Next generation exploration cruise: prioritizing safety and sustainability

Next generation exploration cruise: prioritizing safety and sustainability

Ponant is known for providing their passengers with the highest standard of onboard comfort and luxury in the expedition cruise industry. With the delivery of Le Commandant Charcot polar explorer in 2021, they also have one of the safest and cleanest ships on the water.

“The safety of our passengers, crew and ships is always foremost,” says Mathieu Petiteau, newbuild director in Ponant. “But in designing the polar explorer, we took a harder look at the criteria for protecting the environment and achieving sustainability.”

Mathieu Petiteau © STUDIO PONANT
Mathieu Petiteau © STUDIO PONANT

The cruise industry has had to adapt to rapidly changing passenger and regulatory demands in recent years. Growing sensitivity to environmental issues in the destinations attractive to their customers has heightened Ponant’s focus on stewardship of vulnerable marine environments, says Petiteau. “We have always wanted to take our guests to most exclusive places, but we must also protect what we value.”

Cleaner, quieter, safer

Advanced power storage is a key feature of Le Commandant Charcot, equipped with the largest energy storage package supplied for a passenger ship to date. “This improves overall energy efficiency, ensuring optimal engine load with lower fuel consumption and reduced emissions,” Petiteau explains.

All-electric sailing is a huge attraction for passengers as well, he says. “We can stop engines and cruise silently for hours, providing the optimal experience with zero emissions in the most pristine settings.”

Ponant has also been proactive in their response to the International Maritime Organization’s ban on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic and subsequent requirements to reduce Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) emissions. “We are investing in new types of fuel for lower emissions, starting with liquid natural gas (LNG). We are working to get LNG available in Iceland, for bunkering on Arctic excursions. This will help to make cleaner fuel available for other operators as well,” says Petiteau. Restricting underwater noise is another important aspect, he reports, with Ponant recently receiving their first Underwater Radiated Noise certification from Bureau Veritas.

Azipod® propulsion aids in ice

Optimal, responsible and safe navigation in ice was a pivotal prerequisite for the polar explorer concept. Le Commandant Charcot is the first passenger vessel with double acting ship technology, allowing the ship to sail stern-first in challenging ice conditions. The intention is not to break ice, but to find best and safest route through the cracks and openings, Petiteau says. “Double acting mode using Azipod® propulsion is a key factor in ensuring maximum maneuverability in any ice conditions. Freedom of movement in icy waters also allows us to guarantee completion of cruises on a fixed schedule.”

Lower noise and vibration were other key criteria: “It is challenging to maintain comfort when sailing in ice, which requires more power and can generate a lot of noise,” he notes. “We started from zero, working with ABB and the yard to reduce noise levels while maintaining the necessary power. Together, we found a way to achieve both.”

Keeping connected

Safety is paramount for all cruise operators, but requires even more attention in the explorer segment, where ships venture further from established infrastructure. To ensure enhanced passenger and vessel safety, Ponant employs the ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operations network for remote equipment monitoring and diagnosis onboard Le Commandant Charcot.

“Continuous monitoring of equipment performance gives us the chance to be proactive in preventing new issues and to react quickly and effectively to issues if they arise,” says Petiteau.

Building a foundation for the future

Performance requirements on shipowners are set to increase in intensity, but Ponant is determined to stay in the forefront of responsible, sustainable cruising. “We are constantly improving our fleet, like implementing NOx reduction technology on our older vessels and working with ports to make shore power connection available for new vessels,” says Petiteau.

Le Commandant Charcot. ©PONANT-Nicolas Dubreuil
Le Commandant Charcot. ©PONANT-Nicolas Dubreuil

For Ponant, meeting stricter carbon dioxide emissions requirements means working with stakeholders to find new solutions: “Geothermal energy in Iceland can be used to produce green fuel, including synthetic LNG, using green hydrogen in the process. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can also be employed in the production of green fuel. Fuel cells using nitrogen as fuel are another possibility, as are ammonia, biogas and other zero-carbon fuels,” Petiteau relates. “We are working on a new vessel design that allows us to combine various energy sources and connect these with electric propulsion.”

The impact of experience

“First-hand experience changes perspectives,” Petiteau relates. “Passengers say they are transformed by their voyages with us. The impressions they get from the beauty of the wild and sharing in local cultures have an emotional impact. Their perception of the world changes with this added dimension. It gives them a heightened respect for the environment, and they become more convinced of the importance of preserving the nature that they have seen.”

Mindful of this responsibility, Ponant began modeling the polar explorer concept five years ago. “We are eager to see how the things we imagined will work together,” says Petiteau.

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