The European shipbuilding market has grown considerably in recent years and shipyards have to upgrade to stay competitive. This situation is likely to increase in the near future, according to Bernard Meyer, managing partner for Meyer Werft, a major global player in the market for new-build cruise ships.

“Competition is tough now and will continue to be so in the future with other shipyards in Europe, as well as with Asian shipyards such as Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Samsung,” he says. “The cruise market is growing, especially in Europe, partly because in the past its market share in the overall tourism market was too small and it has expanded to fill that gap. And it’s partly because modern cruise ships are now being designed to meet the demands of the passengers.”

This development is also driven by the demand for new on-board features, which includes a wider choice of more sophisticated sports facilities, a wider variety of restaurants to suit all tastes, roomier spas, and the introduction of new forms of on-board entertainment.

“Unlike 40 years ago, today’s passengers can choose between many different types of cruising, from the traditional to the exotic, from the club ships of AIDA Cruises to EasyCruise. In the twenty-first century’s world of cruising, everything is now possible,” says Meyer.

“Unlike 40 years ago, today’s passengers can choose between many different types
of cruising.”

SHIPBUILDING HERITAGE

Meyer Werft was founded in 1795 in Papenburg on the River Ems in Germany, and has been owned by the Meyer family for six generations. Long-standing experience in the construction of passenger vessels has been the basis for the German shipyard successfully entering the global market for large-scale, modern cruise vessels. To date, the shipyard has delivered 19 luxury liners of different tonnages to customers all over the world.

Meyer Werft currently has another seven ships in its order book and under construction, including three 93,000t sister ships for Norwegian Cruise Line, three club ships for AIDA Cruises and one post-panamax ship (117,000t) for Celebrity Cruises. The vessels will be completed in early 2006, and in the spring of 2009, respectively. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Luxury car and passenger ferries as well as ro-ro ferries and passenger ships also count among the German shipyard’s range of products – it has built 30 ferries and ro-ro ships built over the past few decades. In February 2004, Meyer Werft delivered its latest ro-ro ferry, Pont-Aven, to the French operator Brittany Ferries.

DIVERSIFICATION AND SPECIALISATION

A recent expanding area for Meyer Werft is the construction of river cruise ships. Operated on the rivers Danube and Rhone, these vessels are built by the German shipyard’s sister company Neptun Stahlbau in Rostock. At present, new ships for the river cruise operators A-Rosa and Premicon are on order.

In addition, Meyer Werft has built 23 passenger ships for an Indonesian operator, and the latest newbuilding Labobar was delivered in June 2004.

Gas tankers for the transportation of liquefied and chemical gases are another ship type Meyer Werft has specialised in – more than 45 gas and chemical tankers have been built and delivered by the Papenburg shipyard. In 1998/99 the latest units, Clipper Viking and Clipper Harald, were delivered to Solvang ASA. This Norwegian company has also placed contracts for another two gas tankers to be completed and handed over in 2007.

A new field of Meyer Werft’s activity is the construction of container ships. Four ships of this type were delivered to Emissionshaus Hansa Hamburg Shipping International earlier this year. Meyer Werft is also an international market leader in the conversion of cargo ships to livestock carriers, and 27 vessels for carrying sheep, cows, camels and horses have been delivered so far.

Not to be outdone, Meyer Werft’s sister company, Neptun Stahlbau, has also been very busy, focusing on ship repair and the conversion of ferries and passenger ships.

After Meyer Werft’s shipyard moved its premises to the periphery of Papenburg in 1975, and later extended its first covered building dock, a further extension was made in January 2002, with the construction of a second covered building dock with new prefabrication premises that feature a laser welding plant – the largest investment in the history of the company. As a result, Meyer Werft, which employs a total of 2,100 staff, is now able to build all sizes of ships (up to 180,000t) on demand.

BRAND IDENTITY

Every cruise operator must have a special design or character that is readily identifiable to their clients, according to Meyer. “The character of a ship now refers not only to the exterior design and the name of the cruise vessel, but also to the passenger services, entertainment and relaxation offered by each vessel,” he says.

