Miami-based SunStone Ships, which manages ten expedition vessels and is the largest tonnage provider to the expedition travel industry, has ordered four expedition vessels with an option for an additional six.
The order has been placed in China and is the first new-build order placed in the country by a non-Chinese company. It was an important part of the decision-making process to ensure that the shipyard had the necessary knowledge behind it to build the vessels at the quality needed. SunStone worked with Ulstein Design and Solutions from Norway, which will provide a complete equipment package to China Merchants Heavy Industry (Jiansu), known as CMHI. Ulstein has supervised the building of more than 45 X-Bow vessels in China and has a large Chinese organisation. Based on this, the vessels will thus be built to the highest technical standards.
All technical aspects, from main engines to propellers, air conditioning, watermakers, bridge equipment and more, will be sourced in Europe and delivered by Ulstein, which will also supervise the technical building of the ship. The entire hull and engine room, among other parts, will be built under Ulstein China's oversight.
From an interior design point of view, agreements have been reached with Makinen, a very large Finnish interior contractor that has created cabins, lounges, restaurants and bars on cruise ships for large companies as well as the existing SunStone fleet. Makinen will be responsible for all interior construction of the new vessels, and will supply and supervise the installations for CMHI. Makinen has also been requested to build a factory cabin at the shipyard so that the yard can transfer knowledge from Finland to China to build cabins and interior spaces. The final interior product will fulfill all required standards.
As expedition ships, the vessels will be built to meet international maritime safety regulations for travelling in icy waters, such as 1A Ice Class and Polar Code PC6. They will also comply with standards such as the Safe Return to Port regulation and will feature dynamic positioning systems and zero speed stabilisers to ensure the highest safety and comfort levels for passengers. The main particulars of the vessels are:
- LOA: 104m
- width: 18m
- draft: 5m
- speed: 15kt
- passengers: 130-200
As with SunStone's existing fleet of ten vessels, the new builds will all be deployed on long-term charters. Australian-based Aurora Expeditions has announced it will charter one of the vessels and the company is set to take delivery in September 2019.
SunStone is a tonnage provider and not a cruise line. It does not sell passage tickets and does not do any sales or marketing. It solely provides vessels to the travel industry: cruise companies, tour operators and travel agencies. Its clients are well-known cruise companies and tour operators such as Silversea, Quark Expeditions, Poseidon Expedition, Iceland Pro Travel, Adventure Canada and Albatros Travel. Some of the new ships will be chartered out to existing clients, while others will go to operators in the expedition market.
This latest SunStone order comes on top of at least 12 expedition vessel orders within the past six months. It is based on the fact that there are no vessels available in the second-hand market, all operators are doing well, and the market needs new builds.
Furthermore, there are approximately 40 expedition vessels currently in use around the world. They have an average age of 25 years, so a renewal of the worldwide fleet is paramount. The anticipated scrapping of the older tonnage will be combined with an expansion of the expedition market segment. The expectation is that, even with this many new builds, the market will not be oversaturated.