Small-ship Construction & Delivery Updates
By Anne Kalosh.
The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a lot of uncertainty on the cruise shipbuilding front. Some yards have been closed, in line with national rules, or operating at greatly reduced capacity to enable safe distancing among workers.
Subcontractors, the vast web of suppliers who provide the majority of components and highly specialized labor/craftsmanship that go into building ships, haven’t been able cross borders, creating bottlenecks.
And, in this zero-revenue environment, many cruise lines are trying to renegotiate new build deliveries. Anyway, who needs more berths at a time when all fleets are laid up and nobody knows when operations will restart?
Here’s an update on news emerging in recent days about some of the Quirky-sized oceangoing new builds.
It’s a mixed picture, with both delays and progress — but, overall, surprisingly robust with even some new entrants, on both the shipyard and cruise line sides.
Small-ship Construction: Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot
The hybrid electric, LNG-powered Le Commandant Charcot is one of a kind. Ponant is building this ship to be able to sail in extreme polar regions with the least environmental impact possible. It appears on track for April 2021 delivery.
The new build is now being outfitted at the Vard Søviknes in Norway after arriving from Vard Tulcea in Romania, where the superstructure was built. Towed from Eastern Europe to Norway in a monthlong voyage, Le Commandant Charcot rendezvoused in the Gibraltar Strait with Ponant’s L’Austral, Le Boréal and Le Lyrial as they headed to Marseille for layup during the current suspension of cruise operations, making for some spectacular drone footage.
Le Commandant Charcot’s destinations will include the true geographic North Pole and areas in Antarctica where fewer people have traveled than to the moon.
In addition to carrying intrepid travelers, the ship will facilitate scientific research with laboratories, equipment and dedicated staterooms for researchers, providing a platform for polar observation and analysis.
Small-ship Construction: Sea Cloud Spirit Delay
Sea Cloud Cruises’ long-awaited, triple-masted tall ship Sea Cloud Spirit had been scheduled to make its maiden voyage Aug. 29. It will go into service later than planned, the new date still to be advised.
The 136-passenger vessel is under construction at Metalships & Docks SAU in Vigo, Spain, where work stopped for several weeks due to the country’s shutdown. Operations have resumed in small groups, in strict compliance with new public health regulations. However, the European subcontractors and suppliers involved in the project have not yet returned to Spain due to entry restrictions.
Sea Cloud Spirit’s masts, manufactured in Poland, had arrived at the yard when the COVID-19 crisis hit but were not installed due to the work stoppage. Below deck, the interior fittings were also being carried out but not completed.
New Canary Islands Program
Because of the delay, Sea Cloud Spirit will not cross the Atlantic, heading to the Caribbean in mid-November as originally scheduled. Instead, it will remain in the Canary Islands until April 2021.
According to Sea Cloud Cruises, its Sea Cloud and Sea Cloud II are still expected to ply the Caribbean later this year.
The company’s 2021 brochure will be published this summer, including all voyages on the three ships. The upcoming year gives the Hamburg-based line several reasons to celebrate: the legendary Sea Cloud flagship will be 90 years old, Sea Cloud II will turn 20 and Sea Cloud Spirit will be operating its first full season.
Small-ship Construction: Eclipse II & More Polar New Builds for Scenic
Meanwhile, in Rijeka, Croatia, a steel-cutting ceremony for Scenic Eclipse II was held recently, and Scenic Group Owner Glen Moroney revealed plans to turn out five polar “discovery yachts” there in the next six years.
Due in 2021, Scenic Eclipse II is the sister of 2019’s Scenic Eclipse, which carries 238 passengers (200 in polar regions) in all-veranda suites with butler service. Numerous restaurants, an ample spa and nearly 1:1 crew-to-guest ratio make for an ultra-luxurious experience.
Yet these are also serious expedition ships, with ice-strengthened hulls, super-sized stabilizers, two helicopters housed in a giant hangar, a submarine, a marina for launching Zodiacs and kayaks and a mud room for gear.
