Former shipping banker, Ronny Bjornadal has joined the board of Norwegian zero-emissions cruise venture Northern Xplorer (NX).
With over 25 years of experience in shipping banking, including involvement with the cruise industry, Bjornadal’s role is as Executive Director with a special focus on debt financing.
Since 2020, Bjornadal has been a Partner and Managing Director of Affinity Shipping & Finance in Oslo. Prior to that he was Managing Director and Head of Global Maritime Loans at Nordea Bank.
At Nordea, Bjornadal oversaw billions of dollar loans to major cruise lines, including NCL, Hurtigruten, Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Cunard and Seabourn.
Before returning to Oslo in 2003, he was Vice President in Nordea’s New York office.
“We are thrilled to have Ronny on board contributing his business acumen and banking knowledge. His cruise experience is invaluable and he shares our vision of ‘the future’ for the industry. He’s also a great sparring partner,” said NX CEO, Rolf Sandvik.
NX launched its zero-emission, luxury cruise concept in December, last year. It aims to highlight the unique communities and natural attractions in the Nordic countries using 100% eco-friendly vessels.
Sandvik’s current plan envisages a series of 14 sisterships accommodating up to 300 pax, the first of which is intended to be operational from 2024/2025.
They will feature clean technologies, including fully electric propulsion, battery energy storage, hydrogen fuel cells and auxiliary renewable energy (wind and solar power), as well as being performance-optimised for efficiency and low energy consumption.
Much of equipment and systems will be supplied by Norwegian companies.
Bjornadal said that following the evolution of the cruise industry over the past two decades has been fascinating, not least inspired product development that made cruising attractive to a wider market.
“Cruise has enjoyed strong financial performance and been very resilient in the face of various crises, thanks to prudent yield management and pricing dynamics, and the fact that it offers a superior value-for-money product,” he said.
However, the pandemic has impacted the industry. Bjornadal believed that demand will come back in a more sophisticated way, rather than being driven by the mass market. “The trend is towards exploration cruising and niche destinations. Customers have also become more focused on sustainability and the environmental footprint of their holidays. That is bull’s eye for NX.
“Using wind, solar, batteries and hydrogen is the real deal, more so in view of Norway’s decision to introduce zero-emission rules for certain world-heritage fjords from 2026. Smaller, luxurious ships and exotic itineraries give thinking travellers exactly what they’re looking for, including activities that support local value creation.
“The cruise vessels will be delivered regularly over the next six to seven years. Given the modest size, the project is very realistic and manageable, which lenders like to hear. A consistent growth story also ticks all the boxes for ESG-conscious investors chasing particularly zero emissions projects,” Bjornadal said.
He also said that another positive indicator was the strong desire of governments to get their economies back on course. “One of the best tools to do this is export credit agencies, where I see a lot of willingness to support projects with a 100% green element, coupled with the fact that cruise tends to generate sustainable cash flow.
“These fundamentals combined means the timing for NX is perfect. Industry restructuring has also opened up availability at shipyards that only a few years ago were full. It’s a fantastic opportunity to build a green cruise line from scratch with no legacy burden.
“To sum up, I have great confidence in NX’s business model, as well as its leadership. Rolf has of course done this before with the series of electric sightseeing vessels commissioned when he was CEO of The Fjords. That was a world first. He has proved he can bring an exciting concept to fruition, and I look forward to supporting his team this time around,” he concluded.