MSC Cruises: building a legacy to last

MSC Cruises: building a legacy to last

Sam Ballard asks Gianni Onorato about the company’s meteoric expansion and environmental strategies

Author: Guest/Thursday, January 17, 2019/Categories: Interview, Cruise news

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This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

There are few lines that better illustrate the booming cruise industry than MSC Cruises. With 10 ships on order, the Geneva-based company look like it will completely transform its segment of the cruise market with its multi-billion pound, 10-year plan. And that’s only the beginning.

“The reason behind these investments is that the family that owns MSC Cruises holds a long-term vision of the cruise industry and in order to grow our market share and to capture a part of the incredible growth in this industry we need to build new ships,” explains Gianni Onorato, chief executive of MSC Cruises. “Nearly 25% of the industry’s projected capacity increase will come from MSC Cruises. By 2026 we will reach over five million guests a year.”

For a company that was only founded in 1995 (out of Lauro Lines, its former incarnation), the growth has been remarkable. The latest vessel to debut in MSC Cruises’ fleet of newbuilds – the 153,500gt MSC Seaview, which can accommodate more than 5,000 passengers – is yet another statement of the line’s intent to transform cruising. MSC Seaview (and her sister ship MSC Seaside, which launched in 2017) has a unique design that allows her to provide more outside space per passenger than any other ship in the company’s growing fleet. For guests wanting to sun themselves in the Mediterranean, Caribbean or South America – it’s perfect. 

“It is always exciting working on the design and build of a new ship,” Onorato says. “MSC Seaview is a ground-breaking ship and was designed for the Mediterranean. With each new ship we look to enhance and enrich both the design and the onboard experience for our guests so no two ships are ever completely the same.”

This year will see the launch of another Meraviglia-class ship named MSC Bellissima and a Meraviglia Plus-class ship called MSC Grandiosa. The latter will be the company’s new flagship and, at 181,000gt, the biggest ship MSC Cruises has ever built. That is at least until 2022 when the line’s first 200,000gt World-class ship launches.

“MSC Bellissima and MSC Grandiosa are both at different stages of construction,” Onorato says. “MSC Bellissima has entered her final building phase following on from the recent float-out event at the Chantiers de l’Atlantique (formerly STX France) yard. It is now that the ship really starts to come to life with the installation of all the fixtures and fittings.” 

Meanwhile, MSC Grandiosa just marked a different milestone with the traditional coin ceremony. “The work on the mega blocks is still under way and the ship will be ready to float out at the end of the year,” comments Onorato. “We recently announced that MSC Bellissima will be the first of our ships to feature a digital personal assistant named Zoe. This service will also be available on MSC Grandiosa. This is the first time that a company in the cruise industry has employed artificial intelligence in the cabin, providing guests with a simple and easy way to find out important information.”

Zoe, which will be the cruise equivalent of Amazon’s Alexa, forms part of MSC Cruises’ wider technological push, which is rooted in the MSC for Me platform. According to Onorato, it will “really take our vision to employ technology for the art of hospitality to a whole new level”.

“There will be more to come from us on this soon,” he adds. “We are working with Harman International, a subsidiary of Samsung to develop this new technology. Harman really is the expert in the field of voice-enabled technology, having developed audio solutions for technology leaders such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft. This new collaboration is as a result of the long-standing relationship between MSC Cruises and Samsung, a true partnership founded on a joint vision to shape the future of the cruise industry through the introduction of the very best-connected technologies. In addition to Samsung and Harman we also work with Hewlett Packard Enterprise.”

When it comes to new technologies it would be remiss not to mention the advancements that MSC Cruises is incorporating when it comes to using cleaner fuels and new environmental solutions across its growing fleet. 

“Cleaner exhaust is a key focus for our maritime operation,” says Onorato. “In order to meet exceeding environmental standards, all new ships coming into services will have an exhaust gas cleaning system (scrubber) and we are also retrofitting our existing fleet to greatly limit sulphur emissions. By the end of 2019, 12 of our 17 ships will have a scrubber, but we won’t stop there. We will continue to ensure that our fleet reduces its environmental footprint.” 

Another key aspect of MSC Cruises’ environmental plans is to power some of its newest ships with LNG fuel. “LNG will be a key game-changer and with our fifth Meraviglia-class ship and the World-class ships, we actively contribute to this positive evolution,” explains Onorato. “Compared to conventional marine fuel, LNG reduces sulphur oxide emissions by more than 99% and nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 85%. It also largely eliminates particulate matter in the exhaust and avoids any cloud from the air emissions during engine start-up. Plus, 20% less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere when the engine is operational.”

In the future, all MSC Cruises’ ships will be built with a selective catalytic reduction system that uses advanced active emissions control technology to break nitrogen oxide down into nitrogen and water. Wastewater is another focus. All Fantasia, Meraviglia and Seaside-class ships are already fitted with advanced wastewater treatment systems. “Wastewater discharges from these ships already reach nearly the quality of drinking water, but we’re working to take this to the next level on some of our future ships,” says Onorato. “The objective is to meet the Baltic International Maritime Organization standard: the highest regulatory standard in water treatment. We also plan to equip certain future ships with an enhanced ballast water treatment system to comply with the most stringent US Coast Guard regulations on ballast water management.”

As MSC Cruises grows, the need for it to comply with US regulations is becoming increasingly important – especially as the traditionally European company becomes more reliant on America’s vast cruising population. It’s one of the reasons why the company worked “extremely closely” with PortMiami to open Terminal F last December, says Onorato.

“Due to our collaborative relationship, we were involved in the entire process of designing the new cruise terminal – from inception through completion,” he explains. “Since the launch of the new terminal in December 2017, we’ve seen significant improvement in our operations and an overall enhanced experience for our guests. We’ve expedited the security screening and check-in processes, thanks to an overall larger security area, as well as a more efficient ticketing hall with an increased number of counters.” 

Other measures include a waiting room that can handle 1,200 guests – triple the capacity of the older terminal – as well as a separate VIP area for MSC Yacht Club guests. The whole facility makes for a far better experience. Crucial as MSC Cruises embarks on the next stage of its meteoric expansion.

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