TS Laevad ferries rely on Steerprop propulsion

Unique Steerprop contra-rotating propeller (CRP) units deliver propulsion edge to four ferries in Estonia, combining reliability, performance, and ice-breaking capabilities.

TS Laevad OÜ has been running ferry traffic between the mainland and the larger islands Hiiumaa, Muhu, and Saaremaa since October 2016. Owned by the Port of Tallinn, TS Laevad OÜ operates under a government contract.

TS Laevad serves the maritime routes that see, in fact, the heaviest marine traffic in the entire country.

“TS Laevad owns five ferries, of which Tõll, Piret, and Regula operate the Virtsu-Kuivastu route and Leiger and Tiiu the Rohuküla-Heltermaa route. The routes served are the busiest domestic ferry routes in Estonia, carrying around 2.3 million passengers and over a million vehicles per year,” explains Project Manager Sander Pielberg.

Regula is the “old lady” of the fleet, having been active since the 1970s, which operates only during the peak season. The other vessels with Steerprop's main propulsion are quite new, having been built in Turkey and Poland during 2015-2017.

The ferry Leiger is operating with Steerprop contra-rotating propeller.

Ace on ice

All four ferries are ice-strengthened, double-ended diesel-electric car & passenger ferries with DNV 1A ice class that can operate in harsh winter conditions without icebreaker assistance.

“In fact, we’ve been helping local ports clear ice from routes with these ferries,” reveals Pielberg.

In the design phase of the vessels, the issue of propulsion was obviously of key importance. TS Laevad opted for contra-rotating propellers (CRP) by Steerprop. Here, the push-pull configuration of the propellers is designed to meet the toughest conditions, while combining the outstanding maneuverability of azimuth propulsors with the excellent efficiency of the CRP technology. Each of the four ferries was fitted with two SP 45 CRP units, both with 2,150 kW of power.

“The main requirements for the propulsion units were efficiency and ice-breaking capabilities,” Pielberg looks back.

“Of course, reliability and nearby support were also crucial. After all, we are operating 365 days per year, with approximately 20 hours per day.”

Steerprop’s CRP units were chosen in cooperation between the ship designer, the shipyard, and the owner. Markku Miinala, Cruise & Ferry Segment Director at Steerprop, says that CRP is a solid choice for ferries operating in the Baltic Sea:

“CRP delivers best-in-class efficiency and with two propellers, you always get the performance level you need. Two propellers do reduce propeller loading which ensures a smooth ride,” comments Miinala who visited Tiiu in December 2022.

Easy installation

The actual set-up for the CRP units for each vessel was quite easy. Due to the well-mounted installation, the process was straightforward in each case, Pielberg comments.

“During the shipbuilding, a Steerprop qualified specialist was present at the installation, commissioning, start-up and handover phases – and this was very important for us.”

“During the start-up and commissioning of the vessels, our crew members were already involved in the activities, which helped secure a smooth start,” he adds.

Piret operating in ice with Steerprop contra-rotating propellers.

Great collaboration all the way

About eight years down the road, the experiences with CRP units have been very solid. The TS Laevad superintendents Meelis Tasa and Ellar Kõuts describe the cooperation with Steerprop as very good and Pielberg agrees.

“Whenever we’ve had technical questions, we’ve received quick answers from Steerprop. Also, the deliveries of original spare parts have been fast,” Pielberg says.

“Furthermore, during the operation, Steerprop is always happy to provide training and different upgrades and retrofits,” he says, adding that remote monitoring is one area to receive special emphasis lately.

The maintenance of CRP units has also been running smoothly through the years. “The maintenance system is working very well. During vessel dockings, we have always received support from a sufficient number of Steerprop specialists, each and every time,” says Pielberg.

Tiiu, one of the TS Laevad ferries equipped with Steerprop contra-rotating propellers.

First-hand experience

Guldar Kivro, a member of the TS Laevad Management Board, confirms that the proximity of Steerprop and the 24/7 service has been very important for TS Laevad through the years.

“We can call, e-mail or visit each other and communication is always easy. The issues are resolved quickly which is critical in this business since we really do not have time to do a lot of troubleshooting,” says Kivro who also served as captain on the ferries during the first two years of operating.

As a captain, Kivro also knows from personal experience that CRP maneuverability comes in handy out there.

“On the north route (Rohuküla-Heltermaa), there are two narrow channels which require good maneuverability from the ferry. Also, the local ports are quite small, so you need the ability to move with great care,” Kivro says.

Putting the customer first

Markku Miinala points out that the TS Laevad four-vessel, eight-propeller contract was a significant contract for the Finnish marine high-tech company at the time – and still remains so.

“Making sure that we deliver on our promises is always the priority for us. This project shows what our technology can do in demanding conditions and on crucial routes,” he says.

Pielberg and Kivro are looking forward to continuing the great collaboration with the Steerprop team for years to come.

“We have a good relationship built on trust. We know that no matter the problem, we get support from Steerprop very quickly indeed,” Kivro says.

Markku Miinala agrees: over the years, the key people in both companies have come to know each other pretty well, and it’s easy to reach out. “Trust, combined with solid communication, has been a great foundation here.”