Windstar Cruises explains what the stretch and re-engining of its Star-class vessels will involve
Windstar Cruises is carrying out possibly the most “complex” stretch of an existing cruise ship.
Its vice president of expansion projects John Gunner tells Passenger Ship Technology that the combination of the stretch, a complete re-engining, new onboard venues and replacing technical equipment on board its three Star-class cruise ships has never been done before.
The US$250M Star Plus initiative will see Italian shipyard Fincantieri insert a 25.6-m mid-body block into Star Breeze, Star Legend and Star Pride, with work starting on Star Breeze in October 2019 and ending with the departure of Star Pride from the yard in November 2020. Each refit will take around four months with the ships in the dock.
Mr Gunner says the mid-body sections for Star Breeze are under construction, with one section being built at Ancona and the first three decks in Trieste, before being fitted together and taken to Palermo to be fitted into the ship.
Explaining the main drivers behind the refit – adding capacity and being more environmentally friendly – Mr Gunner says “Among the main drivers was that we want to expand. This is a great way to do it, as they are beautiful ships that are very popular with our guests and this is perfect as it allows us to expand while utilising the assets we have.”
The ships, which used to belong to Seabourn Cruises, will see capacity increase by 50 suites each, boosting passenger numbers from 212 to 312, representing a 24% capacity increase for Windstar as a brand, at a very cost efficient $267,000 per berth.
Mr Gunner says “We wanted to re-engine the ships due to the 2020 sulphur cap regulations. Therefore, we decided to put new engines in and burn gas oil so we have a negligible sulphur footprint. These ships do not have enough space for scrubbers. The engines will be Tier III and will have selective catalytic reduction systems, meaning the ships will have a much-reduced NOx footprint.
“In order to burn gas oil, our costs will go up.” The extra capacity and passengers will help to cover this, so “everything comes together to make a sensible decision. They are 30-year-old ships and this upgrade can probably give them 15 to 20 years more of life.”
Looking forward he adds “Newbuilds are something we are certainly looking at and while there is nothing currently planned, I feel sure that we will build more ships going forward. However, this upgrade has enabled us to improve our capacity in a relatively short period. So, it made sense to do this as an interim measure as we love these ships.”
Fincantieri was chosen because of its leadership in the area, as it has done many of the major refits and stretches in the industry over the last decade. Indeed, the shipyard has been awarded 10 major stretches in the cruise industry since 2010, with six completed.
The stretching process
Mr Gunner explained how the new sections are added to the ships. “The new mid-body sections are prebuilt and pre-outfitted as far as they can be and moved to the dock when the ship arrives.
“The ship is docked, with the aft section on normal blocks, but the forward section docked on a sliding bed plate. In the first two weeks, the ship will be cut in half from the inside out. It will be cut almost centrally, where it is uniform and cylindrical. The mid-body section will be in the dock when the ship arrives. It is a pretty clean cut so all of the piping, the electricals, everything is cut on the same frame.”
He says the new mid-section is prefitted with pipework and electricals are installed, so that once the three pieces are welded together, technicians will enter the ship and rejoin the cables and pipe work.
When the last piece of steel is cut on the main ship body, the forward section is moved forward on a sliding platform and the mid body is mounted on a wheeled platform that can be moved 360°.
Mr Gunner continues, “This is a massive platform on wheels and the mid-body section is driven into the gap made by moving the forward section of the ship. The new mid-body section is welded together with the forward section and while that is happening, the old engines, generators and gear boxes are removed from the aft section and the new equipment put in. At a strategic moment the forward section is slid back to meet the aft section and the sections are welded together.”
He singles out that one major issue was to be very conscious of the ships’ seakeeping performance and stability. He says “All this has been recalculated and we have projected how the lengthened ship will behave. The mid-body section has its own buoyancy and weight – the most important thing is to strengthen the ship so that with the extra length it has the necessary structure to withstand any sea conditions.”
