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Expedition Ship Orders Explode…And So Do the Problems with Small Shipyards and New Expedition Companies.

It has just been announced that the delivery of Scenic’s Eclipse has, yet again, been delayed; this time due to labor and financial strife at the Uljanik shipyard in Croatia as well as the related walk-off by the specialist engine and systems commissioning workers.

Scenic Eclipse – Delayed Again

Now it is claimed the Scenic Eclipse will be delivered in April 2019 with a rather standard cruise from Barcelona to Athens…which is far better than its previous, and I believe totally unsafe, plan to take the ship right out of the shipyard and head to Antarctica.

Le Soleal – Ran Aground in Chilean fjord

It has also been reported that Ponant’s 264 guest , which has an ice-hardened hull, has just sustained serious damage in the Chilean fjords having run aground damaging at least one of her propellers, shafts and rudders and at least scratching her hull.  Clearly this was caused by navigational error and the ship is now at anchor being assisted by the Chilean navy and is awaiting a tug.  (A decision as to whether to off-load the guests or allow them to stay onboard has not yet been made.)

In July 2018 I wrote an article explaining some of the trials, tribulations and concerns regarding the recent explosion of expedition-style vessels being ordered.. I would urge you to read it (again):

Scenic and Hurtigruten Expedition Ships Delayed – A Pattern? A Problem?

Since I wrote that article even more expedition vessels have been ordered.  According to Cruise Industry News there are thirty four (34) expedition ships currently on order.  And all I see are more problems and issues which are going to haunt this fledgling sub-industry of the cruise world.

Why?  Because for me this is, quoting Yogi Berra, the famous American baseball player known for his head-scratching comments, “This is deja vu all over again!

Back in the late 1980’s to mid 2000’s there was a boom in the superyacht industry (essentially yachts over 150 feet/50 metres). There were not enough qualified shipyards to build these floating mini-palaces and even less qualified marine engineering and architectural professionals and yet even fewer truly skilled craftspeople.  The result was bad/poor functioning design, over-optimistic budgets, cost-overruns, reworking of poor quality/designed work, delays and, ultimately, a rash of litigation and shipyard closings.  It became so rampant that there literally was an era of wealthy individuals who had ordered a superyacht taking over shipyards that had been building their yachts.  And we all knew what the result was going to be…and we were right almost every time:  Disaster or near disaster.

Today the superyacht industry has changed remarkably.  Now the focus is on 400+ foot/120 metre yachts…about the same size as the Windstar (former Seabourn) Pride, Ponant’s Boreal-class (which includes the aforementioned Le Soleal, and many of the new expedition ships.  With many of the specialized professionals and craftspeople working on these superyachts, how many are available for all of these expedition ships?

Now, with the cruise lines building new, larger, cruise ships at a record pace, the demand for cruise vacations ever-increasing, coupled with the strong large superyacht market, what shipyards are actually available to build these 34 (and counting) expedition ships and where are the located?  Where they are located matters, in part, because there really needs to be a skilled labor force.  When previously minor yards that have never built cruise ships, expeditions ships or even superyachts start appearing on the scene in countries like Portugal, Croatia, Poland and Norway there is reason to worry.  Building a container ship or tanker has virtually nothing to do with building an expedition ship.  It is akin to a Yugo factory being contracted to build a Bentley.

And, while that expedition ship is being built (to whatever quality), it has to be equipped.  One must ask, “Are the navigational and safety equipment merely in compliance with the minimum legal requirements or are they state-of-the-art?”  It makes a difference and that difference can be critical; especially in the less-traveled waters expedition ships are supposed to be plying.

This is followed by, “How are these expeditions ships manned?”  As it is there is a shortage of qualified captains and navigators.  You cannot simply take a ferry captain, a large ship captain or even a yacht captain, and make him a qualified expedition ship captain.  It is one thing to have the right licenses, but it is another to have the truly needed experience operating a different type of vessel in remote places.

Oh, and then there is the issue of qualified scientists, naturalists and historians.  Where do these expedition ships think they are getting them?  It is not like there are hundreds of these folks that want, are willing and able to spend extended periods on these ships. I also caution: Remember those professors you had that were great at their research, but were terrible as teachers?  There is so much more than having “brains onboard”.  The guest expectation is that there will not only be engagement, but entertainment, as they experience these remote destinations.

But it is not all gloom and doom. There are some extraordinary expedition ships with well qualified captains that exist with more coming soon.  Lindblad Expeditions, Seabourn, Silversea, and others have fine products with excellent scientists and naturalists.  Even Celebrity, with its Celebrity Flora, is bringing a bit of modern luxury to the Galapagos.

As I prepare for my second trip to Antarctica on the Seabourn Quest this coming January, along with my expeditions on Silversea and others,  I have a real appreciation for what goes into making an expedition a truly unforgettable experience.   It is more than just being there.  And, of course, having a safe way to travel there, is first and foremost.

This is not a “do it yourself” decision.  And, no matter how much you may be devoted to your travel agent, if he/she does not have experience with expedition ships you need to consider looking elsewhere.  You are traveling to remote areas that requires expertise. And, of course, you probably will only visit once, so there are no “do-overs”!

Interested in an Expedition cruise?  Give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

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