In a region in which roads are scarce and river crossings are a part of daily life, BSL Navigation has partnered with SCHOTTEL to offer fast and reliable ferry services, growing from a single ship to a fleet of 20.
In Sarawak, Malaysia, waterways are an important means of transportation. Sarawak, located on the island of Borneo, is the largest of Malaysia’s states and has about two and a half million inhabitants. In certain areas, ferries, express boats and small boats replace roadways. BSL Navigation is the largest vehicle ferry operation. When Liew Shark Sen and his wife and business partner Christina Kong founded their ferry business, they had no idea that they would one day be the biggest operator of vehicle ferries in Malaysia, moving more than three million cars and trucks a year across Sarawak’s rivers. “We had one 30-metre ferry and 11 employees back then,” Christina Kong remembers. “Our mission was to grow the business.” By the end of 2019 the company expects to have more than 20 ferries and 250 employees.
SCHOTTEL has been part of BSL Navigation’s success almost since the beginning. BSL first bought a ferry equipped with a SCHOTTEL Pump Jet shortly after the company was established in 1991, and the propulsion expert has been supporting the company ever since.
As Christina Kong points out, the main challenge of her business is that BSL, a private operator, provides a vital public service. “We can’t stop even once,” she says. Otherwise, a backlog of vehicles would be waiting to cross the river. “We have to operate 20 hours a day, seven days a week.” And all of this must be accomplished without delays, Kong adds. “It happens that BSL even has to dispatch a ferry in the middle of the night when emergency services are needed and an ambulance has to reach a rural village.” SCHOTTEL has been a reliable partner for BSL. “With these pump jets, it is possible to fulfil public expectations,” Christina Kong states.
The thruster manufacturer aims to provide the best possible service to its customers, including BSL. “All these years, we have had a very good relationship with SCHOTTEL, good support on service and parts,” according to Christina Kong.
BSL operates on a very tight time frame, and even the smallest delay has large repercussions for BSL’s customers. With the German company’s new enlarged premises in Singapore, it is possible to offer even more speedy service to remote areas. SCHOTTEL Far East has been situated in Singapore since the 1970s and recently moved to the new shipyard centre in southwestern Singapore.
BSL Navigation is the largest vehicle ferry operation in Malaysia. The busiest route is the Pusa-Beladin crossing, with a distance of about 1.1 kilometres. BSL ferries about 2,300 vehicles over the Batang Saribas river per day. The 5.2-kilometre Sebuyau service on the mighty Batang Lupar river requires three BSL vessels operating at any given time, and four during festivals when vehicle numbers are highest.
Christina Kong knows that with every SCHOTTEL thruster, BSL buys a high degree of support and service availability: “They have been proven to be very reliable.” Indeed, despite a potentially higher initial investment in a vessel equipped with two SCHOTTEL Pump Jets, the fuel savings compared to a vessel fitted with four fixed pitch propellers and the incomparable manoeuvrability make Pump Jets a worthwhile investment. Over the past eight years, BSL has ordered a new ship set of SCHOTTEL Pump Jet 82 every two to four years. Recently, the company has been expanding its ferries equipped by the propulsion expert rather progressively, with plans to possibly expand up to a fleet size of 30 ferries within the next 5 years. BSL now has the largest SCHOTTEL Pump Jet-equipped vessel fleet in the region.
The company is putting the ferries to good use. The 5.2-kilometre Sebuyau to Triso crossing on the mighty Batang Lupar river requires three BSL vessels operating at any given time, and four during festivals when vehicle numbers are highest. “This crossing is very special as it is the only river with three big ferries,” according to Christina Kong. The river is very wide and sees strong currents during so-called “king” tides – the highest tides – and during the monsoon sea- son at the end of the year.
Sarawak’s rivers will continue to be a main means of transport, Christina Kong explains. Ferries will still be needed in the future, especially to serve people living in rural areas. She adds that the government has always made it a priority to improve the connectivity of rural areas of Sarawak by means of providing these ferry services, immensely reducing the travel time between towns. “BSL is looking to expand into more areas as ferries are still needed to carry vehicles and people, especially in rural villages where roads are not fully developed and there are no bridges,” according to Christina Kong. “My company is still expanding, and we will be getting more SCHOTTEL Pump Jets for our new ferries to ply in rivers with conditions only suitable for ferries equipped with this kind of thruster,” says Christina Kong.
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