24.4.2020 11:57:48 //
Anu Räsänen
Vesa Koivunen

The Port of Helsinki is helping ships reduce their emissions in the Baltic Sea

Carbon neutrality is one of the Port of Helsinki’s key objectives, in addition to which the company wants to grow its carbon handprint. This means that the Port also guides and helps its cooperation partners to reduce their own emissions. One important step in these efforts has been the commissioning of an automooring system, which, as the name suggests, allows ships to be moored automatically.

When Tallink Megastar passes Pihlajasaari on its way from Tallinn to Helsinki, Captain Vahur Sõstra’s main tool is a tablet. Using his control tablet, the captain confirms that the West Harbour’s automooring system has identified the arriving ship.

After detecting the ship, the automooring system starts preparing for mooring by setting its suction cup-like mooring units to the correct position. The system has dedicated settings for each ship.

Back on the ship, the captain handles the rest of the process from the comfort of the bridge. The mooring process does not require any workers on deck or on the quayside. The suction cups simply grab hold of the ship and attach it securely to the quay.

– Traditional rope mooring has historically been one of the most dangerous jobs in all of seafaring, most of all for the people working at the port, of course. Now thanks to the automooring system, the process is completely safe, Sõstra says.

Saving time also saves the environment

Vahur Sõstra
– Departing, in particular, is much faster than before thanks to the automooring system. In practice, all I need to do is press a button and the ship is released from the quay, Sõstra says.

The automooring system was commissioned in the West Harbour in March 2017. The aim was to not only increase safety, but to also make mooring and unmooring faster and reduce noise and emissions.

Every minute spent at port counts, as ships on the Helsinki-Tallinn route operate on a strict schedule.
– Departing, in particular, is much faster than before thanks to the automooring system. In practice, all I need to do is press a button and the ship is released from the quay, Sõstra says.

In addition to the automooring system, ship visits are sped up by the West Harbour’s dual ramps. They allow cargo to be loaded and unloaded to and from two decks at the same time, saving precious minutes. 

Saving time also benefits the environment, which is particularly important for the Port of Helsinki.
Being able to moor, unload, load and unmoor a ship faster at port increases the amount of time that the ship can spend at sea. This, in turn, makes is possible for the ship to cruise at slower speeds out at sea, which saves fuel and reduces emissions.

Emissions are further reduced by the fact that the automooring system allows a ship’s main engine to be shut down slightly earlier when arriving at port and started up closer to departure.

“The automooring system has reduced our emissions”

The ongoing coronavirus crisis has changed ship timetables in spring 2020, but under normal conditions, Tallink ships visit the West Harbour six times a day.

If using the automooring system speeds up each visit by five minutes, the total amount of time saved per day is half an hour. This amounts to three and a half hours per week and approximately 180 hours per year. 

These figures only theoretical, of course. The actual number of minutes saved depends on numerous factors, such as the weather, the amount of cargo and the condition of the ship.

– These factors also affect fuel consumption and our emissions, making it difficult to give precise figures. However, it is clear that the automooring system has reduced our emissions. This environmental aspect is very important for Tallink, Vahur Sõstra says.

The Port of Helsinki as a pioneer

The first automooring system in the world was commissioned in New Zealand in the early 2000s. As word of it started to spread, the system immediately caught the attention on Port of Helsinki’s Harbour Master Antti Pulkkinen.

– As far back as 30 years ago, I remember thinking during my commute about how nobody had come up with a modern alternative to rope mooring. People had been to the Moon, but ships were still being secured to bollards with ropes, Pulkkinen laughs.

From New Zealand, automooring systems first spread to Australia and Asia. Nowadays automooring systems have also been commissioned in Norway and Denmark, and planning for implementing them in Tallinn and Mariehamn is also underway. 

The Port of Helsinki was a pioneer in being the first port to commission an automooring system this far north for large ships in regular service. The local weather conditions pose their own challenges in regard to the use of the system.

– For example, if the side of the ship is encased in a layer of ice more than two millimetres thick, the automated mooring units cannot attach to it. In that case, the ship has to be moored the old-fashioned way, with ropes, Pulkkinen says.

Resorting to rope mooring is also necessary in particularly stormy weather. In Pulkkinen’s experience, there are an average of 20 days a year during which automated mooring is not possible in the West Harbour.

Automated mooring set to increase in the West Harbour

The West Harbour will soon gain even more automooring technology, with the quay used by Eckerö Line scheduled to be outfitted with an automooring system at the turn of 2020 and 2021. Eckerö Line’s M/S Finlandia visits the West Harbour three times a day.

Finlandia’s Captain Kjell Jonasson is looking forward to the new system.

– It will of course make mooring much safer than before, in addition to which we will be able to plan our deck hands’ working time in a new way. They will be able to focus on other tasks instead of having to stand ready on deck, Jonasson notes.

– It is also important for us to reduce our emissions and environmental impact. We are constantly striving to do just that by adapting our cruising habits and with technical solutions, such as the automooring system. The faster we can depart from port, the slower we can cruise at sea.