Carnival Corporation’s Seabourn Cruise Line surprisingly announced today that it is selling its 14-year-old cruise ship, The Seabourn Odyssey to Japan’s Mitsui OSK Lines. While Carnival had stated its intention to sell older, less productive ships from the fleet, Seabourn, which focuses on luxury cruises and expedition voyages, has so far been sidelined from the sales effort. MOL previously announced plans to modernize and expand its cruise operations in Japan.
Built in 2009 by Italy’s T. Mariotti, the Seabourn Odyssey was the first in a class of new ships used to modernize and expand Seabourn, a brand launched in 1988 by Norwegian industrialist Atle Brynstad and veteran cruise line manager Warren Titus. Seabourn began with cruise ships that could only accommodate 200 passengers in suites as one of the first modern adaptations of luxury yacht-style cruising. Carnival Corporation made an initial investment in Seabourn in 1991 and again in 1996 when they acquired 50 percent of the company. They acquired the rest of Seabourn in 2001.
With 32,477 gross tons, the Seabourn Odyssey introduced new luxuries to the brand and increased passenger capacity to 458, more than double the original cruise ships. The larger size allowed the cruise line to offer more amenities, including suites with private balconies, catching up with a growing field of ultra-luxury competitors. The original cruise ships were sold to and replaced by Windstar Odyssey along with two sister ships and later two larger 600-passenger cruise ships built by Fincantieri.
MOL has agreed to charter the Seabourn Odyssey to Seabourn so that the cruise line will continue all published voyages through August 22, 2024. The cruise ship will be handed over to MOL upon completion of the charter and will be refitted for the Japanese cruise market.
Carnival Corporation reported that it plans to sell three cruise ships in 2023, two from Costa Cruises and the third from AIDA, which announced in January 2023 that it would be retiring the 20-year-old AIDAaura (42,289 gross tons) which would be put up for sale along with her already retired sister ship AIDAvita. Since the cruises were suspended in 2020, Carnival Corporation has sold or retired 24 cruise ships and delivered two others that had previously been sold. The company has reduced its fleet from 104 vessels to about 90.
Seabourn has evolved as part of the Carnival brands. The cruise line notes that it is expanding its focus to include expedition cruises. When announcing the sale of Odyssey The cruise line writes, “Seabourn’s fleet expansion into the ultra-luxury expedition market allows for a more diverse range of missions, which will continue to result in new and exciting itineraries across all seven continents with higher guest capacity than 2019 Seabourn OdysseyTaking leave.”
The first of two new expedition cruise ships, SeabournVenture Commissioned in 2022 and will be followed in 2023 by a sister ship, the Seabourn Pursuit. The expedition cruise ships are smaller, all-suite ships that can accommodate 264 passengers and are built to PC6 Polar class standards. However, Seabourn will reduce its overall fleet capacity by 15 percent following the sale Odyssey.
In early March 2023, Seabourn announced the appointment of Natalya Leahy as the company’s new President. Leahy was with Holland America Group for seven years, including operational oversight of Seabourn. She succeeded Josh Leibowitz, who the company said would be leaving the brand to pursue new opportunities. Leibowitz, who had been with the company since 2013, was named Seabourn’s president in June 2020 and oversaw the return to service following the pandemic.
Mitsui OSK Lines, while best known in merchant shipping, is also one of Japan’s longest-established passenger shipping companies. The company transitioned to cruising in 1972 and, in response to increasing demand in Japan for leisure cruising, decided to purchase and then build modern cruise ships. Since 1990 they have operated a single ship, Nippon Maru (22,472 gross tons) and offers cruises for the Japanese market.
MOL reported last fall that it plans to build two 35,000 gross tonnage cruise ships, the first of which is expected to be delivered around 2027, as part of an effort to diversify its operations. The company said it would consider two more cruise lines if the first two were successful.