SAINT-NAZAIRE BOOSTS HIGH-VALUE ORDERBOOK
Chantiers de l’Atlantique has strengthened its orderbook and production capabilities while a new polemic develops over a proposed ownership change, writes David Tinsley.
An industrial bastion in western France, and a European centre of technologically-advanced marine production, the Saint-Nazaire shipyard has augmented both commercial and naval workloads, ensuring continuity in all departments for at least five years ahead.
Through unerring investment, the long-established yard has remained at the forefront of shipbuilding modernity, and has consolidated its position among the world elite in large cruiseship construction. It is facing a new era under a still-to-be cemented deal whereby Fincantieri would assume majority operational control.
Following the French state’s acquisition of the main holding in STX France from South Korea’s bankrupt STX Group, the shipbuilder has reverted to its former name of Chantiers de l’Atlantique. The prospect of a symbiotic relationship with Fincantieri, and hence a direct connection with the Italian state-owned sector, colours one of the latest contracts, whereby sections of naval replenishment vessels for the French Navy could be outsourced to the Italian group.
It remains to be seen whether or not a working association spanning all fields of interest will be maintained and expanded should the European Commission block the marriage of Chantiers de l’Atlantique and Fincantieri on anti-trust grounds. In January this year, the EC decided to examine Fincantieri’s proposed acquisition, following referrals by the French and German competition authorities. The Commission’s main concern appears to relate to the influence of the transaction on the cruiseship market, given the prominence of both organisations in a sector dominated by a handful of European-based shipbuilding companies.
In the meantime, Saint-Nazaire has strengthened its business standing in the upper reaches of the luxury passengership market by landing an order for a further, Oasis-class vessel of 231,000gt for Royal Caribbean Cruises. Due in the autumn of 2023, the ship will have a lower-berth capacity of at least 5,500.
The first two vessels of the class, Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, were handed over in 2009 and 2010 by Finland’s Turku shipyard (then owned by STX and now part of the Meyer Group of Germany). Chantiers de l’Atlantique went on to build the Harmony of the Seas, delivered in May 2016, and the Symphony of the Seas, delivered in March 2018, and is scheduled to complete a fifth-of-class during the spring of 2021, before laying down the newly-contracted sixth ship.
Symphony of the Seas ranked as the world’s biggest cruiseship on delivery, and she and her immediate predecessor brought further gains in efficiency and speed relative to the Finnish-built pair, incorporating a changed hull form and propellers.
The added-value imprint on production at Saint-Nazaire was again exemplified towards the end of last year in the 130,000gt Celebrity Edge, the first of four sisters ordered for Royal Caribbean Cruises’ premium brand subsidiary Celebrity Cruises. As befits its designation, the latest diesel-electric generation is intended to give the operator an edge in an increasingly competitive and discerning market.
Celebrity Edge introduces a cabin concept devised by Chantiers de l’Atlantique and named the Edge Stateroom and Infinite Veranda, whereby the entire living space integrates with the terrace at the touch of a button. The ship features what is described as an ‘outward facing’ or ‘endoskeleton’ design, maximising natural light and cabins with panoramic ocean views.
The yard used an analytical model during the project planning stage to help determine and validate the most effective energy-saving features and systems. The sum total of the design and engineering endeavours is an indicated 20% reduction in fuel per passenger per day compared to the Celebrity’s preceding, Solstice-class vessels. One important element is the specific hull form developed by the French shipbuilder to reduce resistance in waves without compromising calm water performance. This has been achieved using a parabolic bow that is near-vertical, rather than raked, with an encapsulated bulb.
Second-of-class Celebrity Apex is due next year, with the third and fourth newbuilds to follow in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
The yard has considerable experience with the largest ships, not least the 414m-long, 555,000dwt Batillus series of ultra-large crude carriers (ULCCs) turned out in the late 1970s. In the case of cruise ships, its track record includes the Queen Mary 2, which at 350m is longer than the Oasis-class.
As to further growth in size and capacity of cruise vessels, the shipbuilder considers that the challenge lies more in striking a balance between efficiency and comfort rather than in attaining greater scale. Larger ships mean an enormous amount of power on each shaftline and propeller, necessitating the most circumspect approach to design solutions that can achieve the requisite compromise between propulsive potency, efficiency and onboard comfort.
