 4 x 749kW
Fuel capacity 98,000 litres
Service speed 16kts
Crew 12
Class Lloyd’s Register