(4:45 p.m. EDT) — French luxury cruise line Ponant has announced it will build four new 184-passenger expedition ships, with the first to launch in 2018. Ponant has signed a letter of intent with Vard, the Norwegian subsidiary of Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard.
The 429-foot-long ships will be Ice Class rated for polar expeditions and outfitted with modern environmental preservation technology. The ship’s exterior will be designed by Sterling Design International, with interiors by Jean-Philippe Nuel, who plans to give the ships natural "ethnic chic" looks inspired by driftwood and other earthy materials. The ships will have 92 cabins and carry 110 crew members.
The new vessels are slated for high-end expedition cruises in Oceania, South America, the Amazon’s Orinoco River, Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea and the Indian Ocean. The goal will be to introduce passengers to local cultures and regional plants and animals, with the aid of onboard naturalists.
Ponant currently sails four identical ships — Le Soleal, Le Boreal, Le Lyrial and L’Austral — as well as sailing vessel Le Ponant. Its ships cruise the world, including Antarctica, the Mediterranean, the Baltic, South America, Asia, the Arctic and Caribbean.