Fourth Quarterly Update for 2020

Fourth Quarterly Update

This update contains information about developments in the Polar Expedition fleet and destinations over the period to the third week in January.

General Comments

There is still little, if any, information about the expedition market in the cruise press, which continues to focus on major companies and ships. However, it would seem that there is a good level of interest in forward bookings, mainly 2022 onwards. Although there has been some cruise activity by major companies such as Aida, MSC, operations have been confounded by a combination of changes in homeport availability and occasional outbreaks of Covid 19 on board the ships.

Of the expedition brands, Ponant has remained the most active, although the company’s Mediterranean programme was cut short in Syracuse, Sicily after thirteen passengers on Le Jacques Cartier developed Covid 19 and the ship had to return to Marseilles. The same problem caused the cancellation of Seadream’s winter programme on Seadream I out of Barbados.

Ships and Companies

While I have not checked every ship in the fleet to determine their current position, the only ship of twenty I did check, that was under way on 22 January, was Hurtigruten’s Fridtjof Nansen. This ship was probably operating under agreement with the Norwegian government to provide a coastal service to remote communities. All other ships appeared to be in lay-up in various locations.

Four Polar expedition ships were delivered in 2020, and there are 14 or 15 due for delivery in 2021. There are a few changes from the list given in the Third Quarterly update:

  • Quark’s Ultramarine now Q1 2021, not Q4 2020

  • Crystal Yacht Expeditions Crystal Endeavour now June 2021

  • Mystic/Atlas World Navigator now July 2021

  • Seabourn’s Seabourn Venture now Q3 2021

There are another ten ships due for delivery in 2022, with a further four for 2023. One of the more interesting ships due for delivery in Q3 2022, although some sources still indicate 2021, is REV Ocean, a research/charter mega yacht. See pp175/176.

REV Ocean (pp93)

Work is proceeding with fit out of the vessel, see this link for comprehensive details of the vessel. When not on a science mission, which is expected to be about 30% of the operating year, she will be available for charter with up to 36 guests in 18 staterooms and 54 staff/crew. The web site notes that individual berths will be available for booking, but no pricing or agency is provided on the corporate web site.

Atlas Ocean Voyages

This is the North American brand of Mystic, and will take several of the ships under construction, and on order, from Westsea. In an interesting development that other cruise brands may be forced to follow; they have announced that future Antarctic departures from Ushuaia will be supported by direct charter flights from the USA. This overcomes the multiple transfers necessary at present for guests to reach the embarkation port in South America.

Swan Hellenic

Are continuing to re-build the marque and have commissioned a third Vega class ship from the Helsinki shipyard, where Vodohod (pp96) had ordered the first two ships. The third will be slightly larger, at 196 passengers in 96 staterooms, compared with 156 for the SH Minerva and sister ship. See details in the first quarterly update. The company provided a YouTube tour of the Tillberg interiors

REV Ocean from the REV ocean web site.

Viking Ocean (pp95)

Viking Octantis has been floated out, but no news on the Viking Polaris. Both vessels are still scheduled for delivery in 2022.

Viking Octantis on float out from Cruise Industry News

Marco Polo (pp60-61 and Colour Section)

This small classic cruise ship, which was an important part of the development of Antarctic cruises, has regrettably been scrapped. She arrived at Alang, India on 09 January. When writing Penguins and Polar Bears I had been concerned about her future, even though she had a strong following in the Cruise and Maritime Voyages fleet. After the pandemic had stopped almost all cruise voyages, I had hoped that a resurrected CMV might bring her back. It was not to be.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines

Although they are not thought of as being in the Expedition market, it was interesting to note that on 22nd June 2022 their Balmoral is bringing back a classic itinerary: round trip from Newcastle (UK) to the Fjords, North Cape and Spitsbergen. This was a popular route during the 1930’s (pp39-40).

