Shipyard de Hoop is one of the cruise sector's leading designers of river-going passenger liners. World Cruise Industry Review talks to Patrick Janssens, the yard's CEO, about how acting as a sparring partner with its clients during the design process can help produce ships that not only cater to the desires of passengers but also successfully adapt to the challenges posed by climate change.
According to Patrick Janssens, CEO of Shipyard de Hoop, it's no secret why river cruising has enjoyed a marked boom in recent years.
"There's a big population out there working hard with very short holidays," he says. "They want to go out and see the world, but they also want to rest and enjoy good service. If you go on a river cruise in Europe, you only need to unpack your suitcase once."
Designing and constructing ocean and river-going vessels since 1889, Shipyard de Hoop has been uniquely placed to showcase the talent of its engineers and architects with a series of cutting-edge river cruise ships built over the past few years. The vessels - each an improvement on the last in cabin design, soundproofing and engine enhancements - are the products of a unique approach in the way the yard handles its client relationships.
"Ultimately, we are a sparring partner for our customers," Janssens explains. "We try to understand their business as well as we possibly can and evaluate the options we may provide for them. We have to know whether we're going to be able to deliver extra cost savings, a better experience for passengers or both."
Sometimes, these solutions involve radical improvements in areas that passengers may not even have given heed to before. Shipyard de Hoop has been known to experiment with the qualities of different types of wall panels to determine which combination would prove most conducive to soundproofing, and how best to let fresh air flow through the gaps in cabin entry doors. More recently, the yard invented a loose mounted section that would allow the full insertion of the engine and propeller into the ship without the need for any fixed connection to the rest of the hull.
This continual commitment to research and development is all the more important given the pressures that climate change is increasingly exerting upon ship design more generally.
"River cruise vessels are spending their whole lives on rivers with fluctuating water levels, and what you see is that climate change is making the water level fluctuate far more than it used to," Janssens explains. When the river is low, he says, it's very low, and when it's high, avoiding clashes with the underside of bridges suddenly becomes an important factor in the overall design.
"That has prompted us to develop systems that allow the ship to be ballasted and deballasted so that you can fine tune the air draught as well as the draught in the water," says Janssens. "And you still have to allow as much space as possible inside the ship, because passengers want a certain ceiling height within their cabins. That has pushed us into designing and producing all kinds of new techniques to attain the minimum amount of space between the ceiling in a cabin and the actual deck. We're now fighting for space between the items that usually run behind the ceiling, like the air ducts, water pipes and electric wiring."
Overall, Janssens sees design trends arcing towards greater spatial and fuel efficiency, in addition to the great strides Shipyard de Hoop has already made in optimising its sound design and minimising vibration for passengers. All of these factors will be embodied in the yard's latest commission, a new 35m vessel for Lüftner Cruises, to be launched next year.
"Those are the kinds of items and technical solutions that contribute to the business goals of our clients, and you can only do that if you're a sparring partner," says Janssens. "When you reach that level of cooperation, you can help each other create the kind of synergies that will result in the best product."
Shipyard de Hoop is currently finishing work on a 110m river cruise vessel for Provence in France. Next year, it will be building a 135m river cruise vessel for Lueftner Reisen. The company is also in an advanced position to build one or two seagoing expedition cruise vessels.