If the most momentous surprise at today’s keel-laying for Royal Caribbean’s third Oasis-class ship was the announcement that company executives had just signed a contract for a fourth vessel in the series, it took nothing away from the real reason we’d traveled to STX France, the St. Nazaire-based shipyard.
Here to attend Oasis 3’s keel-laying ceremony, we were witnessing one of four of the most symbolic moments in the process of building a cruise ship (others include the first cutting of steel, and then, later, a vessel’s float-out and its official launch). In this case, a keel-laying, which follows the steel-cutting, marks the moment when the first piece (otherwise known as a “block”) of the ship’s structure is laid onto building blocks.
The true thrill of attending such an event is that it reminds you what a feat of engineering construction it is to build a ship – particularly this one, which will be the world’s largest, just by a hair (tonnage-wise, it just squeaks by siblings Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas). Oasis 3 has not officially been named by Royal Caribbean.
At the ceremony, Adam Goldstein, President and Chief Operating Officer of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., offered off-the-cuff remarks in French (and then in English), noting that Oasis 3 was a “projet enorme” (essentially, an enormous project). And indeed it was. The process began today when a state of the art industrial crane, which can handle 1,400 tons of weight, began to lower the 47 meter wide, 1,000 ton block – the biggest ever built for a cruise ship – onto pillars. Ultimately, some 70 to 80 other equal-sized blocks will be assembled over the next 12 months (and then stitched together; once that’s done Oasis 3 will be floated in water, otherwise known as the float-out).
The crane performed flawlessly.
Another aspect of the ceremony was the laying down of coins. Unusually, Oasis 3 had two different ceremonies. The first, explained Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. Chairman Richard Fain, was the “French way – you put coins in the hull, and weld them in so they’ll stay for 40 years.” By and large, 40 years is what is considered the life of a modern cruise ship.
The American version, in which the shipyard contributed 100 euro and RCCL threw in 100 U.S. dollars — all in coins – was placed in a wooden box that cleaved to the ship’s curving structure. Just before float-out, that box will be retrieved and those coins will be distributed as mementos.
Oasis 3 is due for launch in spring 2016. At this point, few major details have been announced, not its name or any distinctive features that will separate it from its Oasis and Allure fleet-mates. Harri Kulovaara, RCCL’s executive vice president, maritime, did tell us that tweaks have been made in fuel efficiency. “Oasis and Allure are already the most efficient in the industry,” he said, and “Oasis 3 will be 20 percent more efficient.”
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