Two more expedition ships for rapidly expanding Ponant

Ponant has now ordered six Explorer-class ships. The first two arrive this year.FORT LAUDERDALE — Ponant plans to build two more Explorer-class ships for delivery in 2020.

The two ships will be called Le Bellot and Le Surville. They will be the fifth and sixth in a class that starts with two ships arriving in 2018 (Le Laperouse in June and Le Champlain in September), followed by two (Le Bougainville and Le Kerguelen) in 2019.

Like the other Explorer ships, Le Bellot and Le Surville are named for French navigators (Joseph Rene Bellot and Jean-François-Marie de Surville).

Together with Ponant’s current five-ship fleet and an icebreaker due in 2021, the French luxury expedition line expects to have 12 ships in service by 2021.

The seven new ships represent a $2 billion investment, said Herve Bellaiche, Ponant’s chief sales and marketing officer. “No other company has invested that kind of amount in small ships,” he said.

Ponant announced the new ships at a press conference at the Seatrade Cruise Global conference. The event was attended by founder Jean Emmanuel Sauvee, who created the company 30 years ago to revive the French cruising tradition embodied by the steamships Normandie and France.

However, the idea was adapted to modern times, with Ponant becoming a small-ship line while still holding to the French ocean heritage of luxury interiors and fine cuisine. “Small is best. Destination is key,” Sauvee said in summarizing the line’s philosophy.

Sauvee said Ponant expects to have 460 departures in 2021. Edie Rodriguez, hired last fall as Ponant’s Americas brand chair and corporate special advisor, said the growth makes marketing in North America imperative. “As we grow from five ships to 12, clearly, we need to conquer the U.S. market,” Rodriguez said.

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