Silversea Cruises confirmed it will take delivery of its new Silver Origin expedition ship, although its inaugural voyage has been delayed until at least Aug. 22.
But in an extraordinary series of maneuvers, construction continued during the coronavirus lockdown, and the ship successfully completed sea trials in late April.
During a May 19 conference call with travel media, Chief Marketing Officer Barbara Muckermann also shared positive news on the number of clients who are rebooking their canceled cruises for later in 2020 or 2021.
She said many customers age 61 to 80 – Baby Boomers are Silversea’s primary clientele – are rebooking their voyages using the future cruise credits. Muckermann said these are the “real travelers” who are ready to get back out there.
Interestingly, Silversea’s luxury expedition trips are hot sellers for 2021, she said, with the Galapagos Islands being the top booked destination now, followed by Antarctica.
Bookings will spike once the ships start sailing with passengers again, predicted Mark Conroy, Managing Director-the Americas. “Once people see ships moving and we’re back in business, we’ll see a jump,” he said. “When there’s an effective treatment or vaccine, business will spike up as quickly as it went down.”
The executives also expressed concern for travel advisor partners, pointing out that commissions are being paid on canceled bookings and the new one if rebooked. The luxury line also extended its relaxed cancellation polices through Dec. 31, 2020.
Silversea’s ships are still sailing, working to repatriate crew members to the Philippines and Europe. The crews are being treated like “internal guests,” dining in the restaurants, participating in organized activities and keeping in touch with full internet access, said Damien O’Connor, Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations.
Meanwhile, the 100-guest Silver Origin, which is purpose-built for the Galapagos Islands, was under construction at the De Hoop Shipyard in Lobith, a relatively isolated corner of the Netherlands.
The country implemented a national lockdown on March 15, but about 200 workers – mainly skilled carpenters – continued to work, many staying in an on-site residential facility that reduced capacity.
The Dutch health authority imposed rigorous protocols while the shipyard instituted additional procedures, including daily temperature checks, enhanced cleaning procedures, strict social distancing and a one-way system throughout the ship.
Silver Origin’s November float-out was delayed a month due to low water levels on the Waal River. Then, after heavy rains in January and February, the river rose so high that the ship was prevented from passing beneath the 12 bridges that separate the shipyard from the North Sea where the seas trials would take place. Finally, it made safe passage to Rotterdam on March 26, more than a month late.
The sea trials took place April 27-29. The travel ban kept sub-contractors from reaching the ship, so Silver Origin’s sea trials included a world-first: the dynamic positioning system – which lets the ship stay in place without dropping anchor – was remotely tuned and calibrated by a third party in St. Petersburg, Russia, over 1,100 miles away. A fast internet connection was set up on board to enable near-instant communication between both parties and, using a headset and a camera, an operative from St. Petersburg completed maneuvering tests. The ship’s captain acted as his lookout onboard.
“This was the first time such an operation has been completed remotely during a sea trial,” said Fre Drenth, the director of De Hoop Shipyard. “The tuning was successful and took no longer than usual. It demonstrates that it is possible to tune dynamic positioning systems remotely. It could potentially save a lot of travelling time for engineers in the future. I am enormously proud of my team for their work.”
Now, the ship is being outfitted although deliveries of furniture, fixtures and artworks have been delayed.
“We are so grateful to the professionals at the De Hoop shipyard,” Silversea President and CEO Roberto Martinoli said. “In the face of such adversity, their efforts were extraordinary and represent the resilience of European industry. Silver Origin looks magnificent. Our pioneering new ship represents the dawning of a new age of travel in the Galapagos Islands, and we look forward to welcoming guests aboard when the time is right.”
Meanwhile, Silversea’s other newbuild, the 596-passenger Silver Moon, was delayed when the Fincantieri shipyard in Ancona, Italy, closed March 16. Its inaugural season has been delayed at least until Oct. 2. Work resumed when the shipyard partially reopened April 20; it is expected to fully reopen at the end of May.
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