New era in Arctic cruises

New era in Arctic cruises

Popularity of Arctic tourism is on the rise. French cruise ship operator Ponant has commissioned construction of a cutting-edge polar ice-class cruise vessel, which will be able to reach Arctic areas in all seasons. Operating in the environmentally sensitive areas is a matter that has to be taken seriously, though. Wärtsilä is providing the technology to ensure just that.

Text: Anna Gustafsson Photo: Wärtsilä

As a student of Arctic policies, visiting the Arctic North had been on Julia Koskinen’s bucket list for a long time. Now, together with her husband Ariel they were headed to Svalbard, in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, between the North Pole and top of Norway. They had a whole week ahead of them and a list of places to visit, from the world’s most northern settlement Ny Ålesund to the village of Longyearbyen. Although it seemed unlikely, they also hoped of getting a glimpse of a polar bear.

“We were walking at Tryggehamna when we spotted three Minke whales, and twenty minutes later we crashed into a polar bear! After being evacuated back to the boat, we observed the bear for a long time. Later the same day we saw Atlantic puffins, playful seals and thirty Belugas. It was amazing to witness all that,” Koskinen gushes.

As the tourism industry expands more towards exclusive experiences and designed adventures, the Arctic areas are seeing a boom in the number of visitors. For example, the number of tourists in the Russian Arctic areas has doubled in the past five years and the biggest group are Chinese visitors.

The Arctic cruise industry is working hard to keep up with the increase in consumer demand. Now the world’s first luxury ice-breaker vessel is being built and will be powered by Wärtsilä. The vessel will be the latest (12th) addition to the French operator Ponant’s fleet of cruise vessel. The vessel is named Le Commandant Charcot, after 19th Century Polar explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot. All the previous 11 vessels are also equipped with Wärtsilä engines. Ponant and Wärtsilä have a long history together, explains Glenn Mattas, Regional Sales Director, Wärtsilä Marine, in charge of South Europe and Africa.

“Ponant is a very old customer for Wärtsilä. We started working with them already in the 1990s. Back then Ponant was a much smaller company than today. They have been satisfied with the engines and propulsion systems we have delivered, so over the years we have built a good relationship,” Mattas explains.

Ponant has been a pioneer in Arctic cruises. The company has been active in the market already for close to 30 years. Le Commandant Charcot, at 150-metre length, is their biggest so far.

The vessel is designed to take Ponant’s customers to explore the far northeast of Greenland. But operating in the Arctic areas is demanding for any operator. Not only are the weather conditions harsh, but the remoteness of the areas is a safety issue. Previously Arctic cruises have been able to discover the area only during open water season. Now the polar cruises will be organised year-round.

High ice-class to match conditions

First of its kind, Le Commandant Charcot will have PC2 Polar Class certification and will be able to move through ice floe that is close to 2,5 metres thick and sail safely through sea ice compression ridges of more than 10 metres. Committed to operating in an environmentally sustainable way in the world’s most sensitive areas, Ponant is trusting Wärtsilä to supply LNG driven dual-fuel engines (four 14-cylinder and two 10-cylinder Wärtsilä 31DF dual-fuel engines) giving a total installed output of 42 MW to power the vessel.

“When Ponant started to plan this icebreaker project, they were very clear that they wanted main machinery with lowest possible emissions and highest possible efficiency, which lead them to choose the Wärtsilä 31DF,” says Mattas.

The vessel will be equipped with a Fuel Gas Supply System, developed and supplied by Wärtsilä.

Wärtsilä has developed several digital tools that are also implemented in Le Commandant Charcot. For instance, the vessel will be equipped with Wärtsilä Nacos Platinum navigation equipment, which has control systems for displaying navigation, positioning, and automation among other qualities. Le Commandant Charcot will also be equipped with Wärtsilä Eniram proactive energy management system.

“The Eniram energy management system allows the fleet operator to minimise the total energy consumption of the ship and keep track of the vessel and its performance all the time,” explains Mattas.  

Eniram’s system is integrated in the fleet monitoring system that Ponant has established in their head office in Marseille. This system helps Ponant to keep good track of all their vessels at all times.

“The Wärtsilä 31DF engines and the Fuel Gas handling system together with the Nacos Platinum and the Eniram system form a digitalised integrated solution in line with the Wärtsilä Smart Marine strategy,” says Mattas.

“This integrated solution, from one supplier is very much appreciated by Ponant as it greatly reduces the risks for them during the building phase. Also during operations, it offers them a single point of contact for all service support and trouble-shooting,” he adds.

Ponant’s icebreaker Arctic cruise ship Le Commandant Charcot is being constructed at Vard Søviknes Shipyard on the West Coast of Norway. The hull will be built at Vard’s Tulcea shipyard in Romania, by the Black Sea. Wärtsilä is scheduled to supply the equipment for the project in 2019 and 2020 and the vessel will be delivered in 2021.

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