Designing an expedition cruise ship for the Galapagos was a first for custom shipbuilder Shipyard de Hoop. CEO Patrick Janssens discusses how his team is achieving what many said could not be done.

Like Alice in Wonderland, Shipyard de Hoop's engineers must learn to believe in impossible things. The shipyard's clients for custom-built vessels routinely ask for things that have never been done before. "In many projects that we do, 'impossible' is just not an option," says Patrick Janssens, CEO. The latest test of the company's imagination is the expedition cruise vessel Celebrity Flora, which has been designed for luxury trips in the ecologically delicate surroundings of the Galapagos. Not only is it the shipyard's first expedition cruise vessel, but no one else has attempted to purpose-build a cruise vessel for the Galapagos National Park, which has introduced strict new rules that have been designed to minimise environmental impact.

Grandeur on a small scale

Adding to that, Celebrity Cruises wanted to build Flora according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO)'s latest two-compartment damage stability regulations, which other shipbuilders had labelled as being impossible to follow. At the same time, it had to be small, open-water capable and have the ability to carry 100 passengers in luxurious comfort.

That last requirement alone is no small task, according to Janssens. "A small ship is a ship that moves, and you don't want any movement on the ship because people become seasick and it's uncomfortable," he explains.

The ship's well-heeled clientele will expect a wide range of dining and entertainment options on board. Those extra restaurants and other attractions, including a stargazing platform and observatory, have to fit in a small space around specially designed engines and a customised bow shape. Also vying for space are an advanced heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, which will handle the Galapagos' heat, and noise-reduction measures, such as 'floating floors' and anti-vibration panels, to insulate passengers from the engines.

"We have learned on river cruise vessels to work with limited space, while having a lot of different square metres and options on the inside, but it's a challenging puzzle," Janssen says. "And on the other side, we have been developing complicated work vessels for the offshore industry that were technically very advanced, but also had to house technicians. We have been focusing on how to make a relatively small vessel very comfortable for people to be and work on."

Challenges to overcome

However, the team had no precedent to draw on for the Galapagos guidelines. They had to work closely with the Galapagos National Park Directorate to translate the new regulations into practical solutions. Flora's bow has a straight and wave-piercing stem, with an integrated bulb, to cut down on resistance by 25%, and reduce fuel consumption and exhaust. Enhanced wastewater treatment and HVAC systems are backed up by thermal insulation, energy-efficient window glazing and solar panels.

The vessel also has to abide by amendments to SOLAS2020 that were adopted by the IMO's Marine Safety Committee (MSC) in its 98th session last year, which raised the requirements for the safety precautions that passenger ships should take to stay afloat if they are flooded after a collision. Shipbuilders across the industry had concerns about the practicality of the new rules; for example, some measures, such as having two separate engine rooms, take up space that could have brought in revenue. But Celebrity Cruises was keen to have its new ship put them into practice, with Janssens and his team taking these regulations in their stride.

"Of course, when you make more rules and regulations for people to comply with, the industry will always protest," he says with a laugh. "It was important for our client, together with us, to prove that it is possible and that one can come up with technical solutions."

Celebrity Flora is due to launch in May 2019. With a new body of experience behind it, the shipyard is keen to add more expedition cruise vessels to its portfolio. However, Janssens says his biggest takeaway from the project was neither technical wizardry nor design breakthrough.

"The biggest thing that we have learned is what the end user is looking for," he adds. "That is an important starting point: understanding the drivers behind the business model. We have learned, finally, to understand what people are looking for, what they expect and how we can surprise these people in a positive way."

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Shipyard de Hoop