Hurtigruten cuts steel on new hybrid cruise ship

(4:50 p.m. GMT) -- Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten held a steel cutting ceremony to mark the start of construction on its new expedition ship -- the world's first passenger vessel that will be able to sail with fully electric hybrid technology.

The 530-passenger Roald Amundsen is the first of Hurtigruten's Explorer Class Ships, purpose-built to sail in polar waters. Due for delivery in 2018, it will be joined by sister vessel Fridtjof Nansen in 2019 and there is an option for two more ships in the same class.

Hurtigruten CEO, Daniel Skjeldam, led the ceremony at the Kleven shipyard in Norway (on February 24) and said: "Today is an historical day not only for Hurtigruten, but for the global maritime industry. We celebrate the construction start of the first ship in a new generation that will change expedition travel forever."

Named after two Norwegian polar explorers, the hybrid ships will reduce fuel consumption by approximately 20 percent, and be able to sail with electric propulsion for up to 30 minutes at a time. With strengthened hulls for crossing ice, they will each feature Scandinavian interior designs inspired by nature, large observation platforms, three restaurants and a pool deck with infinity pools, whirlpools and bars. Designed by Rolls-Royce and Norwegian yacht designer Espen Oino, both ships will have 265 cabins, the majority with balconies, and a number of suites.

Skjeldam added: "Sustainability will be the core deal of every detail of the ship and onboard operation. The hybrid engine will reduce fuel consumption substantially and allow for periods of completely emission-free sailing. With a number of other ground-breaking technical solutions throughout the ship, Roald Amundsen will be the most advanced and environmentally friendly expedition ship ever built."

Hurtigruten has been operating since 1893, and was originally founded as a daily passenger and freight service along the Norwegian coast between Bergen and Kirkenes. It now offers sailings to a variety of destinations including Antarctica, the Arctic and South America.

Roald Amundsen's maiden season will include voyages to Antarctica and the Chilean fjords.

--by Jeannine Williamson, Cruise Critic contributor