A shipbuilding and refit masterclass

Marco Pastorino shares memories and perspectives following the acquisition of Independent Maritime Advisors by Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings

A shipbuilding and refit masterclass

By Jon Ingleton |

Marco Pastorino was recruited by Oceania Cruises in 2007 as an independent newbuilding consultant to manage the delivery of Marina, the company’s first newbuild ship. He formed Independent Maritime Advisors (IMA) in 2010 while working on Marina and Riviera, and projects for Norwegian Cruise Line and Regent Seven Seas Cruises soon followed. IMA moved to London in 2015 and the company quickly grew into one of the most highly regarded newbuild and refurbishment teams in the industry. 

Norwegian’s acquisition of IMA in April 2024 feels like the end of an era. 

“Everyone in the market has known about a possible sale for some time, which is strange because for so long the company almost operated under the radar,” says Pastorino. “In our early years there was perhaps just one article about us in a local newspaper in Italy.”  

IMA was a low-key undertaking which nonetheless took on a huge responsibility in its role with Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) and its brands.  

“It was funny reading so much about other newbuilding and refit teams in the industry press over the last 15 years, but nothing really about us,” says Pastorino. “But we weren’t looking for the exposure, we were very happy hidden from the camera directing our own business. I sincerely believe that NCLH has acquired the best team in the industry, and maybe now it will get the external recognition that it deserves.” 

After graduating as a naval architect and marine engineering in Genova, Italy, Pastorino worked for shipbuilder T. Mariotti, beginning with Silversea Cruises’ Silver Whisper and Regent’s Seven Seas Voyager. He then became a consultant working for a large cruise group that had just started building ships in Italy. As a naval architect whose past studies included lots of challenging mathematics, logic and physics, Pastorino was well suited to the complex projects and processes involved in building ships. 

“I noticed that there might be a lot of opportunity in the field because lots of ship projects were being managed by people with onboard experience rather than project management experience,” he says. “When I looked at the way things were managed, I saw a chance to make the process work more effectively and efficiently, for both the companies and employees. So I made the difficult decision to stop working for a big company and started working for myself.” 

A meeting with executive vice president of vessel operations Robin Lindsay and later with Frank Del Rio, then chief executive of Prestige Cruise Holdings, was a turning point for Pastorino. 

“I was fortunate to meet Robin and Frank in 2007 when they were planning on growing the Oceania fleet, and from that meeting I started working with Prestige Cruise Holdings,” says Pastorino. “Then when Norwegian bought Prestige in 2014 and Frank became the president and CEO in 2015, IMA took responsibility for all of the group’s newbuilding.” 

The one client approach proved to be an effective strategy for the success of IMA.  

“For me, it was important that we committed to dedicating our time to a client that trusted us to do a great job for them,” says Pastorino. “We were personally very invested in the relationship, with Frank, Robin and the rest of the group. We knew that if we continued to deliver great results, we’d be able to grow with them.” 

That growth came quicky for IMA as it continued to provide new and innovative designs for NCLH’s vessels.  

“We grew from two or three people in the early days to 30 by the time we moved to London, and continued growing to almost 100 people this year,” says Pastorino. “I started in this business when I was 26 and I’m now 50. My role has evolved during this time so that latterly I was mostly engaged in managing the team and working through the contractual phase of a project, including the pricing, general arrangement plan and technical specifications. I was committed to making sure that our projects worked economically for the owner.” 

The company was able to work well with its partners because they always made themselves available, explains Pastorino, whether it was for an early meeting with the shipyard in Europe or a late call with NCLH in the USA.  

“We also had the freedom to speak candidly about what we felt would or would not work in the project,” he says. “Trusting and believing in the people or companies that you employ is a great strength in any industry.” 

Alongside its newbuild projects, IMA was also involved in a number of refurbishment projects with NCLH, which Pastorino suggests ended up benefitting the company’s overall strategy. 

