Royal Caribbean’s Silversea Cruises says it is preparing to take delivery of its newest ship, Silver Origin, following a unique set of COVID-19-related challenges overcome by the shipbuilder and innovative sea trials that included world-first remote operations.
The new 100-passenger ultra-luxury cruise ship was built by Dutch shipyard De Hoop, which completed construction despite setbacks brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
Silver Origin was still under construction on March 15, 2020—four days after coronavirus was declared as a global pandemic—when the Netherlands implemented a national lockdown, and the country ground to a halt to safeguard the health of its people. Relatively isolated in Lobith, a remote corner of the Netherlands, De Hoop shipyard offered its approximately 250 employees the option to cease working.
While many were forced to return to their families or to their country of origin before borders closed, approximately 200 employees—mainly skilled carpenters—opted to continue, working tirelessly to apply their craftsmanship to the ship’s guest suites. Many employees were accommodated in an on-site residential facility, known as Barge Rossini, which had a reduced capacity from 200 to 100 for safety purposes.
In addition to the rigorous protocol imposed by the Dutch health authority, RIVM, De Hoop’s professionals were protected by sanitary procedures developed by the shipyard itself: they underwent daily temperature checks; enhanced cleaning procedures were established in the living quarters, the crew mess, and throughout Silver Origin; and strict social distancing measures were implemented, including a 1.5-meter separation rule and a one-way system throughout the ship.
As a result, contact circles were reduced, meetings were canceled, and fewer people were allowed in each area of the ship. Video calls replaced face-to-face conversations, as flights were canceled and contractors could no longer reach the yard. Necessary supplies were cut off: Carpeting, loose furniture and the onboard art collection were delayed in arriving, while the closure of Italy disrupted the installation of the ship’s windows and galley. The stringent lockdown threatened the project’s progress.
Small hurdles became giant obstacles, but still the team persevered and as the world around it came to a stop, the 130-year-old De Hoop shipyard pushed on. The shipyard fundamentally changed the way it operated to continue the project, and none of its employees caught the virus.
While shallow waters on the Waal River delayed Silver Origin’s float out from November to December 30, 2019, the months of January and February brought heavy rain to Western Europe in 2020, leading to unusually high water levels. This prevented Silver Origin and Barge Rossini from passing beneath the 12 bridges that separate De Hoop shipyard from the sea. Only on March 26 was a safe passage to Rotterdam accessible—more than a month later than originally planned. This left just four weeks between arrival in Rotterdam and the sea trial.
Held from April 27-29 off the coast of Goeree-Overflakkee, Silver Origin’s sea trials were a great success, offering the Captain the chance to put the ship through its paces and enabling the shipyard to demonstrate proper operation of the machinery systems.
Necessitated by the travel ban, which prevented subcontractors from reaching the ship, Silver Origin’s sea trials included a notable world-first: during the dynamic positioning (DP) acceptance test—which tests the ship’s ability to remain within 10cm of a fixed point without dropping anchor—the ship’s DP system was remotely tuned and calibrated by a third party in St. Petersburg, Russia—more than 1,800 kilometers 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 manoeuvring tests. The ship’s Captain, meanwhile, acted as his lookout from on board.
“This was the first time such an operation has been completed remotely during a sea trial,” says 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.”
“We usually have a large team that participates in the sea trials, but this year was different because of the extraordinary situation,” says Vesa Uuttu, Director of Newbuilds & Site Office NL, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “Hence, a limited team participated—enough to comply with regulations. It was a proud moment to see the ship perform as it did—for all involved, especially the team at De Hoop who have worked tirelessly to complete the project in these tough circumstances.”
(Photo: Silverea Cruises)
“We are so grateful to the professionals at the De Hoop shipyard,” says Roberto Martinoli, Silversea’s President and CEO. “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.”
The finishing touches are now being applied to Silver Origin, ahead of the ship’s delivery in the coming weeks. And the De Hoop team is still finding innovative ways to progress, in spite of the challenging circumstances. Currently docked in Pernis in the Netherlands, Silver Origin will set sail for the Galapagos Islands after being delivered to Silversea Cruises. 45 members of De Hoop’s workforce remain on Barge Rossini, and the shipyard intends on maintaining their strict new sanitary protocols for the long-term.
Despite the challenges posed by a coronavirus pandemic, the length of time from the keel laying to the launch will be just 14 months.
Silversea Cruises says it is using this time of pause, as well as the information that has become available, to improve its already exceptional sanitary standards further still, with the health and safety of guests and crew as the top priority. The cruise line is currently working on enhanced sanitary protocols across its fleet to ensure that all necessary precautions are in place to resume safe and healthy cruising when the time is right.