Reaching a tipping point for river cruising

Covid-19 and a greater focus on sustainability are changing the industry. Den Breejen’s Johan Kaasjager tells Elly Yates-Roberts how the shipyard is responding

Reaching a tipping point for river cruising
When completed, Dan Breejen’s yard expansion will enable it to accommodate up to five extra ships at any one time

River cruising has been a popular vacation option for the past 20 years. Passengers have the opportunity to visit and explore multiple cities, all while returning to the comfort of their cabin each day. But the industry’s success may also be due, in part, to the formulaic construction of river cruise ships.  

“In general, we design a flexible base platform,” says Johan Kaasjager, commercial director at Den Breejen Shipyard. “The most common length is 135 metres which we can adapt to two and a half or three decks, and even shorten to 110 metres. For each of these versions, we design one engine room that fits all the requirements – whether it is a conventional propulsion system or a diesel electric one.” 

A new shipping-wide focus on sustainability could be changing the sector, with shipyards needing to consider new, more environmentally friendly technologies.  

“The world is changing not only due to Covid-19 but also with regards to sustainability,” says Kaasjager. “As a yard, we must push these kinds of evolutions.” 

Kaasjager believes that in order to adjust to the changing industry, shipyards must build with flexibility and adaptation in mind.  

“We design our vessels so that they can be retrofitted easily to become future-proof,” he says. “Batteries are still very expensive, so generally we would use diesel-electric propulsion and then retrofit in the future to become fully electric.” 

River cruise vessels have historically looked very similar, but today’s shipping companies have curated their own styles, and through this, have developed unique designs for their vessels. 

“As shipyards, we are not only differentiating the ships through their design, but we are also differentiating ourselves by showing the market that we can do things in new and more modern ways,” says Kaasjager.  

Despite Den Breejen’s impressive reputation for delivering reliable vessels on time and providing a life cycle support service, the shipyard has not yet had the breadth of opportunity to showcase its range. To maintain its competitive position, it is working to demonstrate its ability to adapt to sustainability requirements and deliver on creativity.   

“I would like to show existing and potential clients what is possible in river cruising,” says Kaasjager. “It may not suit all clients, but at least it gives them something to think about. I want to create a buzz in the industry to do things a little bit differently. There’s nothing like a really impressive and exciting new ship design to get people talking.”  

Industry changes may bring exciting advancements to ship design and efficiency, but other external factors may also have an impact.  

“Heating and ventilation systems will change going forward,” he says. “Previously, most systems were based on recirculation, with about 80 per cent fresh air and 20 per cent having been recycled. After Covid-19, I think most ships will opt for 100 per cent fresh air systems. They are no more expensive than those based on recirculation, so the benefits are numerous.  

“Onboard routing will also likely change. In some of our latest projects we are looking to redesign heavy traffic areas to avoid, for example, long narrow corridors. It will feel nicer onboard and give passengers a greater level of comfort. I believe these designs will continue to be relevant even after Covid-19 because if the ship looks better and new designs improve how it functions, the designs will endure.”

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

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Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts
27 May 2021

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