How Mystic Invest is maintaining course

Mystic Invest’s Mario Ferreira’s ambitious expansion into the expedition sector may not have surprised many people, but his rise is breathtaking. Sam Ballard reports

How Mystic Invest is maintaining course
World Explorer launched in 2019 and sails as part of Quark Expeditions’ fleet

Mário Ferreira is a European cruising titan and, having gone from a waiter onboard Cunard to a shipping magnate, he is one of the industry’s great success stories. His biography tracks the rise of the industry itself. From first making his mark with Portuguese river operator DouroAzul to expanding onto Europe’s main rivers by buying a majority stake in Nicko Cruises in 2015, he has capitalised on the renaissance the sector has undergone. He’s now set to capitalise on another trend: expedition cruising.

Mystic Invest – the company behind Nicko and DouroAzul – now has another name on its books: Atlas Ocean Voyages. The USA-based expedition cruise line will operate five ships from a fleet of expedition cruise ships that are currently being built by Ferreira (World Navigator in 2021, World Traveller and World Seeker in 2022, and World Adventurer and World Discoverer in 2023). World Explorer, the first ship in the series, launched last year and is currently sailing for Quark Expeditions while Nicko will get its own expedition ship when World Voyager launches next year. However, with Covid-19 playing havoc with the cruise industry, have Ferreira’s plans for a fleet of expedition ships been derailed?

“No, we maintained our expansion plans as they were before the pandemic,” he explains. “World Voyager is almost ready to be delivered and we are already fast at work with World Navigator, which we’ll launch in 2021. While the majority of the operators in the industry halted their plans we were able to take all the necessary precautions and continue with our plans for both our ocean fleet and the expansion of our Douro river cruises fleet, as we’ve already received delivery of our newest ship, São Gabriel.”

The fact that Ferreira has been able to maintain course while others have, at best, pushed their plans back says a lot. It’s also true that expedition ships are seen by many as something of a safe haven: they will deal with fewer guests – albeit onboard smaller ships – and explore regions where they won’t come into contact with many people.

“These are all smaller and intimate ships, carefully designed and planned to ensure maximum comfort in the most remote and unique landscapes of our world,” says Ferreira. “We have also invested and developed new eco-friendly technologies, such as our hydrojet propulsion system, that show our commitment to building a sustainable cruise fleet with a minimum environmental impact on the regions we visit.”

The hydrojet propulsion system debuted on World Explorer and allows Ferreira’s ships to reduce their environmental impact while maintaining high performance. It’s done via jets of water that propel the ship when undertaking short manoeuvres such as cruising along a fjord. It can also help maintain dynamic position without the use of the main engines or propellers, reducing fuel and emissions.

“The system is almost noiseless,” Ferreira says. “It also does not cause any disturbances to marine life, so with this electric mode we cruise silently. This is important in the Arctic and Antarctic regions where there are several endangered and rare species. It is a particularly good system for the whales since they rely on echolocation systems for communication.”

While Ferreira’s company has done exceptionally well to maintain its current plans during Covid-19, it’s also crucial to recognise that the crisis will have an impact on the cruise experience when guests do begin returning. Only time will tell whether guests will enjoy a luxury holiday in the same way when they’re being served by waiters in personal protective equipment.

“We took the time that we were forced to stop all our operations to improve on that initial protocol and develop new and improved methods to ensure that all our ships are clean and safe without removing the luxury experience that our guests expect when they come aboard,” says Ferreira.

“We understand that there’s something of the cruise experience that might be lost in the current situation, but we have also trained and prepared our teams to cope with this new reality so that they can make guests feel comfortable and safe in a welcoming environment.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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By Sam Ballard
25 November 2020

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