The construction of new cruiseships is an ongoing process, with order books currently filled in light of the growing demand for capacity, as more passengers choose cruises as their holiday. Each new ship placed on order must fit the dynamic needs of the market, which are partly defined by the changing regulatory environment and partly by competitive pressures.

With the cruise market growing rapidly, operators must make their market objectives clear when ordering new ships, balancing their demands with what is economically efficient in terms of construction and design. Though there are many factors to consider, from advances in technology to shifting geographical preferences among customers, there are some issues that are significant enough to dominate the design of new vessels.

FUEL FACTOR

“A key challenge that faces all in the industry is the cost and availability of fuel,” says Richard H Vie, vice president of new builds and technical development in the corporate shipbuilding department of Carnival Cruise Lines. “That is the focus for everyone in the industry. It impacts share prices and, from a technical point of view it is a major priority. Fuel won’t get much cheaper. The trend is up as the availability of fuel falls.”

“Taking a ship out of service is costly, so lengthening is not a cost-efficient way to add lower berths.”

The historically high price of oil has had a major impact on all industries and the cruise sector has to look at how to cut a major cost without compromising on quality of service. At Carnival, fuel efficiency is top of the agenda for newbuilds, and Vie believes that there is room for manoeuvre. “From the hardware side, efficiency is the key and in the long-term we need to look for alternatives,” he says. “Our internal studies look at our existing ships as well as new vessels, and we find that we can make significant inroads into energy consumption.”

By identifying major loads on energy consumption, such as air conditioning, and improving the efficiency of their operation, these studies suggest that fuel savings of up to 20% in this area are possible. “That kind of saving is not to be sniffed at,” says Vie. “Of course, the best way to save on fuel is to go more slowly, but then you get to fewer places on a cruise, so we need to find a balance between engineering and marketing.”

Carnival operates a portfolio of 12 cruise brands across Europe, North America and Australia, which includes Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, AIDA Cruises, Costa Cruises, Cunard Line, P&O Cruises and Swan Hellenic. Together, these brands operate 79 ships. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Newbuilds are key to the continuing success of these brands, and ships in construction include the Carnival Freedom, a Conquest-class vessel ordered as part of a four-ship deal with Fincantieri in Sestri, Italy. Construction of Freedom, which began two years after the Liberty – the previous vessel in this class to be put on order – will reflect differences in design and the constant progression of the shipbuilding process.

“We are pressing the builders to optimise their designs and get the best hull shapes possible,” says Vie. “Relationships are key, and we want to be satisfied that we can do no more in the build phase to optimise efficiency.” Carnival has a strong relationship with Fincantieri, where a sister ship to the Concordia is also on order for delivery in 2007, as well as the Cunard vessel Queen Victoria.

ENGAGING WITH THE ENVIRONMENT

Along with energy efficiency, improved environmental performance is a key topic for the shipbuilding sector at the moment. This is in no small part driven by the need to be compliant with evolving regulations, which make ever more stringent demands on ship designers and engineers.

“Environmental issues are constantly in mind,” says Vie. “Regulations change and we have to reflect that. We want better and more efficient ways of meeting and, where necessary, exceeding the requirements, so we must work closely with the shipbuilders to stay ahead of the game. The cruise industry takes protection of the environment very seriously and suppliers must develop better products. People pick up a marketing brochure and see a palm-fringed, white sand beach, so we need to keep beaches white.”

Meeting the strictures laid down in environmental legislation is no mean feat. One of the main environmental considerations for the shipping industry is sulphur emissions, particularly in light of the growing number of Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs) that are being put in place to protect ports, coastlines and heavy traffic waters.

In May 2005, international regulations to control the harmful emissions from ship exhausts came into force, establishing SECAs in areas such as the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. Within a SECA, the maximum permissible sulphur content of fuel used by ships must not exceed 1.5% m/m. This forces the shipping industry to either use low-sulphur fuel or to fit an exhaust scrubbing system to limit emissions.

Both options, however, bring challenges. For low-sulphur fuel, extra pipes and tanks are required, bringing an extra cost to construction. Furthermore, end-of-pipe scrubbing solutions have not yet appeared in a widely usable form, and, though they may be an effective solution in the future, the industry must deal with solutions that are available now.

“The problem is that end-of-pipe solutions don’t exist at the moment,” remarks Vie. “BP is working on a project with P&O Ferries and a second prototype will be tested soon, but I feel that there is no readily available solution of that kind for the engines on cruiseships. No such solution is available for engines of our size. So, we are planning to use low-sulphur fuel, but that brings problems of cost and availability, which we can’t mitigate. It is not a design issue. You get sulphur out of the stack when combustion takes place.”

