Carnival Corporation, the world’s largest cruise company, has signed a multi-billion dollar contract with Meyer Werft in Germany for the construction of four next-generation cruise ships that will each carry more passengers than any cruise ship currently afloat.
The order is part of a previously announced ship building program by Carnival that will see nine new cruise ships built for its various cruise line brands by Germany’s Meyer Werft and Italy’s Fincantieri between 2019 and 2022.
The four new cruise ships, two of which will sail for AIDA Cruises, the largest cruise line operating in the German cruise market, will feature a cruise-industry-first in terms of propulsion, being the first in the cruise industry to be powered at sea by liquefied natural gas (LNG).
LNG is seeing growing interest from ship owners and operators around the world as an alternative fossil fuel to marine diesel and heavy fuel oil. It is the cleanest burning fossil fuel and has led to the development of ‘duel fuel engines’ for newbuilds in commercial shipping.
However, the four cruise ships being built for Carnival Corporation are the first cruise liner’s to feature these dual-powered hybrid engines.
The entire engineering and design of the ships’ engine rooms and fuel tanks will be radically different to current cruise ships, says Ibrahim Behairy, sales manager for the Middle East at Wartsila, the engine manufacturer that pioneered the duel fuel design.
“There is not much difference between an engine that runs on liquid fuel and an engine that runs on LNG,” says Behairy. “Most owners today are taking a proactive approach to ship building and they have the engine installed as LNG ready.”
According to Behairy, there needs to be a space provision for tanks and the engine itself will need some re-arrangement, but by having the ship’s built LNG ready owners vastly reduce the time and cost of converting the ship in the future when environmental regulations may be even stricter.
However, Cruise Arabia & Africa understands that the four new cruise ships for Carnival will be built to run on LNG and will not require any retrofitting to do so.
“This is especially relevant when you consider that a vessel’s lifecycle is 25 years. It is anticipated that in the near future LNG will be cheaper than heavy fuel oil and marine diesel, so this is driving demand for LNG usage as a ship fuel,” adds Ralph Becker, vice president, business development, Middle East & India for DNV GL, the largest ship classification society in the world.
“Cost saving is perhaps not as relevant today as the environmental benefit, because the infrastructure for LNG bunkering is still being developed, but it will be increasingly relevant in the future,” says Becker.
An issue Carnival Corporation has not addressed is which ports the cruise ships will be sailing out of, as their turnaround ports will be highly important given their next-generation LNG-powered engines.
“To refuel a ship using LNG you have to have different equipment, an LNG barge, for example, which is more expensive to build than a HFO or MDO barge,” says Becker. “Then there is the bunkering process, which is different as LNG has a very high energy output and so port operators and bunkering providers need to have a close watch over how these things are done and how it can be done safely.”
In fact, up until just a few years ago it was generally considered unsafe to refuel in port and it was felt that refuelling should take place at sea, with the LNG barge going alongside the ship. However, an increasing number of ports, such as Rotterdam and Hamburg, are putting in place operations that are proven to be safe, where the ship can be refuelled while cargo operations or passenger turnaround are ongoing.
“This has been a major breakthrough for the industry, because if the ship has to be stopped for several hours during bunkering, no ship owner will consider having their ship run on LNG,” says Becker. “Because those extra few hours equate to thousands of dollars in added costs, time in money in this industry.”
And if you think that the fact that these four new cruise ships for Carnival doesn’t make them that different to any other cruise ships in the global fleet, think again. In terms of their design and engineering, they’ll be radically different to any cruise ship built before.
“The real difference is in the design and placement of the fuel tanks. LNG fuel tanks are extremely expensive and calculations also have to be done on the structural side in terms of where they will go, because they’re very heavy,” says Becker. “There also needs to be considerations of how explosions can be prevented, what are the high risk areas for LNG leakage? These are the bigger challenge than the engines themselves.”
It isn’t only the engineering of these ships that will make them different. They’ll be the largest cruise ships ever built for any Carnival Corporation brand, at 180,000-gross tons and carrying as many as 6,600 guests. They will also incorporate an extensive number of guest-friendly features, says Carnival. A major part of the innovative design involves making much more efficient use of the ship’s spaces, creating an enhanced on-board experience for guests.
Bernard Meyer, CEO of Meyer Werft, said: “In past years, we have built seven highly successful ships for AIDA Cruises. We are honored that Carnival Corporation has entrusted us with the implementation of this ambitious shipbuilding program, and we look forward to building these four magnificent ships.”
Each new ship will be specifically designed and developed for the brand and the guests it will serve and Carnival says that additional information about the ships, including which new ships will be added to each brand, will be made available at a later date.