Tradewind Voyages

Tradewind are chartering the Golden Horizon from the Brodosplit. The ship is claimed to be the largest fully rigged sailing ship in the world, and was originally laid down some years ago on behalf of Star Clippers for delivery in 2018. There was a dispute (which is being arbitrated in the Netherlands) between the yard and the owner prior to delivery,

The vessel can carry 272 passengers in 140 cabins with a crew of 159, and Tradewinds plans to start cruises from Britain in May 2021. Although a cruise to Iceland is mentioned in material released about the ship, the destination does not appear on the company web site.

Golden Horizon from Tradewinds web site1


There has been quite a bit about Antarctica and the Southern Ocean in the last quarter, as well as reports of scientific work regarding underwater noise in the Arctic.

Antarctic (pp13, 101 et al)

The most interesting, although also worrying, event was the calving of Iceberg A-68a from the Larsen C ice shelf. The concern is that similar events were precursors to the break up of the Larsen A ice shelf in 1995 and the Larsen B in 2002. The following maps, from The Conversation, show the iceberg route to, and later grounding off, South Georgia.

Route of A68-a

Representation of the iceberg and contour map showing how it grounded off South Georgia, and started to break up. Both images from the source article in The Conversation

Mark Belchier on behalf of Government of South Georgia2, commented that it was the largest berg since A-38 in 2003/04. In part, he said: “Given the extreme size of the A68-a there may be consequences that have not previously been recorded so there will be close monitoring of the environment – and hopefully additional scientific instruments will be deployed to measure any environmental changes brought on by the berg’s presence”.

He also commented that it will provide an amazing sight for months and years to come, for those lucky enough to see it.

Southern Ocean (pp14)

There was a major article in The Conversation about the ecological significance of the Southern Ocean. See:

As part of that article, they provided a reproduction of the Spilhaus Projection, which is a look at the world from the perspective of Antarctica. This illustration does not do justice to the significance of the Southern Ocean, which can be better appreciated by turning a globe of the world over to look at it from the South Pole. Note how little land is observable when you do.

Spilhaus projection of the world reproduced from the source article in The Conversation

Other articles about Antarctica pointed out that there appears to be a welcome resurgence of whales, particularly Blue and Humpback with small population increases seen. However, the November meeting of the CCAMLR (pp159) was unable to come to an agreement over the creation of new Marine Protected Areas. The map below shows existing, and proposed, areas. Hope was expressed that progress may be made at the November 2021 meeting, but as decisions have to be by consensus, and Russia is well known for opposition to any efforts to protect the region, it may be a case of whistling down the wind.

Antarctic Marine Protected Areas, reproduced from the source article in The Conversation

A separate article in The China Dialogue noted that the meeting ended early and in dispute over a charge that a Russian trawler was fishing illegally. New Zealand had observed the ship and taken photographs, but Russia claimed the vessels’ VMS3 data showed it was 800 miles away and rejected the charge.

A Russian-owned reefer takes on a cargo of krill from a fishing vessel in rough Antarctic waters (Image © Andrew McConnell / Greenpeace)4– Reproduced from the source article in The China Dialogue

However, in advance of the CCAMLR meeting Russia went on the offensive with unwarranted claims about the way in which meetings were conducted. At the meeting they refused to permit the VMS data to be published and accused New Zealand of faking the photograph.

The article points out that this dispute demonstrates the need for change in the CCAMLR dispute resolution process, which was subject to review by an expert group in 2008, but recommendations were never implemented due to the need for consensus decisions. Russia, in particular, has never really accepted the jurisdiction of the CCAMLR and the necessity for its role in managing fishing in the Southern Ocean.

Arctic ((pp12 et al)

Recent research has found an alarming quantity of microfibres in the water, of which 73% are polyester. This level is typically found in laundry and sewage effluent. There is a difference between East and West Arctic. The report noted, in part

We found that fibres in the eastern Arctic were three times more abundant

than the west. They were also 50 per cent longer in the east, and their

infrared signature more closely resembled commercial polyester.”

