Cruise & Ferry Review - Autumn/Winter 2023

81 INTERVIEW Boundless ambition Niels-Erik Lund of SunStone Maritime Group tells Alex Smith why the operator is continuing to expand its fleet with a new series of expedition ships Over the past four years, SunStone Maritime Group has embarked on a rapid period of growth. The innovative Infinity series of expedition cruise vessels began with the delivery of Greg Mortimer in 2019 and six more ships have followed since, with a final vessel to be delivered in 2025. Yet despite the success of the series, SunStone still sees opportunity for further expansion in the expedition cruise market. “We’re quite optimistic about the market rebounding after Covid,” says Niels-Erik Lund, founder and CEO of SunStone. “The expedition sector is lagging behind the general cruise industry due to a combination of factors, but it is moving back towards 2019 levels. We also see that there are a lot of old ships still in the sector which will have to be scrapped soon, reducing capacity while demand is going up.” To take advantage of this opportunity, SunStone has designed a new ship concept, which will form the Boundless series. It is searching for a shipyard to build the vessels, aiming to identify a partner with the necessary qualities to deliver on Sunstone’s ambitions. “We’re down to two shipyards, one in Europe and one in Asia,” says Lund. “What we’re looking for, first and foremost, is a shipyard with the technical capabilities to build the ships. Secondly, we’re looking to see if it has capacity to deliver two ships a year, which is our planned timeline. Then finally, we’re investigating if it can deliver financially, at a time when we’ve seen that too many shipyards haven’t been able to remain viable.” The ships represent an evolution of the design of the Infinity class, based both on learnings from the previous vessels and changes in demand. “We see that the market is expanding in warm water regions, so have designed these ships to operate just as well in warm water as in cold water,” says Lund. “One hundred per cent of cabins now have balconies, and the aft pool has been moved midship and covered with a retractable glass dome to allow for swimming in all weathers. We’ve used all the knowledge we’ve gained from our experience as the biggest operator in the expedition market to make these ships as safe and comfortable as they can be.” “ We’re quite optimistic about the market rebounding after Covid”