The CEO shared the information from onboard the new expedition ship SH Vega last week before her name day cruise from Helsinki to Copenhagen with media and trade.
Itineraries 2023 for SH Vega, HH Minervaas well as SH Diana – currently under construction at Helsinki Shipyard – will go on sale at the end of the month, while bookings for 2024 are set to open in early September.
Svalbard traffic jams
‘I’m not complaining. We can live with that – other people die,” he began Zito on Ukraine: “But we are missing large parts of some of the most interesting parts of the Arctic: the Kuril Islands, Kamchatka, Wrangel Island and the Chukotka Peninsula. This is still taboo for us. And we miss Franz Josef Land, which is closest to the North Pole and home to the largest colony of polar bears.”
As a result, “we are all focusing on Svalbard this summer [so] there will be some traffic jams.’
In other parts of the world, once reliable tour operators no longer exist due to the pandemic – “even in Europe, not just in remote areas”. “The situation has changed in many places, so we need to reconsider those,” Zito said. “Due to the disruption to tourism and travel caused by the pandemic, many reputable tour operators have gone out of business.”
Off the beaten path
This has prompted Zito to seek out more remote destinations, including Rabaul, an island in northern Papua New Guinea that is a 3.5-hour flight from Brisbane, Australia, from where Swan will pick up passengers on a chartered aircraft.
In Africa, where the situation in some coastal regions is fragile, Swan Hellenic can only take limited action: “Pirates are a big challenge for small ships like ours. For the safety of people on board, we will have armed guards near Somalia and near the Gulf of Guinea near Nigeria,” Zito said.
The west coast of Africa is also “challenging” due to waves preventing a safe landing on land. “We cannot land on the beach because there can be two meters of swell. You have to find the mouths of rivers or lagoons that you can safely enter,” he explained.
Next month, Swan Hellenic plans to unveil an “interesting joint venture” in terms of sea-day passenger entertainment. No more than two sea days can be observed on its itineraries, occurring during the voyage from Papeete, Tahiti in French Polynesia to Easter Island in Chile, from Papeete to Valparaíso in Chile and from Ushuaia in Argentina to Cape Town in South Africa.
“We are a cultural expedition cruise line,” explained Zito. “We are not fair [operating in the] Arctic and Antarctic; there’s a lot of things between those places.’
But long days at sea are not ideal because of Swan Hellenic’s ship size.
“The ship is comfortable and has a lot of space, but it’s 120 meters long, so we can’t offer 20 restaurants and Broadway shows,” Zito said. “The entertainment is our lectures…our expedition team and the wonders of our planet.”
Swan Hellenic’s lecture program consists of four pillars. Two are related to natural sciences and deal with volcanoes, geology, glaciers and meteorology, the third pillar “Sapiens” covers archaeology, past civilizations and heritage; The fourth pillar is anthropology of distant cultures.
A new pillar based on recent history and geopolitics is being elaborated.
SH Minerva Itineraries
The SH Minerva, which Swan Hellenic plans to take possession of from the Irish government later this year, is scheduled to circumnavigate Antarctica before departing the Bellingshausen Sea to sail along the Lambert Glacier – the longest of its kind in the world – several times a day .
The ship then travels to New Zealand, where passengers observe Māori culture before heading to New Caledonia, the Solomon Islands and then Papua New Guinea. Zito said: “With this ship we can reach places that are normally unreachable because they have no infrastructure. You can land in the mouths of rivers, you can reach Papua New Guinea and right after that the Raja Ampat archipelago [Indonesia] which has the most pristine islands.’
SH Minerva then sets course for Japan, where she will sail in July and August, but “we’re not going to take you to familiar Japan,” Zito said. “We only touch big cities for handling and passenger flights, but then we will go to very small islands and villages.
“Japan is one of the most developed countries, but some islands are still in the Middle Ages. They have little electricity and people fish there as they have for thousands of years.”
The ship will sail on to Borneo, then Bali and Komodo in Indonesia before heading to the Kimberley in Australia, where it will sail for two months to allow passengers to learn about Aboriginal heritage and rock art.
Next up are the Pacific Islands to experience the Melanesian cultures of Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Polynesia.
This is followed by a ‘fascinating’ cruise from Papeete to Easter Island with a visit to Pitcairn, all descended from the Bounty mutineers.
In November, the ship will return to Antarctica for “a challenging and interesting cruise, not for Antarctic beginners, but for Antarctic lovers,” according to Zito. It will consist of a 30-day circumnavigation of Ushuaia, going deep into the Ross Sea to McMurdo Station and following in the footsteps of explorers Roald Amundsen and Robert Scott.
“It really is Antarctica at depth,” Zito remarked on the 110th anniversary of the South Pole race in 2023.
SH Vega will launch in the Arctic before setting course for Antarctica. At the end of the Antarctic season, the new expedition ship will move to Cape Town. “This is quite a challenging cruise as unfortunately it has a lot of days at sea,” admitted Zito. A special program for these days at sea will be announced shortly.
The 10,600 GT ship will sail along the west coast of Africa to the Skeleton Coast and Walvis Bay in Namibia before venturing to less frequented locations. Zito added: “We scouted [destinations] extensively for the last year. There are areas where nobody goes, for example a 1,000 km stretch between Congo and Gabon, where there are natural parks that are difficult to access.
“There’s Loango National Park [in Gabon] where elephants walk on the beach and hippos; We can go there safely because we found two or three places where the ship with zodiacs can safely land.
“Loango has the last 12 families of lowland gorillas… and two of those families are habituated to humans, so passengers can get closer to them.”
Next up are Togo and Benin before the ship visits the British Atlantic Islands, followed by a season in the Arctic. SH Vega will explore the Canadian Arctic, then head south to Halifax and continue along the east coast of America to Ushuaia.
Zito hopes Brazil will reopen Fernando de Noronha, which he compared to the Galápagos Islands. It has been closed to passenger ships for 10 years. But he instead named a “very interesting place,” the Abrolhos archipelago, with its coral reefs and marine life.
With the new build SH Diana, Swan Hellenic is returning to her roots by taking passengers to the Eastern Mediterranean. After launching in February, the ship will head to the Cyclades in Greece, where passengers will see the recently opened Portico of Philip V, dating back to 1000 BC. BC, followed by five Greek temples in Sicily – including Siracusa, Agrigento and Selinunte.
In Taormina, passengers will encounter an ancient Greek theater where operas are still performed, and Zito promised some exclusive surprises there.
The ship will then sail through the Arctic before continuing to Algeria in Africa where ancient Roman archaeological sites can be seen.
SH Vega then sails to Spitsbergen in Svalbard before returning to the eastern and western Mediterranean at the end of the season. After that, it’ll be moved to the Red Sea, where Zito has touted “probably the best coral in the world in terms of color.”
The ship will turn around in Port Victoria, Seychelles, before setting course for Aldabra, home to the largest colony of giant tortoises on earth.
From there, SH Diana crosses Kenya, Zanzibar in Tanzania and the ancient Arabic city of Lamu off Kenya, which is home to unique architecture.
Before heading back to Antarctica, the ship will sail to Madagascar, South Africa and Mozambique; Overnight stays are available at the latter two locations, allowing passengers to take part in evening excursions to their national parks.