MOL Plans to Expand Cruises and Enter International Market

MOL expanding cruising
MOL plans on expanding its cruise operations including its current ship Nippon Maru (MOL)

Published Mar 17, 2023 3:29 PM by The Maritime Executive

Mitsui O.S.K. Lines confirmed that it took delivery today on the cruise ship Seabourn Odyssey, which yesterday Carnival Corporation’s Seabourn brand announced was being sold to the Japanese shipping company. MOL reports that the purchase of the cruise ship is the start of an effort to expand the cruise business within the MOL Group.

“The group has positioned the cruise business as a new growth area,” the company said detailing a range of plans to expand what has historically been a niche business focused on the domestic market. Instead of using the newly acquired ship as a replacement to maintain the company’s single cruise ship operation, they said the ship would be deployed in addition to the current Nippon Maru. They are also launching a cruise business innovation unit and reiterated plans to proceed with two newly built 600-passenger ships.

Announcing their plans for the cruise business, MOL said, “The purchase of this ship will bring forward the cruise business expansion plan that precedes the introduction of these new ships. In the expansion of the cruise business, we aim to develop international and high-quality services based on a new concept with new ships.”

Japanese companies have largely avoided the modern cruise industry. NYK owned Crystal Cruises for 25 years but mostly the ships were marketed internationally with only small groups coming from Japan. Another Japanese company was briefly in the luxury cruise market but later merged into what is today Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Next month MOL will establish its cruise business innovation product unit designed to lead the expansion and promotion of the cruise business. MOL reports it has retained an experienced cruise industry executive, Anthony Kaufman as Senior Executive Advisor for the cruise business. Kaufman has held key positions at Carnival Corporation, including in the Holland America Group and Princess Cruises, and was involved in developing the inbound cruise market in Japan. Before the pandemic, Princess Cruises had a significant position in Japan basing one of its largest ships in the market.

MOL’s move to expand its role in the cruise market comes as Japan has just begun to reopen international cruising after the pandemic-related suspension. Domestic cruising around the Japanese islands is now being expanded to international destinations and the first international cruise ships have again docked in Japan.

Competitor NYK Lines also operates a Japanese cruise line with a single ship. In 2020, NYK ordered a new 51,950 gross ton cruise ship that is being built by Meyer Werft in Germany. Due to be delivered in 2025 and LNG-fueled, the new ship will accommodate 744 passengers. A third Japanese domestic cruise line operated by Shin Nihonkai Ferry, Venus Cruises ceased operations in January 2023. The company had operated the Pacific Venus. Built in 1998, the ship carried 680 passengers and was 26,600 gross tons.

MOL is highlighting the higher level of amenities available on the Seabourn Odyssey, including four restaurants, large outdoor deck spaces, a retractable marina for water recreation in ports, and spacious cabins with balconies. The company’s other ship, the Nippon Maru was built in 1990 and expectations were that she would be replaced. At 22,472 gross tons with accommodations for just 524 passengers, she remains very popular in the Japanese market but lacks some of the industry’s new amenities.

Initial plans for the expanded cruise operation call for continuing to offer medium to long-term cruises including round-the-world cruises in addition to domestic cruises. MOL looks to expand on its customers including offering a product to attract international customers. They look to expand on the reputation for food and hospitality aboard the Nippon Maru, increasing the number of departures and destinations.

Seabourn Odyssey will continue to operate under charter to Seabourn Cruise Line till September 2024 and MOL says she will be renovated before debuting around the end of 2024. MOL Passenger Lines plans to announce more details on the product, sales, prices, and ship names by the summer of 2023.