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Have you ever wondered what goes into building the magnificent cruise ships that we all know and love? Today, we present a broad overview of modern shipbuilding and a profile of one of the cruise industry’s most prolific yards: Italian-based Fincantieri.
How do you being to assemble a ship that measures over nine hundred feet in length and well over ten decks in height? Like most large projects, shipbuilding is broken down into stages.
The first step is cutting the steel plates that will make up the ship’s keel. Huge, computer-operated laser cutters are able to manufacture steel plates to the exact specifications laid out by the ship’s designers. Plates are placed in an enormous tank of water to cool them as the cutting process takes place.
Once this steel has been cut, it is assembled and welded into place. In the old days of shipbuilding, a steel skeleton would be constructed first, to which the riveters would apply the steel plating, working as a chain-gang. One person would be responsible for passing the red-hot rivet to the riveter, who would place it into its appropriate slot and hammer away. It was a dangerous job that severely burned or even killed many workers.
Rather than assembling an entire skeleton, today’s ships are built in smaller, easier to manage “blocks” which are then assembled to form the entire ship, much like a Lego project on a gargantuan scale. By doing this, multiple teams are allowed to make progress on several smaller pieces at once, speeding up the construction process and eliminating delays.
The ship’s keel, or bottom, is first to be constructed. Once the first keel piece is assembled, it is lowered by crane into the drydock and placed atop a series of blocks that have been specially placed to take the weight of the ship as she is being built.
Construction continues piece-by-piece in the drydock until the superstructure itself has been fully completed. Some sections of the ship that are lowered by crane and assembled can be relatively small, like a funnel enclosure, while others can be enormous, containing multiple decks made of steel or aluminum.
This huge block being lowered onto Costa Deliziosa will eventually contain numerous balcony staterooms, passenger corridors, and public areas. It is six decks in height. Notice the exposed stern deck in the bottom left of the photo, showing the tarp-covered access to the ships two Azipod propulsion motors.
Once all the major structural components have been installed on the ship, it is ready for the next stage: floating out.
During the float-out stage, the drydock is flooded with water and the ship floats for the first time. While major below-the-waterline equipment like engines and diesel generators are installed, the ship is still very much an empty shell. Because she’s still incapable of operating under her own power, she must be towed to the next stage: the fitting out dock.
It is at the fitting out dock that the real guts of the ship are installed, including all interior fit and finishing, staterooms, navigation equipment, galley supplies, and hundreds of miles of wiring, cabling, and plumbing.
Once this is nearly complete, the ship leaves the yard under her own power for the first time and embarks on a series of rigorous sea trials. This includes testing every major mechanical operation the ship is likely to perform, and is also used as a “proving” voyage to ensure the ship meets the mechanical specifications promised by the shipyard to the client.
During sea trials, the ship’s engines are put through the paces. Full speed trials are conducted (in both forward and reverse), and a “crash stop” is performed. This involves running the ship at full speed, then abruptly stopping her forward motion. Her propulsion is then thrown into reverse, and the distance measured between the time the order was given and the time the ship came to a stop. This simulates an emergency situation where an object is located dead-ahead and cannot turn to avoid collision.
The ship’s turning capabilities are tested, including the heel angle during maximum turns. Much like an airplane, a ship will roll slightly when changing course. This test determines the maximum heel angle for the vessel.
Thrusters, anchors, fire doors, watertight doors, lifeboats, davits, general alarm signals, and more are tested during this phase. If issues are found, the ship returns to the yard for additional tweaking. If not, she sails back to resume the last of her interior fitting out.
The ship’s staterooms are also installed during this phase. Rather than constructing each one from scratch, they are built and assembled off-site and arrive at the shipyard complete with electrical wiring, plumbing, and all furniture, including beds, pre-installed. The floor, walls, and ceiling are already in place. Stateroom units are inserted onto their respective deck through a hole cut in the hall, and are then moved into location and welded into place.
The one exception to this modular approach is suites, many of which are constructed on-site due to their large size and highly customized nature.
Once this is done, the ship leaves the yard once again for a final set of sea trials before being officially handed over to the cruise line.
Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri is alone responsible for constructing an impressive number of cruise ships sailing the oceans today. Founded in 1959, their famous yards have been the birthplace of some of the most popular vessels of our time, including every Holland America ship since 1992, every Princess Cruises ship since 1990, Silversea’s 2009-built Silver Spirit, Cunard’s Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, and Carnival’s newest duo, Carnival Dream and Carnival Magic.
Since 1995, Fincantieri has held at least 25% of the entire cruise newbuild market, a figure which has risen to over 50% in some years. They have constructed over 60 cruise ships since the debut of their first newbuild, the striking Crown Princess of 1990. Designed by noted architect Renzo Piano, Crown Princess put Princess Cruises on the map with her unique dolphin-inspired styling above the ship’s navigation bridge. During the early 1990’s, Crown Princess and sister ship Regal Princess were some of the most widely-photographed cruise vessels in the world. She now sails for P&O Australia. In 2006, Fincantieri delivered the second Crown Princess for Princess Cruises.
Curious to know more about Fincantieri? Pay a visit to their website for full details on their products and the company’s history. Be sure to check out their exceptionally well-done video gallery for shots of some of your favourite cruise ships under construction.
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