A World of Controversy

Thursday, April 04, 2002
It was a concept like no other. A floating home where guests could virtually visit a variety of exotic ports in far off places from the comforts of their own luxurious accommodations. Imagine pulling into Cannes during its renowned film festival, stepping out into Monaco during its Grand Prix, or ringing in the New Year in Hawaii.

The World of ResidenSea, a Bahamas-based company envisioned by well-known cruise shipping magnate Knut Kloster Jr. was established to offer these amenities via its luxury apartments ranging from 1,106 to 3,242 sq. ft. Costing anywhere from $2.2 - $7.5 million per apartment, the vessel was touted as a breakthrough in luxury cruising.

While this may sound too good to be true — it actually is. As the construction of the World of ResidenSea was anything but smooth sailing. Plagued with roadblocks and glitches from day one, ResidenSea, according to various Norwegian news sources, was deemed a risky undertaking.

Following is the story of a unique ship with a shaky start and an uncertain future.

After literally "shopping around" Europe for a shipyard that would undertake a project of this magnitude, the German yard HDW was originally hired to perform this task. According to a Norwegian news source, the yard pulled out before signing on the dotted line simply because it, like other yards, felt it to be too much of a risk. When the contract was finally signed in the fall of 1999 with Fosen Shipyard in Trondheim, Norway, no one envisioned the long, hard road ahead for the yard and the ship ResidenSea.

Once it was agreed that Fosen would construct the ship, the company, which also has a hull yard, Bruce Shipyard in Skane, Sweden, began selecting subcontractors and designers who would bring this project to life. While there have been no reports of problems with interior designers, there were various allegations that much of the vessel's delivery delay had to do with conflicts between the yard and subcontractors. According to Norwegian newspapers, one specific subcontractor, Austrian-based company List, had major difficulties with the yard. List was reportedly responsible for the pre-fabrication of the apartments, which were completed according to technical drawings provided by the yard. When it came time to fit the apartments into the vessel, they did not match. It has been reported that List, which had little experience designing shipboard apartments (the company was hired for its experience within the hotel industry), blamed the shipyard, stating that their drawings were incorrect for prefabrication. As a result, the yard had to replace much of the steelwork — running into added costs. It has been estimated that the original price that ResidenSea paid for construction of the vessel ran into an excess of $9.1 - $10.2 million - due to a miscalculation by the yard. In addition it has also been reported that only 80 percent of the vessel's apartments have been sold.

Building A Concept

Before the swirl of controversy surrounding the World of ResidenSea began throughout the last few months, the project can be traced back to 1997 when, according to ResidenSea's senior vice president of Design, Lonnie Schorer, "things started to shape up." Schorer, who joined the company that same year, shared Kloster's vision of "why can't people live on a ship." Once investors and management were in place, ResidenSea tapped the firm of Yran & Storbraaten to design the actual vessel.

At first, residents were allowed to bring their own interior designers onboard to create their onboard apartments, but according to Schorer, this interfered with the SOLAS and IMO regulations, not to mention DNV, the classification society governing the vessel, which did not allow this. There was no way that all these different designers would be able to ensure that these laws were indeed met. Therefore, Schorer came up with a simple solution to coordinate the interior designs — she hired four different design firms — offering an array of choices for potential residents. "We wanted buyers to have what they originally envisioned — homes — not ship's cabins," Schorer said. "We pre-selected designers who therefore fit that category."

Selected by a panel based on their respective floor plans and classic, contemporary designs were, Yran & Storbraatan, of Oslo, who would create a maritime, nautical theme; London-based Nina Campbell for its traditional comfort; TMT Design of Milan; and New York City-based J.P. Molyneux, who combined antiques with stone floors, columns and French style furniture. Based on each designer's style or "color way" as Schorer has dubbed, residents had a choice of these four groups - providing that they used only one firm for the entire apartment.

For instance J.P. Molyneux wanted to capture the essence of a residence at sea rather than a conventional ship's cabin. Therefore, the firm's owner and lead project manager, Juan Pablo Molyneux treated his floor plan as that of a regular luxury apartment. "We divided the living room and dining room into two columns with moldings on the ceilings," Molyneux said. "Similar to one you would see in a deluxe apartment."

Design vs. Safety

According to Schorer, "No two apartments onboard ResidenSea are alike," due to the selection of color ways (ranges of fabrics and finishes) that residents may choose. While the option to choose several different carpets and/or paneling was available, these materials had to meet maritime standards. The maritime industry has an exhaustive list of safety standards, which exceed traditional shoreside installations. While ResidenSea broke ground as the first ship to have kitchens onboard every apartment, those kitchens had to be built in the presence of A-60 steel, as directed by SOLAS, which has certain requirements for combustible materials. "Interior design was definitely impacted by fire calculations and certifications," Schorer said.

"For example some of the moldings in the paneling had to be simplified because of this. Also many of the original wall fabrics had to be duplicated using Trevira CS as stated by DNVregulations."

What Does the Future Hold?

At press time, the vessel had just been delivered and residents were scheduled to board. However, the controversy continues at the Fosen Shipyard, this time from a legal standpoint.

According to various Norwegian news sources, it was reported that Fosen Shipyard was being investigated by the Norwegian Cabinet for pocketing $4 million in illegal subsidies largely due to the vessel's hull fabrication. The yard, which has adamantly denied any wrongdoing, stands by its decision to construct the vessel's hull at its sister yard in Sweden — where it was less expensive to perform hull construction. Following the hull's launching in Sweden on February 27, 2001, it was then towed to Fosen for outfitting.

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