Niels-Erik Lund: I formed International Shipping Partners in 1988, with the idea of becoming a tonnage provider to the passenger ship industry. After we acquired a number of passenger ferries and cruise vessels, we expanded to become technical managers of our own vessels. During the mid-1990s, we decided to become a dedicated third-party manager of passenger ships. I formed SunStone Ships in 2012 and that company took over the commercial management of the fleet.
Our fleet now consists of 11 cruise vessels, mainly smaller vessels with a capacity of 100-250 passengers that are primarily in the expedition market, but we are happy to commercially manage any passenger ship.
Together with our associated companies, Cruise Management International and CMI Leisure Management, we offer a 'onestop shop' for travel agencies, tour operators and small cruise lines that want to charter a vessel long term or don't have the ability to operate a vessel in-house.
The famous shipyards in Germany, Finland, Italy and France have been fully booked for years to come. Thanks to this, and the unsatisfactory services offered by less famous European shipyards, we approached a number of firms in China instead, and ended up signing an agreement with China Merchants Group (CMG). Since CMG was formed in 1871, it has gone on to employ more than 100,000 people and have assets worth over $150 billion.
We negotiated an agreement where Ulstein Design and Solutions (UDS), in Norway, design the hull, the X-Bow and all of the technical aspects of our new vessels. They will deliver the equipment from European suppliers, and supervise the construction of the hull and machinery. UDS has built 115 vessels with the X-Bow design, and 50 of these have been built at different shipyards in China, while UDS provides the equipment package. Overall, we are certain that, from a technical point of view, you end up with a vessel that adheres to European standards.
The interior areas have been designed by Tillberg Design, which has worked with us for years. Makinen, a Finnish company, has been awarded a contract to design the interior spaces. Makinen will build all of the cabins in Finland and ship them to China, where they will supervise their installation. Based on this, we will be getting a 'European -built ship, assembled in China'. We are certain that the Chinese shipyard will get more experience quickly; we see several ships being built there, and I believe that more work will be done in China by Chinese contractors and the shipyard. This is certainly a great way for CMG to get into cruise shipbuilding.
If clients consider the complete package of getting a second-hand cruise vessel or a new build out to sea, with all of the operational aspects included for a number of years or seasons, then we are totally unique. SunStone is the only tonnage provider in the expedition market. We are not a cruise line: we do not sell tickets and we do not compete with our clients. There are some existing cruise companies that will do voyage charters, but as far as I am aware, none of them will charter out a vessel for a number of seasons or years.
We plan to stick to our existing strategy. The fleet of vessels are all chartered out, and we do not see any potential second -hand vessels becoming available. Given that, we will concentrate on our INFINITY series of new builds.