“While sulphur is the hot topic in terms of emissions, regulations on other substances are likely to become more stringent.”

While sulphur is the hot topic in terms of emissions, regulations on other substances are likely to become more stringent. However, these may be more easily addressed in design and construction than the problems associated with sulphur. “With regard to nitrous oxides, we can design engines to lower these emissions, but we can’t do that for sulphur,” says Vie. “All engine manufacturers comply with or exceed the IMO’s NOx emissions targets, and they plan to reduce these still further.”

IAMCS DEVELOPMENT

However, if the industry chooses to address the sulphur problems, there are some areas of technological advancement that are seen as a given in the future design of cruiseships. Among these are Integrated Alarm Monitoring and Control Systems (IAMCSs), which target greater efficiency in terms of manpower, maintenance and control, as well as improving safety on board.

An IAMCS network links all the machinery and auxiliary systems on the ship back to one man-machine interface. It can include improved fuel monitoring systems and power management for electrical generation capacity, as well as auxiliary systems control and enhanced data communication networks linking operator sites around a vessel. Its aim is to provide real-time data awareness for systems controllers.

Carnival is among those taking a lead on the validation of IAMCS for use in future vessels. These systems represent the first line of defence if anything goes wrong on a vessel and, as such, could represent a significant change in the way cruiseships are designed and operated. The aim of Carnival’s project is to develop integrated systems that initiate an alarm if a problem develops on board, automatically make a correction to engine function if required, and initiate action – either systems-based or by crew – to mitigate or avoid any potential dangers.

IAMCSs provide more detailed information on ship function through an integrated network of automated sensors, minimising manual watchkeeping and freeing crew to perform other duties. These systems still face a number of issues in terms of applicability and operation, such as the potential for information overload or a sense of detachment from the processes being automatically monitored, but Vie believes that they represent a breakthrough in how ship function is controlled and could favourably impact both efficiency and safety.

“On a modern ship, IAMCSs are essential,” he says. “They give you the ability to monitor processes centrally or to implement self-managed processes, which is much safer. An automated system never gets tired. There is, perhaps, an issue of remoteness from process control, but we are working on an exciting project in this area.”

With UK partner BMT Defence Services, Carnival is examining a new methodology that centres on high-level statements for the process control requirements, which feeds through into shipbuilding specifications. The next stage is due in early 2006, with the goal of developing a system that reports the information watchkeepers need in a form that is usable.

“IAMCS is just another brick in the wall – another stepping stone,” Vie adds. “We want more effective ships at the same or lower cost. That means you have to centrally question what you are doing and seek to improve on it.”

Looking ahead, there are other technological issues that could affect the shipbuilding process in the coming years. For example, Vie notes a blue-sky project that could see Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) used instead of heavy fuel. LNG could have the same ‘bucks-per-bang’ as low-sulphur fuel, but with fewer supply problems. More efficient air-conditioning systems, more reliable level sensors for tanks, exhaust gas scrubbing and energy-efficient illumination are also considerations for the future.

BIG IS NOT ALWAYS BEST

Alongside the development of individual systems to improve ship performance, the industry is also addressing whether the future centres on super-vessels. Although Carnival is looking to add large newbuilds to its portfolio, the trend towards increasingly large ships is not seen as a given, according to Vie. He notes that all kinds of vessel are currently in demand, depending on the market.

“The newbuild department is a service division,” he says. “We build the ships that the customers want. If they need it to go through the Panama Canal, then we build a panamax ship. If someone wants the capacity for 5,000 passengers, then we build a larger ship. However, it is true that at the big end ships are getting larger.”

Lengthening a ship to add capacity is another emerging trend in the cruise sector that Vie is keen to debunk. “Taking a ship out of service is costly, so lengthening is not a cost-efficient way to add lower berths,” he says. “So, for Carnival, there is no tendency to opt for lengthening. We never stop building new ships. We are flat out with newbuilds and it has never been any different for us. If you have a fleet of, say, 80 ships and a ship lasts 30 years, you would need to build, on average, more than two ships every year just to stand still. Over the next four years, we will build 12 new ships.”

Overall, though the shipbuilding process is incessant for Carnival, incremental change to the design and build of new ships is happening all the time, making vessels more efficient and better suited to their purpose. This process thrives on communication between the cruise operators and the shipbuilding division, and provided that this close contact can be preserved, the industry will always be working on the success of the next generation of newbuilds.