Northern Xplorer: On a mission for zero-emission cruising

Northern Xplorer is a new cruise brand with a passion for sustainability and plans for a fully electric fleet. CEO Rolf Sandvik shares his vision with Michele Witthaus

Northern Xplorer: On a mission for zero-emission cruising
According to Rolf Sandvik, Northern Xplorer will provide an immersive, ‘yacht-like’ experience

Building the world’s first zero-emission, hydrogen-powered cruise ship is no small ambition, and it is one that the Northern Xplorer brand is making a reality.  

“We’ve designed a ship that will carry our guests to destinations in comfort but with zero pollution, and our activities/excursions will be sourced to have the smallest possible environmental footprint,” says Sandvik. “Our ultimate goal is to become a global company with a strong focus on making discerning guests feel welcome, and be welcomed, in the ports and destinations we visit.” 

Northern Xplorer collaborated with naval architects Multi Maritime, West Sea Shipyard and classification society DNV to create its prototype 250-passenger vessel with an electric propulsion system designed by ABB. The focus throughout is on sustainability.  

“Many might argue that simply building a ship can never be done without emissions – and they are right – but not doing so is not an alternative,” says Sandvik. “Travelling is core to learning about and understanding the planet we all share. That is the rationale behind our desire to provide an alternative travel format with a minimal footprint.” 

Sandvik is keen to emphasise the unique aspects that set the brand and its itineraries apart. “Northern Xplorer will not be a ‘cruise’ product, he explains, but will provide an immersive, ‘yacht-like’ experience.  

“We will offer zero-emission voyages on an advanced ship (featuring the latest green technologies) that will make its way silently through spectacular nature, undisturbed by the noise and vibration from conventional diesel propulsion,” he says. “Our propulsion system, featuring the world’s largest battery pack, will enable the ship to sail for days, rather than hours, in fully electric zero-emission mode.” 

The brand’s target market for its ships, which will accommodate up to 250 guests in 125 cabins supported by approximately 100 crew, is “40-plus North Americans and Europeans who are conscious of the footprint they make when travelling,” says Sandvik. “They want to learn about, and make a positive impact on, the destinations they visit.” 

Sandvik says the ships will offer guests the chance to visit smaller “hidden gems” that larger cruise ships cannot access. “For us, to ‘Xplore’ means not how far you travel in terms of sheer distance, but what you discover on your travels and how that expands your horizons,” he explains. “We put great emphasis on the shore product as well as the onboard experience to deepen guests’ knowledge and provide a truly memorable journey.”  

To support these aims, the company will encourage meaningful connections between local residents and its ‘Xplorers’.  

“Sustainability and contributing in a positive way to the entire value chain lies at the core of our operation,” says Sandvik. “We are developing systems to ensure our guests will travel to and from the ship with the minimum footprint. For example, we will offer ‘Train – Sea’ instead of ‘Air – Sea’ programmes for our guests where possible. We realise that many guests will need to fly for part of their journeys but will strive to ensure travel arrangements are made utilising relevant carbon dioxide offset mechanisms.” 

Sandvik welcomes increasingly stringent environmental legislation in the waters where Northern Xplorer will sail. He adds: “What will be interesting too is if the infrastructure and investments required for a greener maritime industry will be forthcoming.”  

The first of Northern Xplorer’s ships will set sail in 2026, in readiness for new zero-emission regulations that will apply from 2026 in Norway’s popular fjords. 

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door

Michele Witthaus
By Michele Witthaus
01 November 2023