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118 New Ships Since 2000 - Ship Sizes - The New Panama Canal

by Mark Tre' - "The Cruise Examiner"

The recent announcement by CLIA that 118 new cruise ships had been delivered since 2000 has led The Cruise Examiner to have a look at how the world cruise fleet is now made up and how it has changed in the last decade. The findings, along with progress now being made on a new Panama Canal, are rather interesting. Large ships, nay huge ships, have now become the norm. And like the trade of the world, the type of passenger attracted to each size of ship is surely quite different.


118 New Cruise Ships Since 2000

In January, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) published an interesting statistic. They said that 118 new cruise ships had been introduced to the world fleet since 2000. That is very close to one ship a month, every month, year round for a decade. While there has been a slowdown during the recession, orders are starting again and it is worthwhile to have a look at how this massive new fleet is composed. To do this, in order to give the fleet a different perspective, we are going to look at how the fleet is divided in the same terms used for cargo ships, working from the largest down.

The Capesize Ships

In cargo ship terms, Capesize ships are the next size up from Suezmax, the latter being ships that are too wide or deep for the Panama Canal but can still use the Suez. Capesize ships, however, always have to navigate via the Cape of Good Hope or Cape Horn. Length and width are not a problem in the Suez Canal, but draft is limited to 62 feet.

As cruise ships carry passengers and not heavy cargoes, this is not a problem for them, as even the Queen Mary 2 has only a draft of 32 feet 10 inches, which means that there is really no such thing as a "Suezmax" cruise ship. In the container trades these ships tend to be known as "post-Panamax" (a Panamax ship can carry up to 5,000 twenty-foot equivalent containers while a post-Panamax can carry up to 12,000 (although there is also now a design for a 20,000-unit vessel).

Capesize cargo ships ten to carry large cargoes of low-value goods such as coal and iron ore, of ports they can serve is severely restricted by their size. The same is of course true of Capesize cruise ships that cannot enter many cruise ports because of their own size, but the huge advantage they offer is that they can bring down rates because of economies of scale. Indeed, the same applies to the Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas, which carry 6,000 passengers each but limit themselves to the same more on board activities such as ziplines and high diving and their ports, which they visit on a repetitive basis all the year round, feature things such as roller coaster rides and chair lifts. Despite the fact that they offer huge loft suites, these ships must cater to the mass market with their low unit costs in order to stay full.

Where Capesize cargo ships are typically above 150,000 tons deadweight, or about 100,000 gross tons measurement, Capesize cruise ships are of basically the same size, The first Capesize cruise ships were actually built in the 1930s, with the delivery of the Normandie for the French Lines and Cunard Line's Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. These three North Atlantic express passenger ships were all too long and to wide to be able to use the Panama Canal, and were the largest ships to have been built to that time.

Today's Capesize cruise fleet thus numbers forty-seven ships either in service or on order. Starting with the 5,400 lower berth Oasis and Allure of the Seas, they work down through a quintet (the largest cruise ship order ever placed) of the 2,850-berth Celebrity Solstice class, a quartet of 3,100-passenger ships consisting of the Voyager of the Seas class, and three trios, the 3,600-passenger Freedom of the Seas class, 3,500-guest MSC Fantasia class and the 3,100-berth Carnival Dream class.

Then follow another pair, the 2,500-ton Disney Dream and sister, and the one-off 4,200-berth Norwegian Epic (which was to have been part of a pair until her sister ship was cancelled), to be introduced next week, and the Queen Mary 2, another one-off, and one with a lot more space with only 2,620 lower berths. These ships are all above 1,000 feet in overall length and only one, the Voyager of the Seas of 1999, was delivered before the year 2000.

To be added to these are twenty-two more. The eleven ships of the Carnival Conquest (six) and Costa Concordia (five) classes, all 952 by 116 feet in overall dimensions, are ten feet too wide for the present Panama Canal. Eleven more ships, of the Grand Princess class, including P&O's Azura and Ventura, all 951 x 118 feet, also fall into this category. These twenty-two Carnival Corp & PLC ships were built to a short and stout design that precludes them from passing through the present Panama Canal, and they are all products of the Fincantieri shipyards in Italy. Only one of this lot, the Grand Princess of 1998, was delivered before the year 2000.

So of the 118 cruise ships delivered since 2000 sixty-seven, or more than half, are too big to transit the Panama Canal.

The Panamax Ships

The next category down is Panamax, which is the maximum size ship that can use the Panama Canal (although new locks are due to open in 2015). Cargoes carried by Panamax ships are generally a little higher value and include grain, steel and minerals as well as thermal coal and iron ore. And Panamax cruise ships are more likely to feature alternative restaurants and big shows than ziplines and roller coasters. In fact, many offer more than just a repetitive 7-day itinerary and are more likely to be found on alternating 10-day circuits in the Mediterranean as just one example.

These ships have a maximum length overall of 965 feet and a beam of 106 feet and are able to squeeze through the present locks. This size is ideal for World Cruises as well, and can reposition easily between Alaska and the Caribbean. For example, where the Queen Victoria and the new Queen Elizabeth can offer world cruises that transit both Panama and Suez, the Queen Mary 2 is forced to sail all the way around the tip of South America to get from the Atlantic to the Pacific as she is too big for the Panama Canal.

