The Cruise Examiner – Kevin Griffin: 2012 in Outline

by Kevin Griffin

The usual year-end cruise summary usually lists the newest ships and their latest features. But we bring you a slightly quirkier recap for the year 2012. Two of the most interesting results stem from the loss of the Costa Concordia in January. That tragedy has been well covered elsewhere, but the two results are: a German chief executive now heads up Costa Crociere, and CLIA has gone global. Other news for 2012 sees a new contender for the Northwest Passage, new concepts from Norwegian Cruise Line with the Waterfront on its latest ships and the end of Classic International Cruises. Holland America has abandoned Bermuda in favour of Canada, and the mega-ships have arrived in Australia. We have also seen the beginning of a move back towards human scale cruise ships with Viking Ocean Cruises’ plans for up to six 48,000-ton cruise ships that will accommodate fewer than 1,000 passengers. Finally, in a surprise annoucement, STX France has nabbed the order for a third Oasis class ship for Royal Caribbean, with an option for a fourth.

January 2012 – How Costa Loss Led to a Global CLIA

As we end 2012, it is odd to think that the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) might never have gone global without the loss of the 114,147-ton Costa Concordia last January. While 4,220 lives were saved of the 4,252 on board, it cannot be forgotten that 32 people died in this incident, which involved a cruise ship doing what in Italian is called an “inchino” or what we might call a “sail by” in English.

The almost immediate reaction to this tragedy was that CLIA joined forces with the European Cruise Council (ECC) and the UK’s Passenger Shipping Association (PSA) to maintain a common public relations front in order to protect the industry from a rampantly negative press. This eventually and almost inevitably evolved into deeper discussions about future cooperation among the various cruise organizations around the world.

By April, the ECC and CLIA, two bodies whose normal concerns would have been marketing and lobbying, were taking advantage of a European Union passenger-ship safety conference being held in Brussels to announce three new safety measures to be adopted by their respective members. These were in addition to their members having already agreed among themselves to hold ship safety drills before departure from port instead of within twenty-four hours of sailing, as required by the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

The proposed new changes, which included modified passage planning rules, new limits on access to the bridge and new lifejacket requirements, while constructive, sounded a bit like tinkering at the edges. All ships have traditionally made passage plans, for example. As to keeping unauthorized personnel off the bridge, it might have been the presence of the ship’s master that had caused the Costa tragedy. The proposal to have more lifejackets near emergency stations was positive, however, and emerged from the practicalities of trying to evacuate the increasingly large ships of today. But there was no mention of ship’s stability in an incident such as had just occurred to the Costa Concordia.

The Cruise Examiner said at the time “When the world returns to sanity, the proper body for these subjects, the considerably experienced and well-run IMO, will make its position known. And ECC/CLIA, unless they turn into some sort of regulatory body or global trade association, will be able to go back to their marketing and lobbying role.

Well, as announced earlier this month, it seems that that global trade association has been born. ECC, CLIA and seven other regional cruise trade groupings have now united into a global CLIA that includes a CLIA Europe, CLIA UK, CLIA Australasia, CLIA Asia and a CLIA Brazil, among others.

February 2012 – Ponant To Transit Northwest Passage

The first cruise ship to transit Canada’s Northwest Passage was Lindblad Expeditions’ Lindblad Explorer, which did so in 1984. In more recent years only one cruise operator, Hamburg-based Hapag-Lloyd Cruises, has been operating complete transits of the Northwest Passage, in some years using one ship in each direction.

But this February, Compagnie du Ponant announced that it would be sending its latest newbuilding, the 224-berth Le Soléal, through the Northwest Passage from Kangerlussuaq to Anadyr, Russia, in 2013. The voyage sold out almost immediately it was announced.

This will bring to three the number of operators transiting the Northwest Passage, with Hapag-Lloyd Cruises operating between Kangerlussuaq and Nome, Alaska, One Ocean Expeditions between Kangerlussuaq and Coppermine, on Canada’s Arctic coast, and Compagnie du Ponant. Le Soléal will set off from Kangerlussuaq on August 25 for a 21-night transit, to arrive at Anadyr, in Russia’s Far East, on September 15.

In 2014, we will be able to look forward to another first, soon to be announced by Hapag-Lloyd. It is planned that while one ship transits the Northwest Passage across the top of Canada, the other will navigate the Northern Searoute across the top of Siberia. Their Hanseatic will transit Russia’s Northern Sea Route from Nome, Alaska, to Bodo in Norway, while the Bremen will also depart Nome, but for Reykjavik via Canada’s Northwest Passage.

