Seabourn will enter the increasingly crowded expedition segment with the addition of two new 264-passenger ships for delivery in 2021 and 2022.

The announcement comes on the heels of the decision by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. to buy a 67% stake in luxury operator Silversea Cruises, which has a four-ship expedition division.

Seabourn, a Carnival Corp. brand, has until now offered expedition excursions on its fleet of luxury ships through its Ventures by Seabourn program.

Now, it has signed a letter of intent for 558-foot, 23,000-gross-ton vessels built to luxury standards but also ice-hardened for polar cruising.

"This is a groundbreaking moment for Seabourn and for luxury travelers, who will now find a new standard of authentic yet luxurious expedition adventures in new and amazing destinations few people will ever see," said Seabourn president Richard Meadows. 

The ships will be built in a new joint venture formed by the Italian yard T.Mariotti, which specializes in small cruise ships, and Damen Group, a Dutch defense, shipbuilding and engineering conglomerate based in Gorinchem that has previously built fast ferries and super yachts.

T.Mariotti built three 450-passengers ships for Seabourn from 2009-11: the Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest.

Seabourn said the ships will carry two submarines and 24 Zodiac inflatable boats, as well as kayaks for off-ship exploration.

Robin West, Seabourn's vice president of expedition operations and planning, said the extension into expedition cruising had been in the works for a year.

Seabourn will announce design and service details for the new ships beginning later this year. Specific details about itineraries and booking availability will be released in early 2019. The first ship is currently planned to sail in the Arctic in late summer 2021, with a full winter season in Antarctica to follow.

Seabourn's entry will further crowd the luxury end of the expedition spectrum, with Silversea, Crystal, Ponant and Scenic in the market or building ships for the market.

Seabourn noted that its fleet of five luxury vessels visits more than 170 Unesco World Heritage Sites as well as lesser-known ports and hideaways around the world.

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