The Panamax cruise fleet numbers eighty ships. Owners such as Norwegian Cruise Line (and their once-parent Star Cruises) made sure they did not build wider than Panamax and so this fleet includes half a dozen Meyer-built vessels of dimensions of 965 by 106 feet, while Celebrity Cruises has four St Nazaire-built ships of the same dimensions in the Celebrity Constellation class and Princess Cruises two St Nazaire-built ships of the Coral Princess class. To these can be added Cunard's Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, all of maximum Panamax dimensions.

Following closely behind are the four ships of the MSC Musica class, all just a foot shorter than Panamax, and the four Royal Caribbean ships of the Radiance of the Seas class, three feet shorter. Following at 960 feet are the four Carnival Spirit class and two ships each of the Costa Atlantica and Costa Luminosa classes. At 936 feet, or 29 feet short of Panamax are half a dozen Holland America ships, from the 2002-built Zuiderdam to this year's Nieuw Amsterdam. Royal Caribbean's five 915-foot "Vision" class ships (not including the now-lengthened Enchantment of the Seas) and the 921-foot Pride of America, complete the Panamax class above 900 feet.

Fully another forty ships follow at between 800 and 900 feet and Panamax beam, representing Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, NCL, P&O, TUI Cruises and at the lower end in terms of length, the ships of Aida Cruises (half a dozen at 817 feet), P&O Australia (three at 805-810 feet) and the Crystal Serenity at 820 feet.

There have been one or two exceptions to the maximum Panamax length of 965 feet. The laid-up s.s. United States, for example, was constructed in 1952 to be able to transit the Panama in an emergency, but her overall length is 990 feet. A couple of other ships today, the 990-foot Enchantment of the Seas, which was lengthened in 2005, gets around this as her bow was redesigned when she was lengthened to that it can be hinged up to bring her overall length down to 965 feet. The 970-foot Utopia, to be delivered in 2013, is the other.

The New Panama Canal

However ships may be classified today, the present Panamax definition will become redundant in five years when a third lane of locks is opened on the Panama. These new locks will allow ships of up to 1200 feet length overall by 167 feet in beam and up to 49.9 feet in draft to transit the canal. Essentially, this will allow most of the world cruise ship fleet to transit Panama.

There are sure to be some exceptions, however, as with the five largest units of the Royal Caribbean fleet their maximum width at the level of the bridge wings is 226 feet for the Oasis and Allure of the Seas and 184 feet for the Freedom class ships. This could leave the five Royal Caribbean ships as the last of the Capesize cruise ships, unable to use the new locks. How many other cruise ships might be affected is not yet clear.

Meanwhile, Cunard's Queen Mary 2 may be able to conduct her world cruises using the Panama Canal after 2015, although that is not yet clear. One factor, that might also affect other cruise ships, is the height of the Bridge of the Americas at the Pacific end of the canal, which has a clearance under the main span of 201 feet at high tide. By comparison, the clearance under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge at the approach to New York is 228 feet, and Queen Mary 2 clears this bridge by only 13 feet.

This means she could be about fourteen feet too tall for the Panama Canal unless some height can be obtained from masts or her funnel, which was specifically designed to the maximum height to pass under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. By comparison the maximum height of the Queen Victoria is 179 feet from keel to top of the highest mast.

Handysize Ships

The next designation of cargo ships, called Handysize, carries all sorts of cargoes to and from ports all over the world, and again usually cargoes with higher values than either the Capesize or Panamax ships, including the likes of steel, project cargoes, copper, zinc and other valuable metals. Such ships are designed to maximum dimensions and maximum capacity to allow them to serve the vast majority of the world's ports.

Within this grouping will be found all the traditional style cruise ships that we were used to until just a decade ago plus some new ships. Some examples of ships in this category, mostly ranging in the 600 and 700-foot overall length brackets, include the fleets of Azamara Cruises, Fred Olsen Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Phoenix Reisen, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, plus the most recent newbuildings of Seabourn and Silversea.

One point about all these fleets is that none of them do repetitive 7-day itineraries, which is the wont of the larger ships, and they offer itineraries worldwide that change according to the season, many of them never repeating an itinerary in a year.

A mixture of traditional and upmarket ships, the more traditional ones do not include many balconies but the newer middle-range ships such as the eight former Renaissance ships (now with Azamara, Oceania and Princess, with one to go to P&O soon as Adonia) offer a more discerning product. The new ships of Seabourn and Silversea, however, together with Hapag-Lloyd Cruises' Europa, serve the most discerning market of all with not only balconies but the best of on-board facilities.
These are indeed the finest cruise ships in the world, paying attention to every detail of service. They also cost more and attract a different clientele.

Small Ships

As well as the larger ships, there is a wide variety of small ships, ranging from the myriad of new river ships to the daily mail boat from Bergen to the North Cape to ships such as Cruise West's Spirit of Oceanus, which now completes a globe-spanning world cruise of 335 days every year and a large fleet of expedition ships sailing to the Antarctic, the Amazon to Peru and the Northwest Passage, not to mention Alaska, Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands.
But that, as they say, is another story for another day.

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