Swiss giant MSC Group has expanded its series of Explora Journeys cruise ships to six in a deal that also now includes hydrogen power.

MSC said on Wednesday it has signed a contract at Fincantieri in Italy for ships five and six.

They will use LNG as a main fuel, but will also be powered by green hydrogen to bring emissions down to zero in port.

Explora Journeys is the luxury travel arm of the container ship giant’s cruise division.

New LNG engines on board the Explora V and VI will tackle the issue of methane slip and will also be equipped with “industry-first environmental technologies and solutions”, MSC said.

These include a containment system for liquid hydrogen that will power a 6MW fuel cell so that the ships can turn engines off in port.

The two newbuildings are set to come into service in 2027 and 2028.

The previously announced Explora III and IV will also now be enlarged by 19 metres to enable the installation of new LNG and hydrogen systems.

This work is costing $120m for each ship and will mean pushing back delivery to 2026 and 2027, from 2025 and 2026 previously.

The group’s total investment in the six Explora vessels is now $3.5bn.

Biggest challenge

Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC’s cruise division, said the company is building ships for tomorrow.

“The announcement today marks another significant step forward in our goal as a business to reach net zero emissions by 2050 across all our cruise operation…and a further proof of our commitment to invest in the most advanced marine environmental technologies available to develop sustainable solutions for the future,” he added.

Vago views the energy transition as the biggest challenge that shipping will ever face.

“This will only be achieved by everyone playing their part – by investing in research and development and through significant investment both by companies but also governments,” he added.

MSC believes LNG is currently the cleanest marine fuel currently available at scale, virtually eliminating SOx and NOx output.

It can also cut CO2 emissions by up to 25%, the company said.

“In addition, with the increasing availability of bio and synthetic forms of LNG in the future, this energy source will provide a pathway toward eventual decarbonised operations,” MSC added.

Explora CEO Michael Ungerer said: “These bold moves to amend our construction plans, make significant additional investment in current orders and confirm orders for two more vessels with new technology despite the economic environment are something only a family company can do.”

For Fincantieri, the deal is the first major cruise ship order since the pandemic.