“Taking responsibility for newbuildings forced us to think ahead – to make good decisions that would also pay off in the future,” he says. “We had to be making good decisions for the future operation of the vessel and for refurbishments later down the line. You want to take as much time as you can to make newbuilding decisions that work operationally to save on modification costs.” 

This level of consideration is necessary even when designing ships in the same class, says Pastorino, cautioning against a copy and paste approach to such projects. 

“Technical improvements, innovations, new legislation, changes in yard personnel, new contractors and different suppliers can lead to massive differences between even sister ships,” he says. “NCLH has always wanted to make big and bold advancements from one ship to the next – it was never satisfied with a simpler, template approach.” 

One example of this commitment to advancement came in the design of The Haven on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Prima and Norwegian Viva. Pastorino was keen to recruit a land-based designer so that it would have a fresh style, something completely different to other ships.  

“There were lots of reasons why we shouldn’t use a company that had no maritime experience, but Frank and Robin trusted us to deliver what was best for the company,” he says. “We employed Lissoni & Partners and the result and feedback has been amazing.” 

The Haven Prima

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings

Pastorino chose to employ a previously land-based design firm, Lissoni & Partners, in the design of Norwegian Prima’s The Haven

Bettering traditional approaches has been a feature of IMA’s projects, and Pastorino has been prepared to make bold choices throughout his time at the head of the company.  

“I’m happy to break from tradition if necessary,” he says. “Just because this is the way that it’s always been done does not mean that there isn’t a better way to do it. You sometimes have to challenge the plan. It’s easy for us to help a new designer with material choices and other maritime design constraints – it’s not so easy for us to think with the freedom of a land-based designer.” 

While it could be understandable if maritime designers were resistant to land-based designers moving into the space, Pastorino has seen an openness to innovation throughout the industry. 

“I’ve always had a really nice relationship with Greg Walton and the Studio DADO team and they’ve always delivered great work,” says Pastorino. “Greg was happy working with new companies because he understood that my motive to bring someone new into the design team was to bring a little bit of freshness into the whole system, and that’s good for everyone.” 

Innovation doesn’t mean abandoning fundamental principles, however. 

“Frank had some very clear and logical design principles,” says Pastorino. “For example, he believed that a luxury ship must have a high space per passenger ratio and the materials used had to be better quality than any other ship in the market. These principles are correct, I believe, and they don’t need to be challenged.” 

Pastorino’s openness to new influences is nonetheless founded upon a healthy respect for the unique constraints that a maritime designer must work within. 

“Technical constraints like weight and legislation are the most obvious limiting factors, but every choice is constrained in some way,” he says. “It’s important to recognise those limits and work within them, or at least to the very edge of them!” 

The sustainability commitments now being made by the cruise industry have added to this list of constraints. Pastorino is cautious about the need to balance sustainability requirements with solid design choices. 

“We have to be wary of putting too many restrictions in too soon because it’s already a complicated topic,” he says. “For instance, you may want to select a sustainable material for a specific function but there might not be any on the market. We might want to set just a few defining criteria for sustainable materials to keep it simple as we tackle this new challenge, such as durability, weight and ease of recycling. We have to be careful about running too fast and creating bigger problems than those that we’re solving.” 

Despite his caution, Pastorino is still committed to the need for innovation, including in sustainability.  

“Innovation must be the constant theme,” he says. “Our industry is good at this, NCLH is very good at it. There are still lots of areas for improvements that we need to find in shipbuilding and refit projects. Sustainability is one, and we need to keep innovating across every feature of the ship and keep looking for process improvements. I also think we need to take more time for developing the vessel in advance of works starting to help avoid unnecessary delays.” 

Reflecting on the success of IMA over his time there, Pastorino sees its singular focus as a major strength of its operations. 

“We were paid to protect our client’s investment – knowing our strengths and staying within our remit, our area of expertise,” he says. “We were the bridge between our client and the shipyard and we were absolutely dedicated to making cost effective choices, sometime modifications, that could be accomplished by the yard within the available budget.” 