The Hanseatic will not be the first passenger ship to transit the Northern Sea Route, however. In September 2011, the Australian expedition-cruise company Aurora Expeditions completed a through transit using the chartered Russian vessel Akademik Shokalskiy. Departing Murmansk on August 10, 2011, with 50 passengers, she took 26 days to traverse Siberia’s north coast to Anadyr. The Hanseatic’s will be the first westbound passenger ship transit however.

March 2012 – Norwegian Breakaway’s Waterfront

At Cruise Shipping Miami in March came the news that Norwegian Cruise Line’s next ship, the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway, would introduce a significant new design innovation: a quarter-mile-long, ocean-facing boardwalk that will be lined with restaurants, bars and shops. The Waterfront will span both sides of the ship and feature eight outdoor dining and lounging options, including a steakhouse, Italian eatery, seafood restaurant, cocktail bar and a beer and whiskey bar.

The Norwegian Breakaway, which is scheduled undertake a Transatlantic voyage from Southampton to New York this spring before entering the New York to Bermuda trade, will also feature a three-deck-high indoor complex of restaurants, bars and entertainment. To be named 678 Ocean Place, it will spread over decks 6, 7 and 8 of the new ship and her sister ship Norwegian Getaway. 678 Ocean Place will tie into the Waterfront at deck 8.

Restaurants on deck 8, including Cagney’s Steakhouse and the Italian La Cucina, will offer both inside and outside seating, with views overlooking the sea. So will the Brazilian steakhouse Moderno Churrascaria and a new seafood restaurant to be called Ocean Blu.

While several lines have added outdoor seating to shipboard restaurants, the placement of so much seating along the sides of the ship facing the sea is novel. The Waterfront area is partly exposed to the elements, but has been designed in such a way that it will not be particularly windy, even when the ship is sailing at cruising speed.

This concept of opening out to the sea is very much to be welcomed after a decade and a half of cruise ships becoming more and more interior-facing, so much so that many interior windowed and balconied cabins now face onto inside decks.

April 2012 – Viking Ocean Cruises Goes To Italy

A year ago, The Cruise Examiner reported that Viking Ocean Cruises had placed a tentative order with STX France at St Nazaire for two 41,000-ton 888-berth ocean cruise ships of a new design. Then in April, it was revealed that the order had been switched to Fincantieri and that the size of the ships upped to 998 berths and 45,000 tons. The ships are scheduled for delivery in early 2015 and 2016.

Further agreement was reached this month to build two more ships, with an option for a further two. The new ships will be sisters to those ordered earlier this year, although there is some question of there being two designs built on the same platform. Whatever the case, the gross tonnage for the third through sixth ships seems to have risen to 48,000 tons while the number of berths has dropped to 944.

Torstein Hagen, chairman of Viking Ocean Cruises and once chief executive officer of Royal Viking Line, which used to describe its brochures as “Atlases,” commented that, “This additional order indicates just how strong early response has been to our ocean cruise concept, which focuses on small ship destination cruising at a great value.

We will be watching these developments with a great deal of interest, especially as they seem to fit into a bracket defined by Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises, with the latter’s newbuildings having taken the 30,277-ton 684-berth level to 66,000 tons and 1,250 berths, i.e. twice the size but offering the same product. Other products in this size bracket tend to be ultra-luxury.

May 2012 – Regent Celebrates Twenty Years

This May, Miami-based Regent Seven Seas Cruises celebrated twenty years. First launched as Radisson Diamond Cruises, the line began service in May 1992, with the 354-guest twin-hulled Finnish-built Radisson Diamond. Initial management was by a partnership of the Carlson Group of Minneapolis and the ship’s initial owners Diamond Cruise Ltd.

In 1994, Radisson Diamond merged with Seven Seas Cruises, operating the 180-berth all-inclusive Song of Flower. Then in 1996 Carlson acquired the Radisson Diamond and took over management of the French-owned 320-guest Paul Gauguin.

In the late 1990s, Radisson and the Carlson Group entered into a partnership with Monaco-based V.Ships, which resulted in the 490-guest Seven Seas Navigator of 1999, and the 700-guest Seven Seas Mariner of 2001 and Seven Seas Voyager of 2003. These ships essentially replaced the previous three fleet members.

In 2006 the line changed its name to Regent Seven Seas Cruises, a title that better reflects its position in the marketplace.  In more recent years, the Carlson Group sold out to Apollo Management of New York, which also owns half of Norwegian Cruise Line, and Regent has found its way into the new Prestige Cruise Holdings, who also own Oceania Cruises.

Regent Seven Seas is now the most all-inclusive of the ultra-luxury lines, including as it does shore excursions as well as gratuities, port charges and beverages. And it just may be that Prestige Cruise Holdings’ next new ship order might be for Regent, which would be the first new ship for Regent in a decade.