Building on its database and knowledge, and with recourse to Dutch research body MARIN’s optimisation expertise and software, the yard has implemented plans to design and manufacture its own propellers.
Saint-Nazaire has ensured a high level of R&D resourcing over the years, throughout the market cycles, and this continues to strengthen its hand in key target areas. Results from the earlier Ecorizon programme, centred on energy management and environmental engineering, have been applied to a number of completed and current newbuilds, including MSC’s forthcoming World-class generation. Set to be the largest vessels in MSC Cruises’ fleet in 2022 and 2024, the first two 205,000gt World-class newbuilds will also be distinguished by LNG dual-fuel electric power and propulsion systems.
Ecorizon outcomes are also reflected in Ulysseas, an innovative concept of ultra-luxury or expedition-type cruiseship for 200 passengers. In a further initiative directed at this sector, Chantiers de l’Atlantique has teamed with operator Ponant Cruises to investigate and implement solid sail technology. Made of fibreglass, carbon and epoxy-resin panels in a carbon-slat framework, the revolutionary Solid Sail solution has been devised to offer more efficient sail propulsion. 50%-scale prototypes have been fitted to a Ponant vessel for one year’s testing.
The major research endeavour under way at Saint-Nazaire is known as Smart Yard 2020, which began in 2016 and is due to be completed next year. The project has a budget of EUR100m (US$116m) and is focused on yielding design and performance benefits for cruiseship owners.
An upscaling of throughput capability was effected in November 2018, with the completion of a 30% enlargement of the yard’s pre-assembly area, and a corresponding extension of the rails of the 1,400t gantry crane. The EUR16m (US$18m) scheme enables simultaneous fabrication of up to 22 blocks, compared to 16 previously, to meet the yard’s rising workload.
Last year’s investment in production wherewithal also embraced a contract with Pemamek for automated panel profile feeding, assembly and welding stations.
In a bid to ensure the requisite skills base in specific areas, the yard opened a new training centre in March this year. L’Ecole Chantiers de l’Atlantique addresses needs as regards metal working, welding and pipefitting trades in particular.
The six-country Organisation for Joint Armament Cooperation (OCCAR) has signed a EUR1.7bn (US$1.9bn) contract on behalf of the French Defence Procurement Agency (DGA) with a consortium of Chantiers de l’Atlantique and warship builder Naval Group for a new generation of logistic support vessels. Each of the four 14,870 dwt replenishment ships will transport and transfer fuel, ammunition, spare parts and stores to France’s blue-sea combat fleet.
Deliveries are due at the end of 2022, in 2025 and 2027 and at the beginning of 2029. Chantiers de l’Atlantique has the design and construction remit for the series, which will be derivatives of the Italian Navy’s newbuild logistic ship Vulcano scheduled to be completed by Fincantieri in 2020. State-owned Naval Group (formerly DCNS) is responsible for the design, provision and integration of the combat, military and security systems. Provisional plans call for fabrication of the forward hull sections to be subcontracted to Fincantieri. Naval Group will have a minimum 10% stake in the restructured French shipbuilder under Fincantieri control.
Naval Group and Fincantieri have previously cooperated on the Horizon frigate programme for the French and Italian navies.
PRODUCTION PROGRAMME — Chantiers de l’Atlantique
171,600gt cruiseship MSC Bellissima (2nd of Meraviglia-class)
27 February 2019
G34, H34, I34
3 x 177,100gt cruiseships(Meraviglia Plus-class)
Oct 2019, 2020, 2023
K34, L34, M34
3 x 130,000gt cruiseships (2nd, 3rd and 4th of Edge-class)
2020. 2021, 2022
2 x 231,000gt cruiseships (5th and 6th of Oasis-class)
Spring 2021, Autumn 2023
2 x 205,000gt cruiseships (World-class, LNG-fuelled)*
4 x 28,700gt replenishment tankers**
*plus options on 3rd and 4th of World-class for MSC Cruises, deliveries 2025-2026; **joint contract with Naval Group, ship construction by Chantiers de l’Atlantique.
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