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Ultimate Cruise Ship

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Ultimate Cruise Ship

PBS Airdate: February 8, 2017

NARRATOR: With their commanding presence at sea, today's cruise ships carry on a long and historic tradition. Long before jet planes, ships were the only way to travel the globe. Today, they carry thousands of people and have become a popular vacation choice.

Competition is intense, with companies building ever-bigger ships to drive costs down. But now, in Italy, a team of craftsmen and engineers is taking on a new kind of shipbuilding challenge: they are racing to build the ultimate cruise ship, a superliner, finely crafted to the most minute detail.

FRANK DEL RIO (Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings): I want to build something unique, one of a kind, never to be repeated again.

NARRATOR: But building this record-breaking superliner involves a series of unique engineering challenges. The ocean can be a deadly place. How do you keep hundreds of passengers safe, sailing far from shore, through violent storms and rough swells?

And to complete the ship on schedule, the team must combine time-honored tradition with trailblazing technology.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER (Fincantieri): To build a ship is a continuous pressure. We cannot miss our target.

NARRATOR: Inside the extraordinary race to build the Ultimate Cruise Ship, right now, on NOVA.

Today, in Genoa, Italy, this team of construction workers is starting work building a brand new ship, one that will present a new and difficult set of challenges, both technical and aesthetic. For the team here is constructing a cruise ship they hope will set a new standard.

In keeping with maritime tradition, a welder attaches rare coins to the hull to bring luck.

ROBIN LINDSAY: That's a beautiful thing.


NARRATOR: ….and a priest provides a blessing.

Engineers in this region of Italy have a formidable reputation. They have been building ships since medieval times. But this job will present new challenges, beyond anything they've faced before. The worldwide cruise market has exploded over the past 25 years, From under 4,000,000 passengers a year, to over 22-million. It's a $39-billion a year industry.

Competition is fierce, with companies building ever-larger vessels to drive prices down, and make cruising more affordable than ever.

FRANK DEL RIO: Why don't we do like, you know? I'm doing a puzzle here.

NARRATOR: But the cruise company and the C.E.O., Frank Del Rio, are taking this ship in another, more risky direction.

FRANK DEL RIO: My vision is very simple: to make this the most luxurious cruise ship ever built.

NARRATOR: But is there a market for that?

Where many of the big cruise ships hold over 5,000 passengers, this vessel will carry just 750. But they will be paying top dollar, and their expectations will be equally high.

They will be housed in 375 suites. And, at the top, will be a 4,400-square-foot suite that will go for $10,000 a night.

Are there enough people willing to spend enough money to keep this venture afloat?

FRANK DEL RIO: There is risk any time you break barriers, but these are calculated risks.

NARRATOR: But this ambitious scheme is not just a business challenge, it's an engineering challenge for the ship's designers and builders.

First, luxury is heavy. The marble and glass materials needed to give the liner its sumptuous feel will add weight. Engineers need to invent clever ways to balance the ship so it remains stable in the water.

And there's another even bigger challenge. The ocean can be a deadly place. Without making it too obvious, engineers must devise ingenious ways to save passengers lives in the event of a fire or a collision at sea.

And there's a final challenge: the engineers must meet a tight deadline.

To fill the ship with customers, tickets for the maiden voyage will go on sale before the liner is complete. Cancelling them will be costly.

FRANK DEL RIO: That would cost us in excess of $5,000,000, to the immediate bottom line and probably cost us $25-million in lost reputation. So, that's an expensive proposition that we won't let happen.

NARRATOR: In Italy, it's the job of engineer, Pierluigi Punter to deliver the ship on time.

PIERLUIGI PUNTER: I am very proud to be in charge of this project. Several thousand people will be involved, but I will coordinate all the activities, from the starting of the design, up to delivery. I hope to survive.

NARRATOR: The pressure is on Pierluigi and his team to turn these sheets of steel into a finished ship.

To deliver the ship on time, Pierluigi has a detailed and ambitious plan. He will build his ship, piece by piece, in a dry dock, installing the engines and machinery as it goes.

To save time, he must simultaneously construct a large section of the vessel in another shipyard, making sure it will join up perfectly to the rest of the ship. Then, the shipyard will build up the decks to complete the hull, put in the cabins, fit the windows and install the navigation equipment. To ensure it all works, they will test everything in a series of sea trials, and finally complete the fitting out of the cabins and public areas.

It's like building a floating city, and they only have 18 months to do it.

Stage one: the team needs to cut and weld together more than 12,000 tons of steel to assemble the liner's hull, the structure around which the rest of the ship will take shape.

Ship Ultimate cruise

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