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Cruise operator MSC Group inks deal for LNG and hydrogen-powered ships

MSC claims the LNG-powered 'World Europa' cruise liner (pictured) will be its greenest vessel when it starts operations later this year.
MSC claims the LNG-powered "World Europa" cruise liner (pictured) will be its greenest vessel when it starts operations later this year. Image courtesy of MSC Group.

One of the world's largest cruise operators, MSC Group, has ordered two luxury cruise ships from Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri that are to be powered in part by hydrogen, it announced this month.

The ships, Explora V and Explora VI, are being designed to run largely on fossil gas, but will also be equipped with a containment system for liquid hydrogen fuel which will be used to power the onboard hotel operation, the firms explained.

The Italian companies said the "industry-first" environmental technologies and solutions would enable the vessels to run on zero emissions when in port.

The new ships, scheduled to come into service in 2027 and 2028, are to join the fleet of Explora Journeys, the luxury travel brand of MSC Cruises.

Announcing the details of the new memorandum of understanding recently, MSC Group also revealed it had decided to enlarge two other LNG-powered vessels in its order book, the Explora III and Explora IV, by 62 feet so that they could fit a "new generation system based on LNG and hydrogen," as well as an increased number of luxury suites and more public space.

MSC said liquified natural gas (LNG) was currently the cleanest marine fuel available at scale on the market today.

"These bold moves to amend our construction plans, make significant additional investment in current orders and confirm orders for two more vessels with new technology despite the economic environment are something only a family company can do," said Explora Journeys' CEO, Michael Ungerer. "This also demonstrates unequivocally our absolute commitment to operate ships that will appeal and attract the next and future generations of luxury travellers. Sustainability is the new craftmanship and we're honored to take a pioneering position within the industry and the wider travel sector."

MSC said liquified natural gas (LNG) was currently the cleanest marine fuel available at scale on the market today, claiming it "virtually eliminates" air pollutant emissions such as sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and particles.

However, experts have warned the shipping sector must rapidly transition to fuels that do not produce carbon emissions if the industry is to reduce the significant toll it has on the environment. International shipping accounts for more than 2.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and experts have long warned the sector's climate impact will continue to grow unless the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and national governments impose stricter climate regulations and enforcement mechanisms. 

Experts have warned the shipping sector must rapidly transition to fuels that do not produce carbon emissions.

But MSC Group executive chairman, Pierfrancesco Vago, said the cruise operators' decision to purchase two ships part-powered by hydrogen marked a significant milestone in the company's drive to reach net zero emissions by 2050 across its cruise operations. "This transition to zero emissions operations for the maritime industry is the biggest challenge that we will ever face, and this will only be achieved by everyone playing their part — by investing in research and development and through significant investment both by companies but also governments," he said.

MSC said all six ships in the Explora Journeys fleet would feature selective catalytic reduction technology which it claims enable a reduction of nitrogen oxide emissions by 90 percent. The ships are also set to be equipped with shore power plug-in connectivity to reduce emissions in port, as well as underwater noise management systems to help protect marine life.

All six vessels will also have a "comprehensive range of onboard energy-efficient equipment" to optimize engine use so as to reduce emissions further, it added.

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