In a pioneering move for the ocean cruise industry, Carnival Corp. last week signed a deal to build four megaships that will be powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG), an initiative being hailed as a crucial step toward curbing the cruise industry’s emissions and environmental impact.

The four ships will be built by the Meyer Werft shipyard as part of a nine-ship, multibillion-dollar order that Carnival Corp. signed with Meyer Werft and the Fincantieri shipyard. The new vessels are slated to be delivered between 2019 and 2022. Two of the natural gas-powered ships will sail for the German line Aida Cruises. Carnival did not say for which brands the other two would sail.

The four megaships will each have a maximum capacity of 6,600 passengers.

“It’s pretty exciting what Carnival has done,” said Nick Brown, brand and external relations manager at Lloyd’s Register, a U.K.-based maritime classification organization.

Noting that Carnival is the first ocean cruise line to order natural gas-powered vessels, Brown said, “The combination of regulation and fuel prices has made operators look at their options and [natural] gas, which is now increasingly plentiful, is looking like an increasingly attractive option.”

Indeed, the cruise industry is under growing regulatory pressure to reduce emissions. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, natural gas is considered a promising future fuel source for commercial vessels, not least because its use would substantially reduce carbon, sulfur and nitrogen oxide emissions.

According to Carnival Corp., the proposed ships’ hybrid engines will burn 100% LNG while at sea, and LNG will also be used to power the ships in port.

“The impact on ports, where lots of ships are coming in, [will be that] the amount of harmful emissions will decline,” Brown said. He added that in the time it will take to build the vessels over the next few years, he expects that natural gas refueling infrastructure in various ports will be more developed.

In terms of building the LNG-powered vessels, there are certain logistical considerations. For one, the gas tanks take up more space than fuel-oil tanks, Brown said. “[So] they’ll have to find adequate space for the tanks,” he said.

And as for the safety of using and handling natural gas, the U.S. Coast Guard stated in a report on the topic that as long as cruise lines follow the International Maritime Organization’s thorough guidelines for the use of natural gas on vessels, “natural gas fuel systems … are considered to provide a level of safety that is at least equivalent to that provided for traditional fuel systems.”

Carnival Corp.’s 6,600-passenger LNG-fueled ships will each be 180,000 gross tons. In comparison, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class ships are 225,282 gross tons and have a maximum capacity of 6,360 passengers.

Carnival Corp. said that an “innovative design” will make efficient use of the ships’ spaces. CEO Arnold Donald said the four-ship contract was consistent with the company’s strategy to replace ships that have less efficient capacity with newer, larger and more fuel-efficient vessels.

“We are looking forward to executing on the next step in our fleet enhancement plan,” Donald said. “At a cost per berth in line with our existing order book, these new ships will enhance the return profile of our fleet. These are exceptionally efficient ships with incredible cabins and public spaces.”


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