During the summer, the cruise ship fleet surged past half a million berths of total capacity. The cruise industry is continuing to expand its horizons, and has seen strong newbuilding investment this year. Whilst many of the new ‘mega-ships’ will likely be heading to sunny climes, there have been developments at the small end of the sector too, for ships venturing forth to remote and often chilly destinations.
Arctic navigation was once the preserve of intrepid explorers. In 1848, British explorer Sir John Franklin set out on an ultimately doomed attempt to navigate the Northwest Passage. His abandoned ship, HMS Terror, was finally discovered this month in near-pristine condition in 80 feet of water off Canada’s King William Island. Today, Arctic navigation is potentially less hazardous, and while many modern cruise passengers are not always seen as the most adventurous of folk, rising demand for ‘expedition’ ships has been an interesting feature of cruise ship ordering this year. Nine such orders have been placed in 2016 to date, including some for voyages to the Poles, with other contracts for small vessels catering for the high-end, luxury market. Overall, vessels with less than 1,000 berths have accounted for half of the 26 cruise ship orders placed so far this year.
However, it has been the rapid expansion in the ‘mega-ship’ sizes that has recently pushed the cruise fleet over its new milestone, and underpinned the expansion in the cruise ship orderbook to a record 60 units of 142,922 berths at the start of September. Around 70% of berth capacity ordered this year has been accounted for by ships of 4,000 berths and above, with many of the major brands confirming contracts. Having expanded robustly by a CAGR of 4.3% p.a. in 2006-15, growth in the cruise fleet is now likely to accelerate in the next few years, as more ‘mega-ships’ are delivered. Cruise operators retain a positive market outlook, with increased passenger volumes in Asia expected to be a key driver of global cruise passenger growth. Some experts expect Chinese cruise passenger numbers to reach 3-4 million by 2020.
Overall, 2016 is a record year for investment in the cruise ship sector, with estimated investment in the year to date at $8.9 billion, already up nearly 50% on the previous high reached last year. A large number of orders are also in the pipeline and are likely to be confirmed in the coming years, which could add at least another 65,000 berths to the orderbook (nearly half of the current size of the orderbook). Given the extremely subdued level of ordering in other vessel sectors, the cruise sector has accounted for almost 50% of the total estimated value of newbuilding investment in the year to date, and provided support to the European yards who dominate in this sector.
So, despite weak conditions prevailing in many of the major volume markets, at least the sun is still shining on one part of the shipping industry. Whether you’re looking for a trip to some warmer latitudes or a voyage to a more bracing environment, the next phase for the cruise sector might not be plain sailing but it should be an adventure.
Source: ClarksonsPrevious Next
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