Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

It's easy to hear the sound of Homer Simpson's aggravated "Doh!" in the background of the announcement that the Scenic Eclipse, a fancy expedition yacht commissioned by Scenic Group, has once again been delayed.

Now due Aug. 15, it is the third announced delivery date for the 228-passenger ship, which originally was to have made its maiden voyage from Istanbul to Venice in August 2018.

Instead, the $142 million project has been mired in a nightmare of missed payrolls and labor backlash at the Uljanik Group shipyard in Pula, Croatia.

But the Scenic Eclipse isn't the only new expedition ship to be delayed recently.

Hurtigruten also pushed back the delivery schedule for its 600-passenger ships Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen, citing delays at the Kleven shipyard in Ulsteinvik, Norway.

The lesson might seem to be: don't build cruise ships with anyone other than Fincantieri or Meyer Werft, which turn out large cruise ships like so many sausages. Oh, except the Holland America Line ship Koningsdam, which was delayed coming out of a Fincantieri yard by six weeks in 2016. That in turn forced Viking Cruises to postpone the delivery of the Viking Sky, also being built at Fincantieri.

The truth is that ship happens, whether it is bad weather, bad labor relations or bad finances at the yard.

Rob Huffman, vice president of trade sales at Scenic USA, said all the company can do at this point is apologize.

"I can start by saying that there's no one out there that's more disappointed by this delay than those of us here within the Scenic organization ourselves," Huffman said. "For us the challenge is this isn't the first time it's happened. So the disappointment, understandably, gets taken to a higher level."

Over the course of a 30-year career, Huffman said he's experienced his share of ship delays. "I'd be lying to you if I said I'd seen one that has been delayed multiple times like Scenic Eclipse has. I haven't seen extenuating circumstances like this, with the multiple strikes, with the shipyard financial issues, to the extent that we've seen with this project," he said.

The day that the latest delay was announced, Huffman said his team immediately started offering to rebook passengers or refund those that didn't want to stick with their Scenic Eclipse plans.

"We started smiling and dialing here at 9 am [that] morning. We wanted to reach out and be proactive," Huffman said.

Going forward, Huffman said he understands if travel partners take a wait-and-see approach, but he added that the new involvement of Fincantieri in the ownership of the Pula shipyard should bolster its prospects.

"We continue to believe that this product and this experience will be a game changer in the industry," Huffman said.


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