Earlier this week Seabourn announced it is building two luxury expedition ships. This follows the announcements by two newcomers to the expedition market, Crystal, Scenic, Celebrity and Hapag-Lloyd, as well as Lindblad, Hurtigruten, Ponant, Quark, Aurora Expeditions, and more. Why the rush and crush in the Expedition market?
Today Scenic announced a long delay in the delivery of the Scenic Eclipse; something it would have known about for many months. Why the delay?
Scenic Eclipse and her sister ship: Delayed
And why the major delays in the deliver of some of the biggest hyped expedition ships? First Hurtigruten and now Scenic. And I am not talking about delays of a few weeks or even a couple of months. I am talking significant delays. (And, by the way, have you thought about why they are being delayed so long?)
First, why are all the new expedition ships being built? The answer is, to my mind, three-fold:
Higher Per Diem Cruise Fares
Shipyard availability is, in reality, probably the biggest driver. The fact is that over the past 15 years the number of shipyards that can build the typical large cruise ship has reduced and, now, those yards’ order books are filled for years to come. On the other hand, smaller shipyards that, in one iteration or another, have been sitting with few orders due to the collapse of the superyacht and smaller commercial carrier shipbuilding markets.
As the former managing director of a superyacht shipyard I can speak knowledgeably about having the infrastructure, but the difficulty in acquiring and retaining the technical expertise and qualified shipbuilding workers (from fabricators to welders to cabinetmakers, etc.) that are needed to not only properly design a ship but to execute same.
Hurtigruten expedition ship: Delayed
With the rush to get new expedition ships I have wondered:
“How many naval architects and marine engineers actually have the expertise to design these ships?”
“How many recently employed (but also recently unemployed) shipyard workers…or other workers…really have the skills to properly do the needed tasks?”
I have dealt with naval architects and marine engineers that made serious mistakes while undertaking cutting edge and/or new to their skill-set projects. As with chefs and lawyers, you need certain qualifications, but the product that gets turned out can be dramatically different!
With the serious expedition ship issues (which have not been fully made public) with the recent shipbuilding (not merely delivery) problems it raises great concern.
Today Scenic sent out a press release stating that its August 2018 delivery of the Scenic Eclipse has been delayed until January 2019. That means there are big problems. Serious problems. But, to my mind, that also means there are yet bigger problems…and those relate directly to passenger safety! Scenic is so far behind that its first cruise will now be to Antarctica; an unforgiving place with no resources nearby. If there is a problem with Scenic’s new ship it has no support whatsoever nearby. Why would Scenic do that if not for some serious economic pressure. (Missing the entire Antarctic season means a publicity nightmare and revenue loss.) That ship should be tested and operated, with guests, for months before it head to the Antarctic!
Hurtigruten announced that its first, and then its second, expedition ship (though at 530 passengers I am not sure how many true expeditions it can operate) were delayed due to “the complexity of construction” of the ships. That is clearly the shipyard doesn’t have the expertise to build it properly and/or there were serious design or construction flaws. By the way, who is the largest stakeholder in the shipyard: Hurtigruten. There is a conflict between construction, economics and marketing if there ever was one.
Other expedition companies, like Aurora Expeditions, won’t even own their new ships. They are being build by another company and leased to them..and other companies with different branding; sort of mass-market construction. So do you actually know what the ship is and who is responsible for your safety? I inquired of Aurora about certain aspects of their new ships and they didn’t have a clue.
There are companies, such as Seabourn, Celebrity and Hapag-Lloyd, that have incredible in-house experts in naval architecture and marine engineering, as well as long-time relationships with qualified shipyards known to have the skilled force needed to complete these vessels and for there to be proper oversight. It matters!
I will be writing another article or so on the issues of how a cruise line or expedition company can and/or can’t deliver a solid expedition experience, but for now I caution that enthusiasm should be curbed and caution should be exercised when considering an expedition cruise; especially on a new ship with a company that is new to the expedition market.
Interested in an expedition experience? Give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!