Viking, Ponant push number of cruise ships in pipeline to 100

Viking, Ponant push number of cruise ships in pipeline to 100

FORT LAUDERDALE — Plans for eight new cruise ships were
unveiled at the Seatrade Cruise Global convention here last week, pushing the
number of vessels on order or option to 100 for the first time ever.

The order for two ships for Ponant and an agreement to build
six ships for Viking Ocean will make those two operators the capacity leaders
in the luxury expedition and upper-premium segments, respectively.

While Ponant celebrates its 30th anniversary this year,
Viking Ocean didn’t exist three years ago, and its growth has been particularly
significant, paralleling the headlong expansion of Viking River Cruises.

Viking sailed its first ocean ship in 2015, and by 2027, if
the announced plans come to fruition, it will have 16 oceangoing ships with a
total capacity of at least 14,860 passengers. That would make it by far the
largest cruise line not operating in the contemporary segment of the market.

The agreement “confirms the extraordinary moment of the
demand in this sector,” said Giuseppe Bono, CEO of the Italian yard
Fincantieri, where all of Viking Ocean’s ships have been built.

Bono said that the order and option backlog for 16 ships is
the most ever for a single cruise line from a single shipyard.

That record, in part, reflects the scramble for slots at the
few shipyards capable of building large and midsize cruise ships amid a
consolidation of shipbuilders. The former four builders have been winnowed to
two — Fincantieri and Meyer Werft — with Genting Hong Kong assembling its own
yard capacity from several small builders in Germany.

Cruise lines are pushing their orders and options further
out on the horizon to be sure they aren’t left in the lurch when they need to
grow capacity.

The order book now includes 15 ships this year, 22 next
year, 20 in 2020, 14 in 2021, 13 in 2022, five in 2023, four in 2024 and one in
2025. The latest Viking ships to be secured from Fincantieri are scheduled for
delivery between 2024 and 2027, but the specific years haven’t been set.

The value of the current order book is approaching $60
billion.

To date, Fincantieri has built four ships for Viking. The
latest, the Viking Sun, was christened in Shanghai last week. All have been
930-passenger vessels at double occupancy and are nearly identical in design.

Fincantieri said the ships to be built from 2024 to 2027 will
be part of “an advanced project based on the successful characteristics of
the previous ships, updated and revisited in line with the latest technologies
available on the market.”

Viking Ocean’s expansion is comparable to — and probably
more rapid than — the expansion of the Viking river cruise operation.

Viking River was founded in 1997 with four ships. Twelve
years later, its fleet had grown to 21 ships. But at less than 200 passengers
each, those ships were more quickly built and much cheaper than ocean vessels.

Ponant’s order expands its Explorer class from four to six
ships. The first two, Le Laperouse and Le Champlain, are scheduled for delivery
in June and September of this year, with Le Bougainville and Le Dumont D’Urville
to follow in 2019.

The two new ships, due in 2020, will be called Le Bellot and
Le Surville. All the ships carry 184 passengers. All are named for renowned
French voyagers and explorers.

Jean-Emmanuel Sauvee, who co-founded Compagnie du Ponant in
1988 with a group of French merchant marine officers, said the company’s vision
is to keep its ships small and destination-focused.

“Enrichment and innovation is our raison d’etre,”
Sauvee, now CEO, said in his first appearance at a Seatrade conference. “This
is mainly the purpose of our company.”

Ponant officials said the six ships, plus an ice-hardened
polar ship expected for delivery in 2021, represent a $2 billion investment.

“At the end of the day, we are the world leader in
luxury expedition,” Sauvee said, with an expected fleet of 12 vessels and
capacity of 2,494 passengers.

The expansions announced by Ponant and Viking are a
challenge to competitors in their respective niches. The upper-premium segment
was created with the 2002 launch of Oceania Cruises, co-founded by Norwegian
Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank Del Rio.

Oceania now has a six-ship fleet, with no announced plans to
build more. Asked what Viking’s expansion means for Oceania, Del Rio said, “Oceania
is an established brand doing better than ever. It has a unique product
proposition that no one else offers today.” As for expansion, Del Rio
said, “Stay tuned.”

Ponant has at least one luxury expedition competitor in
Silversea, with four ships, and there are ships being built by new entrants in
the segment, including Crystal, Scenic and Celebrity.

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