June 2012 – Classic International Founder Dies

On June 1, we had the funeral of Classic International Cruises founder George Potamianos, cousin of the Piraeus-based Potamianos family that had been involved in Epirotiki Cruises. George, who had been involved with cruising in Portugal since 1976, left his business to his sons Alexandros and Emilios.

Classic International operated five traditional cruise ships in various charter markets as well as for its own account. Its first cruises were with the 430-berth Funchal, which cruised from Sweden, first for Stena Line in 1977, and then for what became Classic International from 1978 to 1985, when Potamianos bought her.

Things did not go well after Potamianos’ death, however, and by September, three of Classic International fleet had been arrested, the 556-berth Athena and 568-berth Princess Danae at Marseilles and the 334-berth Arion at Kotor, all for unpaid debts. The 479-berth Princess Daphne, continued operating for more than a fortnight for Germany’s Ambiente Kreuzfahrten, but she too was ultimately arrested in Crete. Ambiente had charters on Athena and Princess Daphne for next summer, but have announced that they will cancel their 2013 season and return in 2014. The fifth fleet member, Funchal, had been laid up in Lisbon for some months.

Finally, last month, Classic International Cruises Pty Ltd (CIC Australia). Which had been planning to sail a full Australian summer season with the Athena, declared itself in receivership.

July 2012 – German Appointed to Head Up Costa

On July 1, Carnival Corp & PLC appointed Michael Thamm as chief executive officer of Costa Crociere SpA, or the Costa Cruises Group, which includes Costa Cruises in Italy, with fourteen ships; AIDA Cruises in Germany, with nine; and Iberocruceros in Spain, with three.

Thamm, who was president of Germany’s AIDA Cruises, replaced Pier Luigi Foschi, who had reached retirement age of 65. Thamm first joined AIDA in 1993 and served as the company’s president from 2004 until his move to Costa. He had previously been involved with Deutsche Seereederei (DSR), which had operated a single cruise ship, the 456-berth Arkona, which now sails as Saga’s Saga Pearl II.

This appointment is a first as it sees a German executive heading up the Italian cruise group, something that might seem odd at first glance, but not when you realize that Rostock-based AIDA Cruises (whose ships are all registered in Genoa) makes up the fastest-growing part of the Costa group at the moment.

Foschi, who had headed up Costa Crociere since 2000, went on to become the first chief executive officer of Carnival Asia, based in Singapore. Carnival’s Costa and Princess brands are both active in Asia, where Foschi had lived for many years before joining Costa.

August 2012 – Holland America Abandons Bermuda

On August 26, Holland America Line’s 1,348-berth Veendam left New York for the last time, ending a three-year contract it had to operate the New York-Bermuda service into the island’s capital of Hamilton. Then on September 2, she left New York to start a new career sailing to Canada, on a 13-night cruise to Montreal by way of Gloucester, Bar Harbor, Saint John, Halifax, Sydney, Charlottetown, Gaspé, Saguenay and Quebec City.

Recently, the so-called Canada New England brand has suffered from the reputation of being just an autumn market. But in recent years, Holland America has been operating one ship, its 1,266-berth Maasdam, into Montreal between May and October. Next year, the Veendam will join her sister ship for a full season of St Lawrence cruises, also from May through October. She will turn at Quebec while the Maasdam continues to turn at Montreal.

The Veendam will handle four embarkations and four disembarkations at Quebec, while Montreal will see additional turnarounds by the Maasdam in July and August, bringing more than 20,000 extra visitors a year over the next three years. This new marketing agreement is backed by $1.15 million in government funds, half from Tourism Quebec and half from Quebec City. The addition of the Veendam is good news for Quebec City, which in 2013 will see five Holland America calls each month from May to August and seven in June, for a total of 22 calls.

As part of the new agreement, the 450-berth Seabourn Sojourn, operated by Holland America affiliate Seabourn, will also operate three St. Lawrence turnaround cruises from Montreal that will visit seven ports in Quebec: Montreal, Quebec City, Trois Rivières, Saguenay, Baie Comeau, Gaspé and the Magdalen Islands.

September 2012 – Seabourn Goes To Antarctica

Seabourn announced that it plans to go to Antarctica for the first time in 2013. Seabourn Quest, its newest ship, will offer a series of four 21- to 24-day voyages between Valparaiso and Buenos Aires, beginning in November 2013. Antarctica was the only continent that did not feature in Seabourn itineraries.

The Quest will cruise the Chilean coast before transiting the Beagle Channel to Ushuaia, whence she will cruise by Cape Horn for five days in Antarctica with an experienced Antarctic expedition staff, landings ashore and cruising in zodiacs. Scientists, naturalists and other lecturers will speak on board and accompany guests ashore

It was also planned to call at Port Stanley, in the Falkland Islands, and Montevideo, en route to or from Buenos Aires, and it is hoped that Argentina can be brought to its senses and allow the freedom of the seas once more. Demonstrators have been picketing ships that call in the Falklands this year, which has seen some ships drop calls on the Falklands, while others substitute Montevideo for Buenos Aires turnarounds. The Seabourn Sojourn had to cancel an Ushuaia call earlier this month.

