2016_1 a life at sea master

A life at sea

Getting out of bed in the dead of night, making a flask of hot coffee and leaving your family behind as you head out into the rough water for a day at sea. For some, it’s a lonely, solitary thought and the stuff of nightmares. For others, it’s a life-long love affair.


Olav Østervold, now 72, began his career as a fisherman at the age of just 15. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Olav spent 35 years fishing in the North Sea off the coast of Norway. His four sons and one daughter are all involved in the family business today. When he began his career, there was little else to do in Austevoll, the island municipality where he grew up, between Bergen and Haugesund along Norway’s windswept west coast.

Reflecting on the changes in the industry since he first took to the water in the 1950s, he describes the changes as “absolutely phenomenal.”

“There has been tremendous development in all aspects of the industry since the 1950s. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to check it’s all real.”

“My choice of career has made family life a challenge considering I started at such a young age and spent so much time away from home. I knew it would be tough, so I decided when I was young that I would quit when I turned 50 and that’s exactly what I did. It was time to hand over the baton to the next generation.”

The first image many people have of North Sea fishermen is of battling severe storms in cold, dark conditions. Although Olav has experienced all types of weather conditions, he says he never felt in danger.

“I have experienced all imaginable weather types from the best to the worst. In my early days we travelled a lot to Iceland and there was frequently bad weather there. We frequently fished around the Norwegian coast and one of the advantages of that is when a storm approached we were able to move quickly to find shelter behind an island until the storm passed.”

With high levels of automation on a modern fishing vessel, wading out bad weather in the wheelhouse is a much less dangerous game.


“Despite hard work over many years I have never been involved in a major accident, shipwreck or something like that. I've been incredibly lucky.”

The methods of fishing have been through a revolution too.

“We are getting the fish out of the ocean in a completely different way than when I first began.”

The biggest change came not with electronics or communications technology but with the introduction of the incredibly effective purse seine in the 1960s. The large fishing net is designed to hang vertically in the water with its bottom edge held down by weights. It is deployed when a shoal of fish is located and makes for much more efficient operation.

“Not only could we catch significantly more fish, we were also able to reduce the number of people required on board.”

Technology giving a push forward

Trygve Eiken has a long history with Wärtsilä Ship Design and says the modern day requirements are broadly split in two. “We mostly deal with pelagic fishing where the shoals of fish are higher up in the water. The ship will likely use modern sonar technology to discover the shoal before deploying the net.”

Some species of fish, such as mackerel and herring, can be caught at sea by large pelagic trawlers and offloaded to a factory within a few days of being caught. Alternatively, some fish is caught by freezer trawlers or factory ships that process and freeze the fish onboard, allowing the vessel to stay out at sea for weeks at a time. Which ship and method is used depends upon the type of fish in a particular region and the current allowable quotas.

Although the majority of fish caught today is for human consumption, the waste product is still manufactured into fishmeal, a powder used as a livestock feed and as an additive in some pet food.

The economics of a modern-day fishing vessel

Norway is the world’s leading supplier of farmed Atlantic salmon. The country’s Seafood Innovation Cluster is home to 70 companies producing a combined turnover of USD 10bn.

Despite these results, quotes strictly control the amount of fish that can be caught. The days of a crew spending all day at sea catching as much as they can are long gone.

“Because of quotas, the decision on what vessel to buy is largely an economic one. They have to estimate what price they will get for their future catch and base investment decisions on that estimate,” adds Eiken.

The delicate relationship between quotas and pricing is crucial for a modern fisherman to grasp. Spot prices on Norwegian farmed Atlantic salmon have dropped during 2015, prompted by mass harvests on sea lice-affected salmon. Because of high production levels, the prices for 2016 is expected to soar due to lack of availability. Meanwhile, the prices for haddock have hit their lowest level since 2009, while the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has recommended an overall increase to the total allowable catch (TAC) for cold-water shrimp in the North Sea.

With such economic volatility, long-term planning for any fishing vessel owner is a delicate art.

