Thordon Bearings has registered an upswing in the number of historic passenger vessels operating on European waterways with water lubricated propeller shaft bearings as a way of further protecting those waterways from oil and grease pollution.
According to Andreas Gitterle, Managing Director of Neotecha GmbH, a member of Thordon’s distributor network, there has been a steady rise in the number of bearing retrofits to tourist ships operating on Lake Constance and other Alpine lakes over the past five years.
“A number of operators have already converted from oil-lubricated brass bushings to water lubricated propeller shaft bearings as a way of meeting stringent European environmental regulations.
“As these waters are of drinking-water quality there are significant restrictions on the vessels that can operate on these lakes. Vessels need to present zero risks of pollution and Thordon delivers this by eliminating oil and grease,” he said.
For instance, Lake Constance, at the northern foot of the Alps, straddles the borders of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, with a “White Fleet” of steamers, cruisers, and car ferries operating across the 536km2 (207 square miles) waterway.
Of all the vessels operated by a consortium of Swiss, Austrian, and German passenger ship companies, perhaps the most famous is the 1928-built style icon MS Österreich, which has been operating with four water-lubricated environmentally sustainable COMPAC propeller shaft bearings since 2017.
The Art Deco vessel, the first-ever motorship to operate on the lake, had all four 135mm (5.3in) brass bearings replaced with COMPAC at the Linz-based Öswag Werft, with Neotecha providing design, machining, installation, and commissioning support.
Other vessels that converted to water-lubricated tail shaft bearings include the 1100 passenger capacity, Lake Thun-operating Stadt Thun, and the 1976-built paddle steamer Petersinsel, both of which were retrofitted with Thordon’s SXL propeller shaft bearings in 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Subsequently, Thordon COMPAC retrofit installations were completed on the 800 passenger capacity MS Bubenberg, and the Lake Brienz-operating MS Jungfrau.
The most recent vessels converted at Öswag Werf are the 1964-built MS Berna and the 1978-built MS Ville de Geneve II, both of which were retrofitted with COMPAC bearings.
Gitterle said that on the back of Thordon’s success on lake-operating vessels, the European river cruise sector is now considering water lubricated propeller shaft bearings with interest.
“The environmental and commercial benefits associated with eliminating oil and grease from vessel operations is attracting significant interest. We are currently negotiating a contract to convert two Danube-operating cruisers to Thordon’s RiverTough propeller shaft bearings. If the order is secured, it would mark Thordon’s entry into the river cruise segment.”
Thordon Bearings’ Regional Manager, EMEA & ANZ, George Morrison, said: “European operators are looking to water lubricated propeller shaft bearing technology as a way of preserving the pristine waters of Lake Constance, the Danube, and the Rhine.
“With COMPAC, SXL, or RiverTough bearings there is absolutely no risk of pollution as they do not use mineral or synthetic oil to lubricate the propeller shaft – only water. This also means a Thordon bearing is less costly to operate and maintain.”
In 2020, some 3158 additional berths were added to the European river cruise sector, with growth set to continue on a similar upward path.