Another report addressed underwater noise, and expressed concern over its impact on the Beluga Whale population, with particular reference to the pod that lives around the Mackenzie Delta. A photograph included in the article shows the pod that lives around the port of Churchill. The article did not mention that this pod has happily co-existed with commercial traffic for close to a century. Another report of underwater noise research addressed the impact it has on Northern Cod.

Of some concern though is the assertion, based on a 2010 paper, that ship traffic in the Arctic has doubled in the last 20 years and ship days have quadrupled. Traffic has certainly increased, but it is highly specific as to its nature and location. For example, most traffic increases are focused on the Davis Strait, with significant numbers of large bulk carriers now calling at Milne Inlet for the Mary River Iron Ore mine5. Also, fishing activity in the Davis Strait has grown considerably. The gold standard for Canadian Arctic data on ship movements is Canada’s NORDREG system. However, compulsory reporting only commenced in 2010. See below for actual data6.

Canadian Arctic Traffic from NORDREG




Ship Days









In this article, there is also the usual assertion regarding increased traffic through the Northwest Passage (see the paper on Penguins web site for history and future traffic). Most of this increase is by small yachts that try to sail rather than motor. 20 years ago there were 2-3 each season. In 2014 there were 29, but numbers have fallen slightly in more recent years, although 28 made transits in 2017.

Small cruise ships are also increasingly visiting the Canadian arctic, and making a Northwest Passage; the numbers are small and 2019 was a banner year when 5 made the transit. Hardly a cause for concern, when the owners are ensuring, to the extent they can, a quiet ship. Ponant recently received certification from Bureau Veritas (a classification society) for underwater noise management for Le Jacques-Cartier, the last of six ships in the Explorer Class to be delivered. Other companies are noting their ability to cruise silently for short periods using battery power, rather than diesel engines.

While studies of Antarctic region whale populations suggest a small but positive change, analyses of North Polar whale populations are not as positive. In particular concern is being expressed about Humpback whale stocks and the large number of unsuccessful whale pregnancies. This is thought to relate to lack of prey, particularly herring7, needed by the whales to build body strength to see them though their stay in South Atlantic regions during calving.

Humpbacks feeding on herring. Danita Delimont/Shutterstock (reproduced from the source article in The Conversation)

North Pole Cruises (pp186)

While there were no passenger cruises to the North Pole in 2020, the following science trips took place8:


Polarstern             19August

50 let Pobedy & Akademic Fedorov    13 September

Arktika II            03 October

Svalbard Islands (pp131)

The Norwegian Government has banned the use and carriage of HFO in the National Park areas as well as nature reserves. This will primarily affect large cruise ships, although it should not be difficult for them to comply if they are already burning low sulphur distillate fuels in order to meet European emission requirements in EU waters.

The HFO banning brought forth a complaint by the Clean Seas Alliance regarding what they consider to be a loophole in the international regulations that permit Arctic states to defer compliance until 2029. As readers of this web site know, from my submission to Canadian authorities, I do not consider HFO to be a hazard in Arctic waters, although Marine Diesel is. At Polar water temperatures, HFO immediately congeals and sinks, it does not spread in the way it does in southern waters. Also, those ships fitted with scrubbers do not emit the black soot that is also of concern, as the scrubber removes particulates as well as sulphur.

1 It would appear she is under engine power even though all sails are spread, note the sail shapes.

2 Personal communication

3 Vessel Management System

4 The photograph may not relate to the case in question as it is undated, and no mention was made of a ship-to-ship transfer of krill in the report.

5 Shipping commenced 2015

6 I would be pleased to provide additional details on request, which shows how traffic has changed by ship type.

7 An anecdotal comment on herring is that the author of Penguins and Polar Bears lives in Digby, Nova Scotia in an apartment that overlooks the harbour. Five years ago there might have been two herring purse seiners call with their catch; last year there were multiple vessels over an extended period. One day we counted twenty fish tankers taking the catch for processing.

8 Details kindly provided by Bob Headland