Expedition cruise specialist is adding a series of ice-class X-Bow newbuilds designed to provide enhanced comfort for adventure travellers to polar regions
Expedition specialist SunStone Ships, which pioneered building international cruise vessels in China, recently celebrated the launch of its fourth Infinity-class vessel.
104-m long Ocean Explorer marks another milestone for the Miami-based company. SunStone specialised in refitting and managing secondhand vessels for the passenger cruise market before announcing its first newbuild project in 2018 with shipbuilder China Merchants Heavy Industry (CMHI) in Haimen. The resulting ship, Greg Mortimer, is now chartered by Australian adventure company Aurora Expeditions.
SunStone chief executive Niels-Erik Lund looks favourably on the company’s build experience in China. “We are very pleased with the quality and high building standards of China Merchants Heavy Industry, which are fully at the level of European shipyards,” says Mr Lund. “We are looking forward to continuing our relationship with all our partners in the Infinity-class project and we, even considering the Covid-19 world crisis, are moving fast forward as planned with very satisfactory speed, safety and quality.” SunStone ships is the largest tonnage provider to expedition cruise lines operating itineraries in remote areas.
Ocean Explorer is the second of seven Infinity-class ships which are all being constructed in partnership with Norwegian maritime engineering consultants Ulstein Design & Solutions and feature the patented X-Bow design, allowing for smoother sailing in rough conditions and deeper exploration into packed ice on polar voyages.
Ocean Explorer is scheduled for delivery in February 2021 and will sail on year-round worldwide cruises offered by American tour operator Vantage Deluxe World Travel, which is taking delivery of sister vessel Ocean Odyssey in March 2022. Also being delivered next year are Ocean Victory and Sylvia Earle, in March and September, respectively, followed by Ocean Albatros in 2022 and Ocean Discoverer in 2023. SunStone says all of the vessels, the first to showcase European design and to be built by CMHI, have long-term charter agreements in place.
Designed to provide eco-friendly expedition sailings in enhanced comfort, each of the Infinity-class vessels can accommodate between 130 to 200 passengers and 85 to 115 crew members. Each charterer has input into the passenger areas of the ship, such as the number of restaurants and whether or not they have swimming pools, taking into account the areas where the ships will operate and the passenger demographic.
“They are small enough to give an exclusive atmosphere and yet large enough to yield all expected services and facilities, such as a swimming pool, bar and restaurants, lounges, boutique, gym and spa,” says SunStone executive vice president operations Chris Dlugokecki.
For example, Ocean Explorer will carry 170 passengers and 80% of the cabins have private balconies accessed by sliding floor-to-ceiling glass doors. Flexible stateroom options include TriLuxe suites designed for triple occupancy and adjoining cabins suitable for families and groups. To date, this vessel has the largest suites on an Infinity-class vessel, including a 36.2-m2 owner’s suite with a separate bedroom and lounge area, plus 15 single cabins to cater for Vantage’s popularity with solo travellers. Public amenities include a two-level observation lounge overlooking the bow, swimming pool, outdoor movie screen, spa and gym, lecture and entertainment theatre and watersports platform.
Infinity-class ships are designed with five Zodiac embarkation points – two situated port and starboard and one aft – to facilitate easy and efficient boarding for excursions, providing the captain with options depending on the wind or sea conditions. Additionally, the vessels are equipped with the Kongsberg C-Joy OT Joystick System to provide a station keeping or virtual anchoring capability. The system connects to the bow thruster and main propulsion system and allows the ship to remain ‘on station’ by automatically compensating for environmental conditions such as wind and current.
“A direct result of these reduced ship motions is a reduction in fuel consumption”
With a range of more than 20,000 km, which will facilitate itineraries such as Ushuaia, Argentina, to northern Norway’s Longyearbyen without refuelling, the vessels will offer smoother sailings thanks to their distinctive X-Bow technology says SunStone. In rough seas the wide hull design contributes to a substantial reduction in pitching motions and bow slamming, which in turn results in reduced vibrations, less wear and tear on equipment and lower fuel consumption. It is estimated the X-Bow will save 6-10% in fuel consumption annually. With its ability to glide through heavy seas, the X-Bow also produces very little spray, helping decks to remain dry and reducing safety hazards caused by water.
“A direct result of these reduced ship motions is a reduction in fuel consumption, which helps to save energy and reduce exhaust gas emissions and in turn greenhouse gas emissions,” says Mr Dlugokecki.
“Another design feature incorporated into the Infinity-class vessels that contributes to passenger comfort,” he says, “is the ability of the vessel to reduce rolling motion when the ship is at rest by using Rolls Royce Aquarius 100 SAR fin stabilisers. These are capable of dampening the rolling motions of the ship by up to 80% while the ship is not moving.”
The vessels, which are all Ice Class 1A, Polar Code 6, have a beam of 18.4 m and draught of 5.3 m. With a maximum speed of 16.5 knots, each ship features four IMO Tier III standard engines designed to be energy efficient and reduce emissions of NOx and SOx. The diesel-electric power system comprises two 1,600-kW Wärtsilä W8L20 and two 1,200-kW Wärtsilä W6L20 diesel generator sets. They run on distillate fuel to meet Marpol Annex VI regulations and the engines are also fitted with a selective catalytic reduction system to allow them to run in compliance with IMO Tier III emissions standards. Additionally, ships can connect to shoreside power helping to reduce the environmental impact of the vessels while in port.
The Infinity-class diesel electricity machinery plants also have two redundant machinery spaces to meet Safe Return to Port requirements.
Equipped with a dynamic positioning control system, each of vessels is fitted with four-bladed Scana Volda controllable pitch propellers and a forward-mounted Brunvoll thruster. The ships also deploy heat recovery systems.
Ocean Explorer and its sister Infinity-class newbuilds have been assigned Cleanship classification by Bureau Veritas. Environmentally conscious design features include noise management and mitigation, and onboard waste management protocols for the collection, sorting, treating, storing and discharging of solid and liquid waste. This includes the management of oily wastes; grey and black water waste; rubbish and hazardous wastes; the use of TBT-free anti-fouling paints; a ban on the use of ozone-depleting halogenated substances in air conditioning and refrigeration systems; and the prohibition of halo and halocarbons compounds in fire-fighting equipment.