Pastorino identifies the ability to strike a balance between the needs of the many different groups involved in a shipbuilding project as a crucial factor in a successful shipbuilding project. 

“The needs of these different departments can conflict,” he says. “At IMA, we had to work through compromises to find the perfect balance. We’re talking about industrial processes on a giant scale, and we’re orchestrating the input from technical operations, hotel operations, information technology, human resources, legal, refitting and almost every other team in the cruise company. If you can’t find the balance, then you can’t finish the ship. It might not be the perfect ship for everyone, but it must be the most suitable outcome for the owner.” 

Even for a company as experienced as IMA, achieving this balance poses a challenge on every single project. 

“Consistency is essential but it’s often harder than you think to achieve,” says Pastorino. “You might be working with the same subcontractors at the same yard, but the results might not be the same because changes in the workforce leads to different results. We were the constant in the projects and so we had to manage the consistency of their work.” 

He continues: “Our greatest characteristic in managing consistent quality is our ability to listen. The greatest compliment that we were given is that we were always fair. With these two strengths we were always able to find a path to delivering the quality of outcome demanded by the owner. There were occasions where we had to manage difficult situations with a mismatch between our interpretation of consistent quality and the yard or supplier’s view, but our reputation for consistency and fairness helped us get projects completed to the right standard at the right price.” 

Despite the challenges involved, Pastorino highlights the satisfaction of completing a shipbuilding project. 

“Managing shipbuilding and refit projects is one of the most exciting and most difficult jobs I can imagine,” he says. “It can be physically tiring and mentally draining, yet when you finish a job and watch it sail away full of happy passengers it reminds you to give due thanks and respect to everyone who has played a part in the project. What they all do individually and together as one big team is really quite amazing.” 

Pastorino’s pride in the team he helped to build at IMA is clear as he speaks about their value throughout his career. 

“I’ve been very fortunate with the IMA team,” he says. “NCLH has acquired a group of people that don’t need me now and I see that as a victory for everyone involved. I’ve been involved in some incredible projects, seen some sliding door moments and had a fair share of luck in my career to date, but the people I’ve encountered along the way have given me the memories that I’ll treasure the most.” 

Prima Galaxy Pavilion

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings

The entrance to the Galaxy Pavilion onboard Norwegian Prima, one of the largest projects carried out by IMA

As he steps away from cruising, Pastorino has three wishes for the industry and its future.  

“Firstly, I hope that the industry can fulfil its sustainability vision – I don’t think that it can happen as fast as regulators want, even though the industry has a willingness to invest that will enable it to reach its goals,” he says.  

His second wish again displays his willingness to break with convention. 

“One day, I’d really love to see a cruise ship that looks completely unrecognisable alongside the silhouette of the ships that we’re building today,” he says. “Land-based architecture and design has delivered an extraordinary variety of imaginative new buildings and I wish the same might happen for the cruise industry in the future.” 

Pastorino is also hoping for greater competition to develop in the shipbuilding industry, which he believes can help facilitate the development of new designs. 

“The yard problem needs to be resolved – if you want to build a ship that’s bigger than 220,000gt you only really have a choice of two yards,” he says. “This leads to a battle for building slots and that limits your design and innovation window.” 

While he is now leaving IMA, Pastorino’s legacy in the cruise industry is assured, through the ships that bear the quality hallmark of his personal touch and through the people that he mentored who will continue to innovate and redefine shipbuilding traditions. Reflecting on his proudest moments, Pastorino cites his first and last ship deliveries – Marina and Seven Seas Splendor – as highlights, along with Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Prima class for the scale of the project and the extent of the innovation that the ships represent. 

“I’m leaving the cruise industry with very positive memories,” he says. 

This article was first published in the 2024 issue of  Cruise & Ferry Interiors. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe  for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

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