According to industry publications Seatrade Insider and Lloyd's List, Aker Yards France has confirmed that construction has been suspended on the second of two of NCL's 150,000-ton, 4,200-passenger F3 vessels, currently called D33. (Interestingly, an earlier version of the Lloyd's List article stated that work on the first ship, C33, had been suspended, which led to conflicting media reports. The article has since been updated.)
Both publications are now reporting that work will halt on the second ship for a period of six weeks while Aker and NCL try to resolve the dispute.
Aker released a public statement on September 22 claiming that the ongoing contractual dispute only concerns the first F3 vessel. But despite the dispute, construction on that ship, now approximately 25 percent complete, continues. The first vessel is slated to debut in early 2010; the second is scheduled to launch summer 2010.
So why halt construction of the second F3 if there's only an issue with the first?
Lloyd's List paraphrased Aker Yards France spokesman Eric Breux as saying that "the yard was looking at the possibility of making use of work carried out on the C33 [first vessel] to fulfill the order for the D33 [second], leaving it maximum latitude to adapt the D33 project for another operator."
In other words, let's say the contract is renegotiated so that the shipyard is only required to deliver the second vessel (remember, the dispute is over the first). It makes more sense for the yard to actually continue working on the C33, as it's further along, and deliver that ship instead -- allowing the yard better flexibility to customize the second vessel should they work out a deal with another cruise line.
This theory and Breux's comments coincide with previous reports that Aker was actually shopping the project to other lines.
The design of the F3 ships -- no main dining room, no main theater, unique curved-walled cabins -- represents a dramatic shift away from more traditionally designed cruise ships. Numerous alterations would be necessary to adapt the ship to another cruise line's needs -- a task more easily achieved with the second F3 ship, which is in a very preliminary stage of construction.
But ... Breux added that "the company had not ruled out the possibility that both F3 vessels could still go to NCL."
As rumors swirl, NCL continues to maintain its stance of not commenting on "on commercial or legal disputes." The line has, however, tweaked the boilerplate verbiage included in all of its company press releases. Where as recently as late August the language mentioned "two new Third Generation Freestyle Cruising (F3) ships for delivery in 2010," the latest releases refer only to a "Freestyle Cruising project known as F3."
--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor
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