Designing ‘Le Commandant Charcot’

2022-06-13T19:34:58+00:00 June 13th, 2022|Ships|

In part of a series of interviews, Bureau Veritas (BV) spoke with PONANT’s Mathieu Petiteau to discuss the high Polar exploration ship ‘Le Commandant Charcot’.

He explained that in 2015, the company embarked upon the development of ’Le Commandant Charcot’, named after French explorer Jean-Baptiste Charcot.

“To navigate the sensitive Polar regions, we needed to use all the technology available on the market to minimise our impact on the environment. The Polar Code guided our alternative design focusing on sustainability and a luxury passenger experience. I’m not alone in saying it was the most sophisticated vessel I have ever worked on. At the shipyard, it was fondly referred to as ‘the spaceship’!” he said.

As for sustainability, first, we opted for the greenest fuel available at the time – LNG. This represented a risk: not only had LNG never previously been used on board cruise vessels, but LNG supply chains were underdeveloped at this time. There was therefore no guarantee of being able to refuel in Polar regions.

A limited hull size also posed a technical challenge. To maximise capacity, a membrane tank was chosen – a first for cruise ships, which typically rely on Type C type tanks. “This solution increased tank capacity and helped us reach the autonomy of up to two months that we needed in Polar regions where there is no bunkering infrastructure available. With support from our partner, BV, we approved LNG as a safe and viable solution,” he said.

Alongside LNG, a high-capacity battery system was integrated to optimise fuel consumption. The batteries enabled the company to run zero-emission cycles, which improve fuel efficiency. “By charging the batteries when the engine is running, we can then cut the engine for around an hour and run solely on battery power. We also switch to battery use near marine wildlife to minimise noise and protect the surrounding environment. The lack of rules surrounding battery integration on board cruise vessels represented quite a challenge, but BV assisted us with a thorough risk analysis,” Petiteau explained.

Sophisticated ice routing software was also developed, which uses satellite images and ice maps from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to give a dynamic view of ice coverage and thickness, with accuracy within 1 cm. The software then identifies the best route to take to minimise fuel consumption.

”For PONANT, sustainability is also about everything we can do on board. With this in mind, we introduced an innovative water filtration system. Using reverse osmosis and a filter system to improve taste, we have phased out plastic bottles on board. Passengers are served still and sparkling water from glass bottles only,” he added.

A Search and Rescue exercise (SAREX) carried out last year was quite a milestone for ’Le Commandant Charcot’. Explorers usually train for weeks before a Polar expedition. The company has to demonstrate to the flag state that the vessel with 460 persons can evacuated in any condition and survive for five days in Polar waters, on ice or on land. This is a requirement of the Polar Code.

“It was up to us to develop and build equipment to make this possible since nothing existed on the market. We organised this Search and Rescue Exercise with volunteers and observers like different national coast guard representatives and a mix of crew and test passengers.  The SAREX proved an overwhelming success and gave us real-world experience to build upon,” Petiteau said.

Since then, ‘Le Commandant Charcot’ has been exceeding expectations. “We were delighted to discover that we had overestimated fuel consumption. Since we’re using existing natural channels in the ice, and the hotel load from accommodation is lower than expected, we are consuming less energy than planned,” he added.

The vessel was designed to operate in temperatures of -25 deg C, yet when she first sailed to the North Pole, only -12 deg C to -15 deg C was experienced. Recently, however, PONANT had the opportunity to test the ship in -27 deg C and it performed very well. The safety equipment worked correctly and the de-icing system prevented installations from freezing. “We’re extremely satisfied with the ship’s performance so far,” he said.

”One of Ponant’s priorities is to increase sustainable expedition opportunities. We hope to welcome more expedition leaders on board to share valuable knowledge and experience with our passengers while making every effort to limit our environmental footprint,” he explained.

BV assisted PONANT from the initial design phase. From the studies, it was known that the vessel needed to be built to Polar Class 2. Since the ship can move both forwards and backwards in the ice, BV advised on assigning Icebreaker 3 fore and Icebreaker 4 aft service notations.

The class society’s team helped to define the working package in terms of risk analysis, since there were so many innovations. BV supported the studies relating to LNG storage tanks, bunkering and batteries, among other things. Once the alternative design had been developed, BV guided the company through the approval processes.

Petiteau further explained that PONANT’s goal is to build zero-emission cruise vessels, in partnership with BV. “We have learnt a huge amount in terms of hybrid technology and LNG which will serve us for future vessels,” he said.

”I see a bright future for cruise, but with a different commercial model. Cruising will need to become more conscious of the environment. Current fixed arrival and departure times have a direct effect on speed and therefore fuel consumption and environmental impact. To limit COemissions, timings will have to be flexible with a redesigned on board offer to compensate. The future of cruising is certainly sustainable,” he concluded.