To ensure the ship has enough strength, Mr Gunner says strengthening will take place inside the ship to ensure it is strong enough for all weathers throughout the world. To this end, extra steel is placed strategically, so the ship mid-body does not suffer excess bending or shear stress at sea.
The new mid-section will add 50 new cabins plus two new restaurants, Cuadro 44 on the mid deck and on the top deck, Star Grill. The current restaurant, in the old forward section, will be converted to ocean view suites. The new section will also include storage areas, crew cabins, and technical solutions including potable water tanks, machinery stores, more fuel and ballast water capacity.
Mr Gunner adds “The majority of the new cabins will be the same size as our current cabins, apart from three new classic suites and two new owner suites.” He says the main difference will mark a 180° change in the layout of the suite, with the bed next to the window and the lounge at the entrance of the new cabins. Typically, the bed is towards the cabin door and the lounge area by the balcony doors.
Mr Gunner explains “We are putting the bed next to the windows/balcony door in the new cabins as it gives a slightly different approach – the passenger can lie in bed and look out of the window, and when the passenger enters the living area they do not have to squeeze past the bed.”
Other new interior changes include: a new bbq area and a bigger veranda restaurant. The spa area will be enlarged and completely rebuilt, with enhanced facilities including new massage areas, saunas, steam rooms and gym. The area will be almost double the size. Mr Gunner comments “we are very excited about the spa and it is something our passengers ask for.”
There will be a spectacular new pool, pool area and new shops.
From a technical perspective, there will be a new automation and control system, tank monitoring system, upgraded boilers and ballast water treatment system.
Mr Gunner says “We are getting new engines and gear boxes, so it made sense for a new automation system. Operators will be able to operate at a much higher level. An alarm system will provide an early alarm if anything goes wrong with the engines, and it is a much easier operational environment – press a button and the engines start. Currently the engines are started by hand.”
In addition, Windstar Cruise will replace the safety and fire detection systems, there will be pipework replacements, new stern tube seals and a new advanced wastewater treatment system.
All elevators throughout the ships will be replaced. “They are 30 years old and so we decided to replace them,” says Mr Gunner. “There will be a new elevator with capacity for wheelchairs and a staircase in the new mid-section.
Speaking about the engine replacement, Mr Gunner says “With the ship in drydock for four months, it is probably the only opportunity we have to take major components out of the ship and put in new ones. I said ‘it really makes no sense to stretch the ship without replacing the engines’. The engines are 30 years old and not as efficient or as environmentally friendly as new engines. Plus, our new engines are going to provide the ships with significantly improved reliability.”
He said engines would be much more environmentally friendly, with a large improvement for both NOx and SOx emissions. Mr Gunner adds “They will also be more fuel efficient and overall we will end up with a ship that has relatively new propulsion system and electrical generation system and a much more efficient configuration.
The Tier III engines are two Wärtsilä 12V26 for propulsion with power take off and two 8L26 M diesel generators.
“The original ships have ‘father and son’ engines, consisting of two big engines and two small engines driving two propellers, then independent diesel generators. With the new configuration, the main propulsion engines will drive the propellers, but they will also in normal conditions drive a power take off which provides electrical energy for the ship. When the ship is at sea, it will run two engines rather than five or six. We are actually going from seven engines installed to four engines installed, two for propulsion and two for generation.”
The complete re-engining, refurbishment, new mid-body sections and complete technical overhaul puts these upgrades at the forefront of most complex stretches ever carried out.
Snapshot CV: John Gunner (Windstar Cruises)
John Gunner’s career started in electrical engineering. He became a sea-going officer aboard P&O Princess Cruises, where he worked through various engineering department ranks culminating as chief electro technical officer. Then, as senior project manager for their newbuild group he designed and reviewed development of passenger vessels, including five mega ships. He subsequently took the position of senior vice president of technical operations for Princess Cruises. Since 2016, he has served as a technical consultant for Windstar Cruises, helping oversee major vessel projects. His vice president of expansion projects role is a new position at Windstar.