Pioneering cultural and educational explorations in remote regions

Andrea Zito provides an insight into what guests can expect from Swan Hellenic’s new fleet

Pioneering cultural and educational explorations in remote regions
According to Andrea Zito, the majesty of the Antarctic continent will leave guests feeling very small in comparison

By Alice Chambers |

During her maiden voyage in January 2022, Swan Hellenic’s newest vessel, SH Minerva, came to a halt to enable guests to admire 20 humpback whales feeding collectively near the Antarctic Peninsula.  

“We found that they had created a kind of circular vortex of fish to feed from,” says Andrea Zito, CEO of Swan Hellenic, noting that this type of unique experience is just one of many that guests can expect to enjoy while sailing on one of the ship’s itineraries.   

First established as Swan’s Tours to provide trips from England to Greece in the 1950s, Swan Hellenic has been through several ownership changes and built its first vessel – the original Minerva – in the 1990s when it was under the ownership of V-Ships. Zito, who oversaw the vessel in the 1990s and revived the brand as Swan Hellenic in 2017, is keen to keep its expedition spirit alive by continuing to provide cultural education to guests via the help of expert lecturers and exhibition teams onboard SH Minerva and her two upcoming sister ships. 

“Guests are looking to buy emotions and memories they can take home – something that cannot be bought in a shop,” says Zito. “You feel the majesty of the Antarctic continent because you find yourself very little in comparison to the height of the mountains – it is an extremely emotional experience. We take guests to see places that other cruise operators cannot reach, offering much more insight.”  

Built by Helsinki Shipyard in Finland, the new SH Minerva was delivered on 3 December 2021. The 11,000gt ship has 76 cabins, accommodating 152 passengers and 120 crew members. “SH Minerva is classified as a Polar Code class five vessel, the highest class before icebreakers, with strengthened hull and appendages allowing extended operation in the polar areas and giving an extra layer of safety to operation,” says Zito. “She has a dynamic positioning system so that she doesn’t need to moor with an anchor. This is particularly important in areas where anchoring can damage the seabed. 

“The vessel was built in extraordinary circumstances, but the fact that she was delivered almost in time was remarkable. Finland was hit by an outbreak of Covid 19 in October 2021, so it was quite a challenging time. Once delivered, SH Minerva sailed a positioning voyage from Finland to Argentina in December 2021.” 

SH Minerva has been designed to feature elegant interiors and to reflect the landscapes that she sails through.  

“She is a very elegant vessel in terms of decor. Tillberg Design of Sweden has designed the vessel to have interiors with understated elegance to encourage passengers to completely immerse themselves in the environment they are cruising through,” says Zito. “So, there are a lot of windows, and the deck is designed in a way that does not intrude on the views.”  

SH Minerva also features three restaurants, a multifunctional observation lounge with a video wall for lectures, spa facilities and a marina with Zodiac boats on the lower deck to make it easy for passengers to travel ashore. 

SH Minerva will complete her Antarctica season at the end of February 2022, then move northwards towards the South American coast. She will then reposition for the summer in the Bering Strait, between the Pacific and Arctic oceans. “While Antarctica is completely deserted in a human sense, there are local communities in the North to explore. We will touch the mouth of Siberia’s Yenisei River where there is the biggest national park in the northern hemisphere. Then we move to Greenland, Iceland, the Canadian Arctic as well as other destinations on the eastern part of the North American continent.” 

Onshore excursions will be supplemented by onboard activities led by an international team of marine biologists, geologists and ornithologists. “We have a  laboratory where passengers can actively take part in some scientific work by contributing towards data collection,” says Zito. “For example, the crew is monitoring the movement of individual humpback whales. This is extremely interesting for our guests because they can be immersed in the environment, even if they are not scientists themselves.” 

SH Minerva’s sister ship, SH Vega, will offer similar onboard features and amenities when she is completed at the beginning of May 2022. “The second sister ship is always a little bit easier than the first since lessons have been learnt,” says Zito. “She will start operating this summer in the European Arctic and then move towards the East Siberian Sea before sailing itineraries in Greenland, Iceland and the Canadian Arctic.” 

The third vessel, whose name is yet to be announced, is likely to travel in the Mediterranean – a nod to the history of the company as Swan’s Tours. 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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