Roll call

Ferry passengers in the Mediterranean could benefit from faster journeys and less seasickness, with the development of a sensor monitoring system.

At present ships’ captains tend to slow down as soon as they experience bad weather to ensure that the pitch and roll of their vessel is minimised and their passengers remain comfortable. However, the MONITUS sensor system would allow ships to maintain higher speeds for longer while ensuring that passengers are not suffering.

The £3.6m project is a result of a pan-European collaboration between researchers from Denmark, Italy and the Netherlands through the Eureka research and development agency.

The MONITUS system depends on data gathered from a network of sensors around the ship’s hull and the outside of the cabin area to monitor motion. This feeds into a computer that also holds information about the sea conditions in the area and how much stress or strain the vessel can withstand. The system is able to calculate likely comfort levels and any risk to the vessel’s structure in high seas. The captain can then make a decision on whether to change course, slow down or speed up.

‘At the moment captains slow down too early,’ said developer Dr Joergen Jensen of the Naval Architecture and Offshore Engineering Department at the Danmarks Techniske Universitet. ‘This system makes it possible to optimise ship speed without compromising comfort.’

Under current regulations high-speed ferries are only allowed to operate if waves are below a set height. But as MONITUS constantly compares existing conditions with data on the vessel’s structural strength, it can be used to help the captain avoid putting it under undue strains. As a result high-speed ferries should be able to apply for licences to operate in rougher seas.

The system could also help coastguards to remain safe during rescue missions, while feedback detailing how high-speed ferries move during high winds and rough seas could be used to contribute to future shipping designs.

The sensors are being tested on a ferry between Barcelona and Menorca, and the team believes it could shave up to 10 per cent off the average journey time. They hope this will allow ferries to become a more attractive method of transport and increase competition with local airlines.

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