Following a great display of resilience, determination and fine European craftsmanship from Dutch shipyard De Hoop, Silversea Cruises is preparing to take delivery of its newest ship Silver Origin. Despite of the global lockdown, De Hoop implemented rigid safety procedures, reduced its workforce, and devised ingenious ways to overcome challenges, including a world-first during the ship’s sea trial.
200 Skilled Professionals Giving 100% Effort
On March 15, 2020 – four days after coronavirus was declared as a global pandemic – the Netherlands implemented a national lockdown, and the country ground to a halt to safeguard the health of its people. Relatively isolated in Lobith, a remote corner of the Netherlands, De Hoop shipyard offered its approximately 250 employees the option to cease working.
While many were forced to return to their families or to their country of origin before borders closed, approximately 200 employees – mainly skilled carpenters – opted to continue, working tirelessly to apply their craftsmanship to the ship’s guest suites. Many employees were accommodated in an on-site residential facility, which had a reduced capacity from 200 to 100 for safety purposes.
In addition to the rigorous protocol imposed by the Dutch health authority, RIVM, De Hoop’s professionals were protected by sanitary procedures developed by the shipyard itself: they underwent daily temperature checks; enhanced cleaning procedures were established in the living quarters, the crew mess, and throughout Silver Origin; and strict social distancing measures were implemented, including a 1.5m separation rule and a one-way system throughout the ship.
As a result, contact circles were reduced, meetings were cancelled, and fewer people were allowed in each area of the ship. Video calls replaced face-to-face conversations, as flights were cancelled and contractors could no longer reach the yard. Necessary supplies were cut off: carpeting, loose furniture and the onboard art collection were delayed in arriving, while the closure of Italy disrupted the installation of the ship’s windows and galley. The stringent lockdown threatened the project’s progress.
Small hurdles became giant obstacles, but still the team persevered and as the world around it came to a stop, De Hoop pushed on. The shipyard fundamentally changed the way it operated to continue the project. None of the employees caught the virus and the team maintained an unwaveringly strong spirit as Silver Origin took its shape.
Remotely Operated Sea Trials
While shallow waters on the Waal River delayed Silver Origin's float out from November to December 30, 2019, the months of January and February brought heavy rain to Western Europe in 2020, leading to unusually high water levels. This prevented Silver Origin from passing beneath the 12 bridges that separate De Hoop Shipyard from the sea. Only on March 26 was a safe passage to Rotterdam accessible – more than a month later than originally planned. This left just four weeks between arrival in Rotterdam and the sea trial.
Held from April 27th–29th off the coast of Goeree-Overflakkee, Silver Origin’s sea trials were a great success, offering the Captain the chance to put the ship through its paces and enabling the shipyard to demonstrate proper operation of the machinery systems.
Necessitated by the travel ban, which prevented sub-contractors from reaching the ship, Silver Origin’s sea trials included a historic world-first: during the dynamic positioning acceptance test – which tests the ship’s ability to remain within 10cm of a fixed point without dropping anchor – the ship’s dynamic positioning system was remotely tuned and calibrated by a third party in St. Petersburg, Russia… over 1,800km away. A fast internet connection was set up on board to enable near-instant communication between both parties and, using a headset and a camera, an operative from St. Petersburg completed maneuvering tests. The ship’s Captain, meanwhile, acted as his lookout from on board.
“This was the first time such an operation has been completed remotely during a sea trial,” says Fre Drenth, the Director of De Hoop Shipyard. “The tuning was successful and took no longer than usual. It demonstrates that it is possible to tune dynamic positioning systems remotely. It could potentially save a lot of travelling time for engineers in the future. I am enormously proud of my team for their work.”
“We usually have a large team that participates in the sea trials, but this year was different because of the extraordinary situation,” says Vesa Uuttu, Director of Newbuilds & Site Office NL, Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “Hence, a limited team participated – enough to comply with regulations. It was a proud moment to see the ship perform as it did – for all involved, especially the team at the De Hoop Shipyard who have worked tirelessly to complete the project in these tough circumstances.”
The Finishing Touches
“We are so grateful to the professionals at the De Hoop shipyard,” said Roberto Martinoli, Silversea’s President and CEO. “In the face of such adversity, their efforts were extraordinary and represent the resilience of European industry. Silver Origin looks magnificent. Our pioneering new ship represents the dawning of a new age of travel in the Galapagos Islands and we look forward to welcoming guests aboard when the time is right.”
The finishing touches are now being applied to Silver Origin, ahead of the ship’s delivery in the coming weeks. And the De Hoop team is still finding innovative ways to progress, in spite of the challenging circumstances. Currently docked in Pernis in the Netherlands, Silver Origin will set sail for the Galapagos Islands after being delivered to Silversea Cruises.