Swan Hellenic chief executive Andrea Zito explains the brand’s ethos and the technology and interior design behind its new fleet
In 2019, a group of entrepreneurs decided to create an expedition cruise line and placed an order with Helsinki Shipyard for two cruise ships.
Shortly afterwards, they realised the iconic Swan Hellenic brand, established 70 years ago, was available to be purchased. Having ended its operations in 2017, G Adventures acquired the brand later that year but left it dormant. Acquiring the brand rights was accomplished in early 2020.
Mr Zito, now chief executive of Swan Hellenic, was invited to join the venture in 2020 to lead the restart of the iconic brand and resume its operations with its newbuild order. Swan Hellenic now has three expedition cruise ships on its orderbook.
Explaining why he was interested in the brand, Mr Zito says his associations with the cruise company go back a long way. For 15 years while working for V.Ships, he managed Swan Hellenic ships and was involved in Swan Hellenic’s first ship Minerva, built in Genoa in 1995.
As well as being closely associated with the cruise operator, Mr Zito explains the brand was “in sync with what we want to create”.
He says, “Swan Hellenic is a pioneer of expedition cruises. It focused on the cultural experience, starting its activities by taking people from the UK to visit the archaeological sites and history of the eastern Mediterranean.”
This is the concept the new Swan Hellenic Cruises will encapsulate. Mr Zito says, “The common denominator is about the adventure and excitement of visiting remote places, and it is about cultural enrichment. We have small vessels and people are going to be immersed in the destination and travel deeply in terms of knowledge.”
It is these aspects which Mr Zito says are unique to Swan Hellenic. The brand has always been a very exclusively British product, but this is where the new brand will make some changes – it plans to make the cruises more international. “Customers will all share the same values and mindset – curious people driven by international travel,” says Mr Zito.
The company is marketing its cruises in the UK, US, Hong Kong and Australia.
Two 152-passenger vessels are under construction at Finland’s Helsinki shipyard and a third cruise ship, with capacity for 192 passengers, is on order.
The ships are being designed by Tillberg Design of Sweden, as ‘Scandi-design boutique’ ships.
Mr Zito explains, “What we wanted to create was a very elegant, five-star environment. The passenger to volume ratio is one of the largest in the expedition segment and the crew to passenger ratio is also very high. We want our guests to be immersed in the panorama. There are a huge number of windows in the public spaces for the guests to enjoy the views. Our brief to the designer was to create an elegant environment, not distracting from nature and wildlife, as our guests want to be close to the sea. They do not want to be closed in and want the ship to be open to the outside. This was our guiding principle for the ship design.”
This theme meant rather than have a butler in the suites, Swan Hellenic will have butler services in the mud rooms, to help guests clean and dry their gear after expeditions. “We want a practical environment where people can easily get dressed and enjoy being ashore and then easily and comfortably come back to the ship,” says Mr Zito.
One of the reasons the brand chose Helsinki Shipyard was because of the yard’s extensive experience in building icebreakers. Swan Hellenic’s first and second cruise ships will be built to PC5.
Mr Zito says, “The shipyard is an expert in icebreaker technology. While our ships are not icebreakers, they have a relatively high polar code which means they can be in the polar region all year round, and the PC5 adds a level of safety to the vessel.”
SH Minerva – named in honour of its predecessor – and its sister ships are being built as Safe Return to Port, which gives them an extra level of safety. There are two enginerooms for redundancy.
The vessels are being built as ‘battery-ready’ – meaning batteries can be fitted as an add-on at a later stage.
Mr Zito explains, “Batteries are becoming lighter and smaller. We have prepared the cabling of the ships with a space to bolt on the battery pack so batteries are an easy add-on.” He says he anticipates the company will do this after SH Minerva is delivered.
He adds, “The idea is to use the batteries instead of generators while the ship is in port so there are zero emissions. We will also use the battery power while cruising at a very low speed, as this will allow us to cross wildlife sanctuaries emissions-free and prevent the noise of shipping.”
The fuel-efficient Tier 3 engines will be provided by Wärtsilä and include SCRs.
Plastic will be limited on board and the brand has decided not to deploy helicopters, to prevent noise disturbing the ocean wildlife.
Asked about Covid, Mr Zito says “We have done everything possible. We will use UV lamps to treat the supplied HVAC flow and the ships will be fully sanitised as per state of art procedures. Targets are moving daily, and we will also use other measures aligning with prevailing industry best practice.”
The 120 crew members will be fully vaccinated. Mr Zito notes that when SH Minerva takes its first cruise in November, the vaccine will be much more available. “Regarding passengers’ vaccinations, we will see closer to the departure date what the health authorities recommend and we will fully align,” says Mr Zito.
SH Minerva’s sister vessel is expected to be delivered in March 2022. The third of the trio is expected to be delivered in November 2023 and will be a ’stretched’ version of its two sister vessels. It will have 96 cabins and 196 guests as opposed to 152 on the other two vessels. It will also have PC6 as opposed to PC5. “It will still be a polar vessel, but we will also deploy it in more temperate areas,” says Mr Zito.
With the delivery of Swan Hellenic’s first vessel just six months away, the cruise industry will be eagerly awaiting the revival of the iconic Swan Hellenic brand
Andrea Zito (Swan Hellenic)
Before taking the helm at Swan Hellenic, Mr Zito was senior vice president marine ops and newbuilding at Silversea, chief technical officer and head of the passenger ships division at V.Group and the managing director and part owner of Martinoli Group in Monaco. Mr Zito brings with him three generations of shipping knowledge, fluency in six languages and a great interest in different cultures and travelling.
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