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More Cruise Ships Prepare for Post-Pandemic Return to Service

Celystal China cruise ships
Greece's Celeystal Cruises reports it acquired one of the cruise ships acquired by SeaJets during the pandemic (Celeystal)

Published Feb 23, 2023 12:40 PM by The Maritime Executive

As the cruise industry prepares for what most believe will be its first year back at levels similar to 2019 before the pandemic, two ships sold off by Carnival Corporation are being readied to resume sailing. Many of the 24 ships sold by Carnival have been waiting for a return to service while others were sold for scrap. Two of the ships have found new buyers in Greece and China with expectations that they will soon return to service.

Niche Greek island cruise company Celestyal Cruises announced today that it is acquiring one of the ships bought on speculation by Marios Iliopoulos’s SeaJets, a Greek inter-island ferry company. The cruise ship purchased by Celestyal was built by Fincantieri and introduced in 1994 as the Ryndam for Holland America Line. It was the third ship of a new class ordered by Carnival after the acquisition of Holland America. The 55,800 gross ton cruise ship sailed for Holland America till 2015 when it was transferred to Carnival Corporation’s P&O Cruises Australia and rebuilt as the Pacific Aria. The ship was sold to SeaJets in 2020 and laid up in Greece as the Aegean Goddess.

“While the global events of the past few years have placed our growth plans on pause, the positive industry outlook along with strong bookings for the coming season, provides Celestyal with the opportunity to recommence the process of renewing our fleet with new vessels,” said Chris Theophilides, CEO of Celestyal announcing the acquisition. He said the addition of the ship would provide a significant increase in premium and balcony staterooms for the company which currently operates two smaller, older cruise ships.

The cruise line said the ship would undergo an approximately $21 million refurbishment and technical maintenance overhaul being renamed the Celestyal Journey. No date was released for the ship’s return to service.

It marks Celeystal’s second effort to expand through the purchase of ships sold off during the pandemic. In 2020, the company acquired the former Costa NeoRomantica (53,000 gross tons built in 1993) and renamed her Celeystal Experience, but she was laid up in Greece never entering service. Financially challenged by the pandemic, the cruise line sold the ship for scrap a few months later. 

Late in 2021, the Cyprus-based Louis group the parent company of Celeystal reported that it had reached a strategic agreement with funds managed by Searchlight Capital Partners, a private investment firm, to recapitalize the cruise line. Industry observers expected the cruise line would seek to modernize its fleet after completing the refinancing.

 

Former Sea Princess arriving at the shipyard for maintenance (Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard)

 

Another of the ships retired by Carnival Corporation, the former Sea Princess (77,500 gross tons) built by Fincantieri and introduced by Princess Cruises in 1998 is also preparing for her return to service. The ship was sold by Carnival Corporation in 2020 to Chinese buyers. Sanya International Cruise Development, which acquired the ship and renamed her Charming, has reportedly recently sold her having never returned to service. 

Renamed Dream she arrived at the Zhoushan Xinya Shipyard Company’s facility on February 12 to begin a refit and maintenance project that is expected to last two months. The ship was reportedly acquired by a newly launched cruise operation in Tianjin, China. No details have been announced on her return to operations, but it is anticipated that the new company is positioning the ship to enter service as China drops its COVID-19 related travel restrictions. The Chinese-based cruise industry is expected to resume operations later this year.