Despite Østervold’s long history in the industry, he doesn't pine for the olden days and truly values the technological advances. “Everything has to be as modern as possible for you to have the best chance to succeed in today’s industry. If not, it could mean spending much more time on land to repair your equipment and not out on the water where you generate your income. We acquired a brand new boat last year and it has made a huge difference in every aspect of our business.”

With a much more urbanized population, there is a very deal danger that communities such as Austevoll stop producing the next generation of fishermen. Although his family are all involved in the business, Østervold is keen to see more done to attract the younger generation to a life at sea.

“It might not be as hard work anymore, but one has to be a stayer. Fishing must motivate you to get up and out every single day. What characterizes those who are at the top is a willingness to sacrifice almost anything to succeed. You must be prepared to get out on the boats whenever the conditions are right.” 

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Parents are the biggest influencers, according to Østervold.

“It’s important to keep a strong fishing culture here in Austevoll and encourage the local youth to be involved. With so many modern distractions, they have to see what this life is all about as early as possible if we are to continue as a fishing community.

Gearing up with a new gearbox

The new 2-speed gear from Wärtsilä is making waves in the fishing industry, providing vessel owners with economic and environmental benefits.

The Wärtsilä 2-speed gear allows an effective use of the installed propulsion power at lower operational speeds, without impacting the capability to use maximum power when required.

“Wärtsilä is no stranger to the 2-speed gearbox,” says Martijn Bemelen, Project Manager Application Engineering for Wärtsilä Marine Solutions. “The first gearbox ever made by Wärtsilä was 2-speed. These older products were costly and complex to produce. This latest product is however an evolution of our proven single-speed technology.”

The losses from engine to propeller are small, and the introduction of a gear with a choice of two propeller speeds at a constant engine speed results in excellent propulsion efficiency at varying loads.

Although an efficient piece of machinery, the gearbox is not an automated solution. It provides the means to let the engine and propeller run at their optimum rates, to save fuel and reduce emissions. To achieve such benefits, the operator needs to shift gears at the appropriate times.

By taking full advantage of the Wärtsilä 2-speed gear, fuel consumption can be significantly reduced at lower speeds. Improvements of between 10% and 20% can be expected alongside a similar reduction in emissions. An additional benefit of lower propeller speed is the reduction in radiated noise. Reductions of up to 20dB have been measured, which can be of great benefit to fishing vessels searching for a big catch.

The technology is designed for vessels with multiple operational profiles and those which often operate at lower speeds, such as rescue vessels, offshore support vessels, anchor handler tug supply vessels (AHTS) and fishing vessels. Although designed for a variety of uses, the biggest market success so far has been for relatively large, sophisticated fishing vessels that operate on the open sea.

Bemelen believes the business model of fishing vessel owners is a driving factor behind this success.

“Typically with fishing vessels, the owner pays the fuel bills. This isn't always the case with other types of vessel such as offshore support vessels, which are often rented out by the owners. For fishing vessel owners it’s a much clearer economic decision and to a large extent this product sells itself.”

The Wärtsilä 2-speed gear is available with a high degree of modularization in the 2 MW to 13 MW power range.

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SCV90 2-Speed Gearbox

Fishing gear in high demand

Wärtsilä propulsion solutions are enjoying high demand from the fishing industry, with several major orders placed during 2015.

A new factory trawler fishing vessel being built for Norwegian marine trawling operator Halstensen Granit AS is to feature a complete Wärtsilä propulsion solution. The vessel is under construction at the Tersan yard in Turkey and the Wärtsilä equipment is scheduled for delivery in mid-2016.

Meanwhile, Wärtsilä technology will also power a new modern fishing vessel being built by Simek AS in Norway on behalf of British operator Antares (Whalsay) Fishing Company Ltd. The integrated Wärtsilä propulsion solution will include a 12-cylinder Wärtsilä 32 main engine, controllable pitch propeller and 2-speed gearbox.

In November Scottish Mewstead LPP placed an order on a new pelagic fishing trawler (used for midwater trawling) to be built according to a Wärtsilä design, featuring a broad scope of Wärtsilä propulsion machinery. The ship, that will be built at the Nauta Shipyard in Poland, will be the largest and most efficient ship of its type in the world. When delivered in mid 2017, the vessel will operate in the North Sea around the cost of Scotland. 

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