MSC Cruises and Explora Journeys, the owner and operator of the new luxury cruise ship Explorer I, announced the delivery of the ship with great fanfare last week. During the media blitz and hype surrounding the delivery of the new cruise ship on July 20th, both companies carefully avoided any mention of whether the fire-resistant materials used in its construction had been replaced or repaired.

Two weeks ago, The Financial Times reported that the Paroc fire-resistant panels used during the construction of the Explora I failed fire safety certifications. This resulted in the last-minute cancellation of the delivery of the Explora I from the shipyard which had been scheduled for July 6, 2023.

In light of the fact that, as The Financial Times reported, it would be difficult to replace “all the panels, fitted to both the floors and walls,” the issue arose as to exactly how long it would take to replace all of the defective materials before the Explora I could be safely delivered. The Financial Times suggested that such work would be “time consuming and expensive.”

But due to ticket sales, Explora Journeys faced pressure to begin operations of the luxury cruise ship which had been under construction for two years. Cruises on the ship for earlier this month had to be cancelled due to the failed certification of the panels. The cruise operator told the Cruise Industry News on July 9, 2023 that the necessary additional work will allegedly require only “a couple more weeks.” As a result, the cruise line suggested that “the delivery of the vessel has been pushed back to July 24, 2023” and “the inaugural cruise, meanwhile, is now scheduled to take place on August 1, 2023.”

So with the delivery of the ship taking place last week (on July 20, 2023), the Explora I is somehow now ahead of its new schedule. Many cruise and travel publications did not even mention the serious safety issue which delayed delivery of Explora Journeys’ new ship.

When the reasons for the delay were mentioned by a few media outlets, it was assumed that the problem had been resolved. A master mariner who I respect and follow on Twitter commented that the issue with the Paroc insulating panel was “now sorted out” without further explanation.

The Financial Times, which first broke the story, provided the most straightforward information, in a follow up article on July 21, 2023, when it reported that the shipbuilder stated that it allegedly replaced Paroc’s products with other insulation material “where possible” and “doubled the insulation where necessary.”

What this means is anyone’s guess. It leaves open the distinct possibility that the substandard insulation has not been removed in its entirety or completely remediated.

Fincantieri added to its comments to the Financial Times: “The remedies have been approved by regulatory bodies and no Paroc products will be used on other ships under construction.”

Many travel publication which covered the Explora I‘s delivery wrote “fluff” pieces where MSC talked about the “extraordinary new ship. We have pushed the boundaries of innovation and design to create a ship that embodies our commitment to excellence.” But putting this obvious gobbledygook aside for a minute, it remains a mystery exactly what MSC or Explora Journeys or the shipyard Fincantieri did with the non-certified fire-resistant panels. How many of the panels were in fact replaced? How much of the ship received “double insulation?” What criteria, if any, was used to determine whether to rip out the panels or use the faulty panels with additional panels? Did the “double” panels also fail the first certification tests?

These basic questions remain unanswered mostly because the product manufacturer/supplier, shipyard, owner/operator of the cruise ship and the cruise trade organization all refused to provide basic information. One cruise journal, based in Germany wrote about what appears to be a cover-up in an article titled “Explora I Panel-Gate: Many questions arise, manufacturers are silent.” Crucero Magazine wrote “Ten days after the publication of an article in the Financial Times (FT) about faulty fireproof panels, there are more questions than answers.” After inquiries to the cruise companies, suppliers and classification societies, remained unanswered, the journal wrote “questions about which individual products are problematic, what type of certification test failed and what the technical reason for the failure of the test are also left unanswered.”

An article in The Shipping Italy, which reads like a press release for Fincantieri, made conclusory statements about the shipyard’s “incredible” work. The publication made no mention whatsoever of any replaced or repaired panels but, instead, talked about new “tests” of mock-ups ashore: “Fincantieri . . . solved the problem by successfully launching supplementary tests on reproductions of ships on the quay.” The Italian journal also noted that if the shipyard did not perform the “additional tests” (emphasis added), the delay in delivery times could have reached even six months.” It mentioned that the shipyard had faced a “crazy obstacle”  and successfully tackled “a problem that seemed truly unsolvable.”

What on earth is a supplementary or additional test when Paroc has already stated that it was recalling the materials?

The larger issue also remains a mystery – what’s the status of the 45 other ships at seas with the Paroc panels at issue? Have any of these unidentified ships had their insulation panels tested and replaced? Or tare he cruise owners going to insist on “supplementary tests” which allegedly exonerate the past failed certifications? Don’t hold your breath waiting for an explanation. It’s doubtful that Explora Journeys, MSC Cruises or Fincantieri will be transparent any time soon.

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Image credit: Explora I – Fincantieri; Fincantieri shipyard via CruiseTricks; Paroc materials – Paroc.