After the Uljanik Group that built Scenic Eclipse went bankrupt, Moroney formed his own company, MKM Yachts, as a sub-concession at Rijeka’s Maj 3 shipyard. This new entity is taking full responsibility for Scenic’s oceangoing new builds, starting with Scenic Eclipse II.
MKM Yachts reached this agreement with the Croatian government, which is also supporting the redevelopment of the shipyard and assisting in the funding of Scenic’s new building program. Under the plan, MKM Yachts is leasing a portion of the Rijeka yard to use its infrastructure and the knowledge of the Croatian shipbuilders, working in collaboration with Scenic’s expert team.
Small-ship Construction: Atlas Ocean Voyages
Atlas Ocean Voyages, the dedicated North American brand of Portugal’s Mystic Invest Holdings, has just opened sales for its inaugural Antarctica program in late 2021/early 2022. The voyages will be aboard new build World Navigator, currently under construction in Portugal.
As a new brand, Atlas faces the challenge of introducing itself amid the global cruise shutdown. However, President Alberto Aliberti said his team can focus on marketing and planning the safest possible entry into service instead of coping with the ongoing challenges facing other lines that have had to repatriate passengers and crew, lay up ships and juggle cancellations and rebookings.
World Navigator is not due to begin sailing until mid-2021, in the Mediterranean. By opening bookings for the subsequent Antarctica season now, Atlas is playing into the dreams of people cooped up at home who have time to plan a future big adventure.
And, echoing the recent remarks of Sven Lindblad — whose Lindblad Expeditions just took delivery of its new polar ship National Geographic Endurance, which awaits entry to service when the global health situation improves — Aliberti believes small expedition ships will have an edge.
They carry fewer people and visit remote places like Antarctica, far from human populations.
Plus, Aliberti said, given World Navigator hasn’t entered service yet, Atlas can design for social distancing from the ground up.
For Antarctica bookings made by June 30, 2020, travelers may make a 50% reduced deposit, save $1,000 and get free business-class air per suite guest or $500 savings plus free economy-class air travel per Horizon or Veranda stateroom guest. Adventure staterooms come with free economy air. Changes to any itinerary departing before March 31, 2022, may be made without penalty.
As well, Atlas is catching the attention of the hard-hit travel advisor community with a “Get Paid Now” bonus gift card of up to $750 per booking, paid immediately, on top of a generous 15 percent commission.
Small-ship Construction: Project Vega Expedition Ships
Steel-cutting for the first of two planned Project Vega luxury expedition ships recently started in safe conditions and as scheduled in northern Europe despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Helsinki Shipyard, in icebreaker specialist with experience in mainstream cruise vessels such as Carnival Cruise Line’s long-running Fantasy class of the 1990s (and many more), is returning to passenger-ship construction after its sale and reorganization last year.
This first Project Vega order, for a pair of 157-passenger polar expedition vessels, was placed by Vodohod Ltd., Russia’s largest river cruise company and an affiliate of the Helsinki Shipyard’s new owners.
The steel blocks for the ships are being manufactured by Western Baltija Shipbuilding in Klaipeda, Lithuania, and will be transferred to Helsinki by sea. Production in Helsinki is to start in August, with the hull construction to begin with a keel-laying ceremony in September.
Deliveries are planned in 2021 and 2022.
Small-ship Construction: New Entrant
Technology group Wärtsilä is developing a customized design for a potential series of six 200-passenger luxury expedition ships for start-up Amundsen Expeditions. These would be targeted primarily at the Chinese market.
Details are sparse for now. However, the design calls for all ocean-view cabins, presidential suites, winter gardens and the latest environmental equipment, according to Capt. Rajko Zupan of Amundsen Expeditions.
Wärtsilä said the ships will be crafted to operate efficiently in both tropical and polar waters.
They’ll be fitted with a complete package of Wärtsilä solutions, including Wärtsilä 32 engines, selective catalytic reduction systems to abate nitrogen oxide emissions, electric propulsion, the Wärtsilä Nacos Platinum bridge system for navigation and communication and Wärtsilä automation solutions.
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