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The renaissance of the Orient Express at sea

The Accor hotel group is reviving a legend: the Orient Express. Not on the railway, however, but on the water.

Accor has therefore ordered two new ships from the French shipyard Chantiers de l’Atlantique. The first ship, which is due to be delivered in 2026, will be named “Orient Express Corinthian”. Although this name is a nod to tradition, the innovative technology on board will set new trends in terms of clean shipping. The two luxury ships will be equipped with hybrid propulsion – based on an LNG-fuelled engine and sails. Seawater-lubricated bearings from Thordon Bearings ensure that no lubricating oil gets into the water.

Thordon Bearings has secured an order from Chantiers de l’Atlantique to supply its award-winning Compac seawater-lubricated propeller shaft bearings. The contract marks Thordon’s first reference aboard a Chantiers de l’Atlantique-built cruise ship and its first bearing installation aboard a wind powered ship, the company reports.

While three 100m (329ft) tall, 1.500m2 SolidSail rigs, a wind sail system develop by the French shipbuilder, will contribute significantly to propulsion, primary propulsive power will be through a conventional seawater-lubricated propeller shaft driven by an LNG-fueled prime mover. Accor also plans to run the ship on green hydrogen once the fuel is approved for ocean-going passenger ships.

Thordon’s scope of supply to the twin screw vessel includes Compac seawater-lubricated bearings machined to fit 370mm (14.5in) diameter propeller shafts.

Bearings will reduce environmental impact

Commenting on the significance of winning the tender, Neil McDonald, Thordon’s Regional Manager, Northern Europe & Africa, said: “For these environmentally focused vessels, an oil-lubricated propeller shaft bearing system was out of the question, and although Chantiers de l’Atlantique has experience with our Compac seawater-lubricated bearing system across its naval vessel newbuildings, we still had to go through a lengthy and complex tendering process. I believe we won over competing water-lubricated bearing suppliers due to our patience, reputation and, ultimately, a much better performing product. Thordon’s Compac will contribute significantly to reducing the vessels’ environmental impact and maintenance costs.”

By taking the legendary Orient Express to sea, “Orient Express Corinthian” – Accor’s entry into the luxury cruise market – is firmly rooted in the famous train’s history, but it also invokes the golden age of cruise travel, of which there can be no finer example than the famous Chantiers de l’Atlantique-built liner “Normandie”.

“Orient Express Corinthian” is the first of two

Benoît d’Alançon, Directeur General, Wenex Equipment, Thordon Bearings’ authorized distributor in France, said: “The ‘Orient Express Corinthian’ firmly nods to both the legendary liner of the 1930s and that cosmopolitan icon of train travel, but modern, more environmentally sustainable technology is at the heart of this ultra-modern ship. Compac strengthens Accor’s vision of what a zero-pollution passenger ship looks like.”

Built to Bureau Veritas class and adopting its Mon-Shaft notation, Thordon’s open seawater-lubricated Compac polymer bearing is designed to promote early formation of a hydrodynamic film between the shaft and bearing. As the viscous friction acting on the rotating shaft is lower with seawater than with oil, research has shown that in addition to reduced OPEX, operators also benefit from lower fuel consumption and subsequent emissions. Another benefit is that Compac negates the need for a damage-prone aft seal.

There are now more than 40 commercial vessels with wind-assisted propulsion systems, with an additional 16 on order.

The 220m (722ft) long, 22,300gt “Orient Express Corinthian” is the first in a series of two 130 passenger/170 crew capacity ships, is scheduled for delivery in March 2026, followed by her yet-to-be-named sister in September 2027. Accor has options on a further two ships. Wenex is set to deliver the Thordon scope for the first ship in March 2025.
Accor / "Orient Express Corinthia" 
Rendering of “Orient Express Corinthia”

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Copyright: © Accor/Martin Darzacq

Caption: Rendering of "Orient Express Corinthia"