The booming expedition cruise orderbook has allowed new shipyards to get a look-in
With the cruise industry enjoying unprecedented investment in recent times the sector took on a new look with a surge in ordering of specialist expedition cruise ships.
The desire of potential passengers to penetrate inaccessible areas by big cruise ships has now spawned a whole new sector. A large emphasis has been placed on the Polar region but tropical destinations also prove popular. Europe dominates construction, with the boom giving a welcome lifeline to smaller builders previously experiencing a shortfall from the collapse of offshore construction. Norway in particular is a success story in itself but other European yards also take credit. Now more overseas yards outside of Europe are gaining a foothold in construction but most are being built to European designs.
Norwegian builders, owners and designers dominate the industry. So far 25 expedition cruise ships are on order, most of which have been contracted in 2017 and underlining the fact that the cruise-related industries see this as a niche area of business which has not been exploited to full potential. Here we are talking of differentials over cruise exploration vessels as expedition ships are built with working trips in mind since they have access to remote areas of land deep in Antarctic, Arctic and tropical regions.
Passengers also have more opportunity to go ashore made possible by shallow draft access designs. Indeed, some of the latest expedition ship orders also carry mini submarines for underwater exploration. Small they may be, but the competition is equal to the best the big cruise giants can offer. The ordering spree is unlikely to slacken its momentum. By nature of destinations passenger capacity is limited on the vessels and therefore more vessels are needed to meet demand for unforgettable experiences in nature’s remote habitats.
Europe yards scoops orders
In a notable breakthrough for Netherlands shipbuilding, Miami-based Celebrity Cruises chose De Hoop against strong competition to build one plus optional one 5,700 grt, 100 pax expedition vessel(s) specially designed for operation in the Galapagos Islands. The firm vessel, to be named Celebrity Flora, will deliver in May 2019. A building slot has been allocated for the second ship which is most likely to be exercised in the next six months. De Hoop worked closely with the owner on design and development. Eight decks will offer a wide selection of facilities for passengers including provision of three Zodiac launches housed in a stern marina. Zero speed stabilisers will enable the vessel to remain in a stationary position without anchoring in an environmentally sensitive sea bed. Pollution emissions will be reduced by 15% over older vessels in service. Royal Caribbean Cruises as the parent owner is confident the Lobith shipyard of De Hoop will deliver a first-class ship despite never having tackled an ocean-going cruise ship before. Indeed, this prestigious contract shows the increasing versatility of ship construction today in the Netherlands. The newbuilding(s) will replace two ageing vessels.
Lindblad Expeditions, having witnessed substantial delays in construction of an expedition vessel at Nichols Brothers, USA, turned to Europe for a prospective three more vessels. One has been firmed with Norwegian designer and builder Ulstein Design & Solutions with options for two more from its Ulsteinvik yard. Expanded fuel and water tanks will provide for a longer endurance range in remote areas. Accommodation will be offered for 128 passengers. Zodiac launches will enable passengers to get ashore quickly and the vessel will be certified highest ice class for deep access into the Arctic and Antarctic. Everything is thought of for the passenger including kayaks, cross country skis, remotely operated vehicle (ROV), hydrophones, a video microscope, underwater video cameras and helicopter landing platform. Commissioning is set for the first quarter of 2020.
New shipyards muscle in
With long lead delivery times due to sophisticated designs intended for long lives current and future technology is factored in during construction. Norwegian cruise owner Nordic Cruise Company has ordered in principle four luxury expedition cruise ships from MetalShips & Docks in Vigo, Spain. The first will definitely be built but there may be delays with the other three as more finance needs to be procured. Deliveries are stemmed at ten-month intervals with the debutant due in May 2020. These vessels will be LNG ready and able to sail for up to thirty hours on LNG whilst utilising diesel fuel for the rest of the time. Hydrogen fuel cells will also be fitted. The 220 pax vessels mark the latest orders in a resurgence of specialist shipbuilding in Spain and among the first to be dual fuel burning LNG.
Another group successfully switching from offshore construction to new areas is Norway’s Vard Holdings. Australian based Coral Expeditions ordered design and construction of one expedition cruise vessel. The customer is new to Vard Holdings and will receive a new design designated Vard 6 01. It will accommodate 120 passengers and operate expedition cruises to the Great Barrier Reef. Kimberley region, Cape York and Arnhem Land, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, South Pacific Islands, Tasmania and south east Asia. The owner concentrates on small ship expeditions to remote destinations in the Asian Pacific. Vard will utilise its Vietnam building facility at Vung Tau and deliver the vessel in the first quarter of 2019.
Kleven group, Norway has received US$38M in new funding from a consortium of investors including German builder Lurssen and Hurtigruten. The builder has a strong orderbook and is concentrating on specialist construction particularly in the expedition cruise sector. Kleven is currently building two expedition cruise ships for Hurtigruten to be named Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen after Norwegian explorers. Each will accommodate 600 passengers and deliver in the second half of 2019. Options are attached for two more.
The investment by Lurssen is interesting as its speciality is luxury yachts. These are borderline cases as cruising yachts with recent designs edging closer to expedition roles serving 12 passengers. The new investors intend the investment to keep Kleven in the forefront of specialist design technology and construction over the long term. The industry is already witnessing construction of luxury expedition mega yachts. A second such vessel known as the SeaXplorer type was won by Damen Shipyards in collaboration with yacht builder AMELS. The owner was not revealed. The 2,500 grt vessel will deliver in the second half of 2020 accommodating 12 guests, 25 crew and complying with the IMO Polar Code for expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.
Scandinavian companies remain in demand because of their proven expertise in specialist construction. Sweden’s Bassoe Technology is the latest owner to court expedition cruise ships in a tie-up with China. The latter has been tapping Scandinavian expertise for a while now and looks to build its first expedition cruise ship. Bassoe Technology has entered into a co-operation agreement with Yantai CIMC Raffles Shipyard to offer a 240 pax vessel known as the Vega type. The vessel is classed for Polar Code 7 requirements and due to deliver in 2019/2020. China Merchants Industry Holdings will also utilise Scandinavian expertise from Ulstein Design & Solutions for construction of four plus optional six expedition cruise ships built to ice class 1A Polar Code PC6 class. The Nowegian owner will supply a complete design and equipment package. The vessels will accommodate 80-95 passengers. Deliveries for the firm four are set for 2019/2020 and will enter the fleet of newcomer SunStone Ships based in North America.
Another builder new to this class of construction is West Sea, formerly Portugal’s Viana do Castelo shipyard. The builder has been entrusted with delivery of a 176 pax ice-class 1B vessel powered by two Rolls-Royce diesel-electric engines giving a total output of 9,000 kW. Named World Explorer, it will be delivered to Quark Expeditions, Germany which is a subsidiary of TUI Cruises and will operate ice region expeditions. The last mentioned is the cruise division of Hapag-Lloyd. TUI itself has committed two expedition vessels to Vard, Norway which will deliver the duo from Langsten in 2019 after hull building in Tulcea, Romania.