The Infinity-class cruise ships are 104 metres long with capacity for between 130 and 200 guests
With the Covid-19 pandemic bringing cruise operations around the world to a halt, shipowners and operators have had to find solutions to the range of new challenges that the industry now faces. For SunStone Ships, the largest tonnage provider of small cruise ships in the world, this has meant laying up its fleet at the port of Las Palmas, Spain, while preparing for the resumption of cruising in a post-pandemic world.
“We have six ships laid up in Las Palmas,” says Niels-Erik Lund, president and CEO of SunStone Ships. “There are 50 crew members, who are maintaining the ships ready for a return to service.”
With the possibility that the pause in sailing could extend into next year, SunStone has looked to ensure that its crew members will be able to return following the crisis.
“Our biggest concern right now is our crew,” says Lund. “We’ve provided crew with interest-free loans for five months of salary up to this point, as we anticipate that they could be out of work for up to 12 months. We depend on our crew to operate, and we felt that it was important to support them during this time.”
SunStone is also looking to the future with the continuing construction of its Infinity-class newbuilds. The next-generation expedition cruise ships are 104 metres long with capacity for between 130 and 200 guests, and will feature Ulstein Design & Solutions’ X-Bow hull design.
Following the delivery of Greg Mortimer in September 2019, Ocean Victory and Ocean Explorer are scheduled for delivery in March 2021 and will be joined by Sylvia Earle in September 2021. In 2022, Ocean Odyssey will be delivered in March, followed by Ocean Discoverer in September and Ocean Albatros in October. Though shipyards have seen disruption to their operations during the pandemic, shipbuilder China Merchant Heavy Industries has been able to keep construction on most of the newbuilds progressing according to schedule.
“We’re pleased that construction is continuing on the new ships,” says Lund. “The shipyard has obtained visas for our supervising team to allow them to be at the shipyard, and the ships are progressing as planned. An agreement between all parties was made to slightly delay Ocean Victory, but the ship has been launched and is in the water. Ocean Explorer will be launched in August 2020, while the keel laying has taken place for Sylvia Earle.”
Lund is confident that the expedition market can rebound from the current crisis, taking advantage of the relatively large amount of space offered by a small ship to provide a safe environment for passengers following the pandemic.
“I think that small ships are going to be in a better position compared to the larger ships,” he says. “We have more space onboard for each passenger to safely distance themselves from each other. The recirculation of air from within the ship has been identified as a cause of the spread of the virus onboard, but our HVAC systems take in fresh, clean air from the outside. And, like the rest of the cruise industry, we’re introducing a number of new safety measures that will be implemented when we begin sailing again, including temperature detection and face recognition software.”
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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