Portuguese shipbuilder West Sea will soon start work on the first in a series of completely zero-emission cruise vessels, after signing a Letter of Intent (LoI) with Northern Xplorer, a new Oslo-based cruise company which aims to offer fully sustainable cruise travel, at SMM.
The first 250-passenger cruise vessel, as yet unnamed, is expected to be delivered from West Sea’s Viana do Costello shipyard in 2025. “This is a new milestone on our journey towards emission-free cruising. Having approached yards worldwide for tenders, we’re delighted to be embarking on this exciting project with West Sea,” said Northern Xplorer founder and CEO Rolf Sandvik.
“They are a modern, professional yard with a good track record. It’s great to be here at SMM for the signing alongside our technology partner, ABB, whose expertise has been key to developing the concept of this pioneering vessel.”
The new vessel design follows the construction of hybrid passenger vessels, Vision of the Fjords (2016) and Future of the Fjords (2018), providing cruises in the UNESCO World Heritage Fjords Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord. The two vessels were constructed by Norwegian specialist builder Brødrene Aa and are designed for emissions-free cruising in certain locations.
However, from 2026, new regulations from the Norwegian Government will prevent emissions of any kind along the length of these scenic waterways. This will mean that the hundreds of cruise vessels with voyages that include these waters will be prevented from sailing there.
Sandvik told the audience at the signing event that the Northern Xplorer vessel design could be used for at least ten new ships. It will leap-frog the Norwegian Government’s requirements by providing emissions-free sailing over entire voyages, navigating coastal routes as well as fjords with no emissions. The vessel will operate on a mix of battery-electric and hydrogen-fuelled propulsion.
“[Cruising is a holiday] product that noone needs – no one needs to go on a cruise,” Sandvik declared. “But we need to create solutions for these problems. Precisely because the cruising industry is such an unnecessary product – it needs to take the first step towards zero emissions.
“Discerning travellers want to cruise with a clean conscience, and with this ground-breaking green ship we aim to cater to that strong demand,” he added. “So we sincerely hope this is going to push the market forward toward zero emissions.”
Norway is particularly well-suited for this sort of vessel, given the country’s abundant supply of renewable hydropower and its mature network of shore power systems. These will enable the vessel to be refuelled with clean electricity.
ABB will provide the electric drivetrain, battery, and hydrogen fuel cell necessary to sail with zero emissions. While hydrogen storage is renowned for taking up large volumes of space, the improved propulsion efficiency afforded by fuel cells – capable of approaching 60%, in some cases – means that the fuel will be better utilised. Sandvik also told Ship&Offshore that the proposed battery pack for the design would be at least 40MW. “We are very happy on behalf of Northern Xplorer, and it has been an honour to contribute with our expertise to this pioneering project aiming to prove the viability of eco-friendly cruise operations using zero-carbon fuel,” said Jorulf Nergard, vice president Business Development, ABB Marine & Ports.