Although parent company Holland America Line has been sending ships to the Antarctic for some time, the difference is that Seabourn will make actual landings instead of just cruising by. The whole idea of going to Antarctica without making any landings can best be compared to a date without a goodnight kiss!

October 2012 – Chinese Market Is Growing

The most recent statistics from China indicate that 709,000 Chinese cruised abroad in 2010. This compares to about 500,000 for Australia, but China has about sixty times the population.

To attract the Chinese, operators are adding more features to their ships. Royal Caribbean offers Chinese-language service and Chinese menus, as well as stocking merchandise and brands that are favoured by Chinese consumers in its shops, while Costa, the first Western cruise operator to enter China, in 2006, offers Chinese menus and Chinese-speaking staff on its ships.

Royal Caribbean will introduce the 3,114-berth Mariner of the Seas in 2013, in addition to sister ship Voyager of the Seas that made her Chinese debut this year, while Costa will add a second ship for China with its 2,112-berth Costa Atlantica.

According to reports, the Xiamen Shipbuilding Industry Co Ltd may be about to for delivery in 2018. Reports indicate that Shanghai-based Shan Hai Shu Group, a conglomerate that has worked with Royal Caribbean International, will operate the new ship through a subsidiary, Xiamen International Cruise Co Ltd. The ship will reportedly be built in pure Chinese style with eight Chinese restaurants and interior decor featuring antiques and traditional Chinese paintings. Along with eight Chinese food outlets, there will be one western restaurant

November 2012 – Voyager of the Seas Arrives Down Under

November 22 marked the first arrival of the 137,276-ton Voyager of the Seas at Sydney. This Australian summer season has seen the introduction of the mega-ship to the Australian cruising scene. Next after the Voyager was the 121,878-ton Celebrity Solstice, which arrived seventeen days later. Other large ships in Australia for the first time this year are Holland America’s 81,769-ton Oosterdam and the 85,920-ton Carnival Spirit, which arrived in October and is now permanently based in Sydney.

Probably of most importance to the Australian marker is Carnival Spirit, which is the first Carnival ship to be based year-round anywhere outside the United States. She now has an Australian-born cruise director and has been “Aussified.” In an amusing article in the “Miami herald” by David Molyneaux he had this to say:

“Here are the messages from Down Under: Aussies despise American coffee. They won’t drink the beer. They insist on a better cut of bacon. And, by the way, nobody — not a barman, a steward, or a waiter – will be paid a tip.”  

Machines that brew strong espresso-style coffee have replaced the ship’s old coffee machines, which used the American method of dripping water through coffee grounds. Gone are most of the beers Americans know, including Foster’s, the brand Americans associate with Australia but which isn’t drunk there. And while Americans like beer in bottles Australians prefer draft.

Among the foods on board, you can now expect snags (sausages) and Australian bacon, which is similar to Canadian. The ship also has an outdoor barbie (Australian for barbecue) and has been modified for larger families with 86 interconnecting cabins.

Unlike most cruise lines sending ships to Australia, Carnival expects more than 90% of Carnival Spirit’s passengers will be Australians. The line has already announced forty-one Spirit cruises out of Australia for 2014. First reports indicate that she may need some work yet. And on one of her first voyages she reportedly had 900 children on board, on a ship that has 2,124 lower berths, or 2,680 when you count the uppers.

December 2012 – STX France Lands The Next Oasis

STX France has nabbed the order for Royal Caribbean International’s third 5,400-berth Oasis class ship for delivery in mid-2016. An option for a second Oasis class ship from STX France, for delivery in mid-2018, is also part of the agreement, announced last week. The Oasis and Allure of the Seas were built by STX Finland but it seems the Finnish Government has not been able to come up with an attractive enough financing package.

One interesting aspect of the new deal is that part of the consideration includes a trade-in of Royal Caribbean’s Atlantic Sky, one of the last steamships left and last operated by Royal Caribbean’s Spanish-based Pullmantur division. The ship has been laid up in Marseilles for an extended period.

An interesting twist to this latest order is that STX France has agreed to accept Royal Caribbean’s 1,555–berth Atlantic Star as part of the consideration for this deal. Word on the street is that this ship, which was latterly operated by Pullmantur International, has been sitting on Royal Caribbean’s books at an inflated value and that trading her in as part of this order is a way of Royal Caribbean avoiding having to take a major write-down on its books.

The Atlantic Star was the last cruise ship to be built with steam turbine propulsion and will ultimately have to be re-engined if she is to be of interest to any future owners or charterer.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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