One of the 16 diesel boats to be funded under the “greener” vessel subsidy scheme

Three-quarters of the new ferries to be funded under the government’s “green” vessel replacement scheme are diesel, according to tender documents seen by Transit Jam.

Taxpayers are funding the HK$2.5 billion total cost of 22 new ferries for HKKF and Sun Ferry under the government’s HK$4.5 billion Vessel Subsidy Scheme (VSS), an initiative launched in 2019 to “replace the fleets of 11 ferry routes and introduce greener vessels,” according to government documents.

“The objectives are to enhance service quality and promote the development of a green city,” says a paper outlining the VSS concept to LegCo in 2019.

But 16 of the 22 new vessels to be delivered by 2025, coming in at around $1.9 billion or 76% of the total bill, are straight diesel.

Just two of the new fleet (one 300-seat and one 1,000-seat ferry, both for Sun Ferry), are “diesel electric”, with propellers powered by batteries charged by diesel engines; and four (including two 450-seat ferries for HKKF, a 500-seat ferry and a 1,000 seat ferry for Sun Ferry) are hybrid, which have both diesel and electric propulsion. Those ferries could use battery power to berth but will use diesel engines when sailing at full speed between islands.

Diesel-electric ferries in Hong Kong have already been proved of mixed environmental value – Star Ferry’s trial of a diesel-electric system this year revealed the ferry chugged out the same CO2 emissions as a 30-year-old diesel ferry. In that trial, particulates, smog-forming NOx and hydrocarbons were found to be significantly reduced (86%, 77% and 83% respectively), and carbon monoxide was reduced by a third. Sulphur dioxide emissions were not reduced at all, as both the traditional and new ferry used ultra-low sulphur fuel, a legal requirement since 2014.

Environmental Protection Department, which partially funded the Star Ferry trial, would not comment on the plans or the environmental value of diesel ferries, saying the VSS was Transport Department’s purview. Transport Department has not yet responded.

The inclusion of six “greener” hybrid or diesel-electric ferries in the first batch of 22 VSS ferries meets the minimum promise made by the government in 2019, with “at least” six of the vessels to be “green” according to papers presented to LegCo. According to government reports, if the hybrid and diesel-electric ferries prove successful, they will use the technology for all 11 of the second batch of VSS ships to be delivered by 2031. That round is expected to cost around HK$1.2 billion – but if the hybrid technology proves not worthwhile, all hybrids planned will be replaced with diesel, with costs then soaring to an estimated HK$3.2 billion for the second round.


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