Thursday, 18 September 2014

The curious art of 'stretching' a cruise ship

The curious art of 'stretching' a cruise ship

Things didn't go entirely to plan when Jane Archer watched the "stretching" - the pulling apart and inserting a new section - of MSC Armonia in Palermo


Over the past five days Italian shipyard workers in Palermo, Sicily, have been preparing to insert a new pre-built section of ship into an exisitng MSC cruise ship, Armonia. They have spent the past week cutting the 60,000gt vessel in half ahead of its "stretching". The ship is cut just in front of the funnel (slightly behind the mid-way point) and then separated so the new section can be inserted. The hull is then resealed.
When completed, the ship will be 24 metres longer than before and have an additional 193 cabins.
During a visit to the yard yesterday a group of us stood in the blazing September sunshine to watch the next stage - the ship being pulled apart and a new section angled into place. The stretch should have started at 9am, but by 10am we were informed of a problem with the 22 "" that would pull the ship’s front section forward.

Extra piece of the ship being rolled into dry dock at Palermo, Italy (photo: MSC Cruises)
The "shoes" were made by Fagioli, the Italian company responsible for uprighting the Costa Concordia last year (an operation known as parbuckling), and use a system of hydraulics to lift and pull the 14,000-ton forward section 23.7 metres along tracks at the bottom of the yard's dry dock.
“It’s a bit like watching the ancient Egyptians using modern technology,” commented one onlooker who had flown in from Canada to see the skid shoes in action (they are to be used for moving parts of an off-shore platform his company is building in South Korea).
Suddenly there was movement. It was slow, inches at a time, with regular stops for safety checks. At the same time, the 2,200-ton new section, which was at the back of the dry dock, began to move into position.
The section was built at the shipyard, took three-and-a-half months to complete and in good maritime tradition was blessed by a madrina, or godmother. If all goes according to plan welding into place will begin on September 25 ahead of the interior refit.
The extension will not only making Armonia bigger (the additional cabins will take passenger count from 1,566 to 1,952) and add 90 balcony cabins, it will also create space for a water park, a crèche, teenager clubs and a new library. Fire safety and fuel consumption will also be improved.
These are cutting-edge technologies,” Emilio La Scala, general manager of MSC’s technical department, told me, I assume with no pun intended. “We need to upgrade these ships to stay competitive.”
MSC Armonia was cut in two and a new section inserted (photo: MSC Cruises)
Armonia’s three sister ships, Sinfonia, Opera and Lirica will all be stretched at the Palermo yard over the next 12 months. In all, the work will cost €200/£159 million – a tidy sum but significantly less than the cost of building a new ship (Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas is costing $1 billion). Each ship will take approximately nine weeks to lengthen and refit, with the new-look MSC Armonia sailing out of the shipyard on November 17.
Back at the yard progress was slow. With just a metre gap between front and back our group was called to a press conference. We returned two hours later to find that nothing had happened. The skid shoes did not malfunction; we were told, but balance technicalities took longer than expected.
“The workers are at lunch,” project manager Georgio Pollina said. “We will continue while it is light and finish tomorrow.”
As most of the media was flying out that evening, I suspect that was news for the cruise line, too.