“Long-standing experience in the construction of vessels has been the basis for the German shipyard successfully entering the global market for large-scale, modern cruise vessels.”

The 93,500t cruise ship Norwegian Jewel is a good example of this type of brand representation. It was built by the yard and handed over to the cruise operator Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), in the Dutch port of Eemshaven on 4 August 2005, one day ahead of the contractual date. On that day, passengers boarded the vessel, and the ship set sail for two mini-cruises to Amsterdam and Dover. The naming ceremony is scheduled to take place in New York on September 2005.

Built in just 22 months, the Norwegian Jewel is the first of a series of four new vessels that Meyer Werft is building for NCL, and the sixth vessel built for the Star Cruises/NCL group. The largest panamax ship worldwide, and the biggest passenger vessel that has ever been built in Germany, the Norwegian Jewel also has the line’s highest number of cabins.

There are 1,188 passenger cabins on Norwegian Jewel: 405 inside and 783 outside cabins, most with their own balconies. Various cabin categories are available, among them 44 suites and 132 mini-suites, including two 311m² Garden Villas suites that are among the largest of their kind. With a maximum speed of 25.6kt, the vessel is extremely fast compared to other ships of the same size.

The Norwegian Jewel project was very different to the other vessels that the yard has completed for NCL. “Compared with Norwegian Dawn and Norwegian Star there were many changes,” says Meyer. “This included an additional deck and new courtyard villas on deck 14, as well as other modifications. It’s a totally new ship that we built in just 22 months. And at 93,502t, it is the biggest of its kind that can pass through the Panama Canal.”

While keeping the same brand identity, future sister ships of Norwegian Jewel are likely to feature further refinements. “The next ship for NCL will be the Pride of Hawaii, which will be operated under the brand of NCL America,” says Meyer. “It will feature even further changes than those on Norwegian Jewel. These modifications are not just technical ones, but will reflect, in terms of interior design, how cruise ships should meet the demands of the twenty-first century American way of living.”

One of the challenges facing shipyards with newbuilds is that the increased sophistication of ships must be balanced with controlling the costs of their construction. “You have to give the right answers to the question ‘make or buy?'” says Meyer. “You also have to decide what you can do, on your own, and what would be better purchased from an external supplier.

“You need intelligent solutions in building ships, including using the right technology such as laser-welding plants, plus a motivated and skilled staff. Also, you should be looking at the kind of technological advances that are now changing the shipbuilding process and making it more cost-effective.”

RAISING STANDARDS

“It’s important that the market is growing and that all new concepts of cruising are successful.”

At the Meyer Werft shipyard in Germany, the latest laser welding plants, new standards in CAD and new computer-based tools for improved planning and logistics have changed their processes dramatically. An improved type of prefabricated production in all fields – shipbuilding, machinery and accommodation – now ensures that they can build ships even faster. “A good example is our materials management system, established three years ago, which is computer controlled and very easy to handle by all of our workforce,” adds Meyer.

Other kinds of new technology and facilities being incorporated into Meyer Werft’s newly constructed ships depends on the destinations where the ships will operate. “In general, you can see that environmentally friendly technologies concerning the machinery as well as high-tech provision and disposal equipment are very important,” says Meyer.

“Today’s cruise ships are expected to have more public rooms, shops, cabins with private balconies, restaurants, and fitness areas. The result of meeting these demands is that cruise ships are getting bigger and, not least, creating more sources of revenues.”

To Meyer, this means that the demand for larger ships will continue to grow over the next few years. “But there are natural limitations like the Panama canal as well as the depth of the sea in various cruise destinations,” he points out.

“This means all kind of ships, small or large, will find their passengers. It’s important that the market is growing and that all new concepts of cruising are successful. AIDA shows that new concepts can be the market leader in a national market, very soon.”

Meyer Werft has invested a lot of money and resources in its facilities and staff to maintain its position as a global leader in cruise ship construction, which is vital in such a competitive market as shipbuilding. “Most important for the future is that we continue to meet the expectations of our customers and that we further improve our productivity together with our suppliers,” says Meyer. “We’re very confident that we are on the right track.”