MSC Cruises’ latest vessel is not only the largest European cruise ship, but also one of the most advanced. Passenger Ship Technology spoke to its builder STX France and class society Bureau Veritas
MSC Meraviglia is the largest cruise ship built by a European cruise line to date. It is the first of MSC Cruises’ fleet to feature the operator’s digital innovation programme MSC For Me, and has an advanced “very ambitious” propulsion plant.
The 171,598 gt, 315.3m long ship was built by STX France and marked a first for the shipyard. “It is the largest cruise vessel that we have built that is 100 per cent our design,” STX France vice president of projects Stéphane Cordier told Passenger Ship Technology. While the shipyard has built the world’s largest cruise vessel, Royal Caribbean International’s Harmony of the Seas, which eclipses MSC Meraviglia at 230,000gt, the former was built to the blueprint of the Oasis class, Mr Cordier said.
The last cruise ships that STX France built for MSC Cruises were the five 130,000gt Fantasia class ships, but in terms of weight alone MSC Meraviglia is a cut above.
Commenting on the overall construction process of the ship, which was delivered in early June, Mr Cordier said: “From a building efficiency standpoint, the construction of this prototype was extremely smooth. The overall design and architecture of the ship developed very efficiently and according to schedule.”
One of the main stand-out features is MSC For Me, which will make its debut on MSC Meraviglia, before being rolled out across the fleet.
Mr Cordier commented: “This is very much an owner integrated technology, but we have incorporated it into the ship. There were many different stations along the ship that needed to be wired and connected.”
Indeed, the ship has been fitted with 16,000 points of connectivity, 700 digital access points, 358 informative and interactive screens and 2,244 cabins with radio frequency identification and near field communications access technology, as well as 1,200 face recognition cameras (see box out).
MSC Meraviglia will be powered by an all-electrical plant consisting of four 12-cylinder diesel engines. Mr Cordier said that this arrangement was very ambitious, as usually ships of around this size use five or six engines.
Singling out the benefits of MSC Meraviglia’s engine arrangement, he said: “The limited number of engines allows them to run at higher power, contributes to general efficiency and is a more compact arrangement.” The main consideration when using just four engines is that they must be very reliable, because even if only one engine is down, speed is lost.
The propulsion is based on a two-pod arrangement of two ABB Azipods at 40MW. This is a gearless steerable propulsion system where the electric drive motor is in a submerged pod outside the ship’s hull.
Azipods were used to “enable more independence from tug operations and provide low speed manoeuvrability, while still achieving contractual speeds,” Mr Cordier said.
Reduced noise and vibration is another benefit. “The motor is outside the vessel so there is less transferred vibration,” Bureau Veritas passenger ship manager Jean Jacques Juenet explained. Indeed, the vessel, which was built to Bureau Veritas class, has been graded at the highest Comfort class level – grade one for both noise and vibration – by the class society.
The shipyard focused on the hydrodynamics of the hull, to ensure contractual speed at limited power, and used computational fluid dynamics to achieve this aim.
“The limited number of engines allows them to run at higher power, contributes to general efficiency and is a more compact arrangement.” Stéphane Cordier (STX France)
The four-engine diesel plant has been placed aft of midship. “These engines combined with an all-electric plant make this the natural position,” explained Mr Cordier. “They form the centre of gravity of the vessel together with fuel storage and the general arrangement and superstructure. In this case we have a fairly good positioning of the centre of gravity.”
He described one of the design challenges. “A drawback of having four engine stacks is the constraints they impose on the superstructure. If they are positioned forward, you have to reduce the forward deck and create a bigger after deck, with the risk of this being affected by smoke. This is why typically we have the engines placed aft – to have better space forward from the exhaust.”
Scrubber and selective catalytic reduction (SCR) systems were installed, which was another challenge. The scrubbers and SCR systems were stacked with the heat recovery systems and acoustic dampeners. “We fitted these lower down in the casing. But the stack takes up the whole height of the superstructure, so to pile these systems on top of the exhaust is a tremendous cost and puts constraints on the upper deck,” said Mr Cordier.
Mr Juenet added: “The SCR systems and scrubbers add a lot of weight to the funnel, so the stability issues had to be looked at very much in advance. The shipyard was well in control of this during the construction process.”
MSC Meraviglia has been built in accordance with the Ecorizon programme developed by STX France, which reduces the environmental footprint of the ships it builds while securing their economic profitability. MSC Meraviglia enjoys various benefits, including the advanced propulsion system, no discharge at sea, and an optimised hull for better energy efficiency. Its blueprint includes a heat recovery system patented by STX France that will enable significant annual fuel savings and a decrease in the level of CO2 produced, through recovery of the heat generated by diesel alternators. The recovered heat is being used for purposes including warm sanitary water and the production of fresh water, Mr Juenet said. A waste system has been installed with compactors for efficient waste management.
Other means through which the ship is saving energy include using light emitting diode (LED) lighting. The majority of the 80,000 lights on board use LEDs.
The ship features a double-deck promenade and glass wall that offers views of the sea. The promenade includes an LED sky screen at 80m long that will broadcast images and entertainment.
The promenade is an area that presented challenges when it came to fire protection. Mr Juenet explained that usually bulkheads are used to separate areas into segregated fire zones. Here, instead of fixed bulkheads that would limit the volume and length of the promenade, fire resistant roller shutters that are integrated into the decoration have been placed at the boundary of the main fire zones, to close off any fires that could start and stop them from spreading.
Another unusual structure has also meant dealing with fire protection differently. The cabins on the forward part of the ship can be combined to create ‘family clusters,’ whereby two or three single cabins can be combined to create a single compartment. These cabins, if not required by a family, can also be used as single cabins. “This is a new design that has not been done before, so we needed to look at the fire protection and escape arrangement differently,” said Mr Juenet. Depending on whether the cabins are unique compartments or combined as one compartment, the fire ratings of the bulkheads and ceiling might be different. “So, we have looked at the most stringent fire rules,” Mr Juenet explained.
In terms of other areas of safety, the 14 lifeboats provided are extra large, each with capacity for 314 persons. Their size meant that they had to undergo the alternative design process, Mr Juenet explained. Four tender boats each with capacity for 267 persons also form part of the evacuation solution on board. The tender boats and lifeboats were provided by Hatecke, while the marine evacuation system, which brings capacity up to 7,250 people, came from RFD.
One of the features of MSC Meraviglia is that is offers more all-round weather protection than some of the other ships that MSC Cruises is building, Mr Cordier said. For example, the stern will have a large lounge – “very new for MSC” – and the pool on the top deck is covered.
MSC Meraviglia is the first ship to be launched of the five-ship class, all of which are being built by STX France. Mr Cordier said that the third vessel will be lengthened by 25m compared to the first two sisterships. This will enable the addition of more cabins and so improve revenue.