July 12, 2023

How ice and coal hauling led to burgeoning cruise business


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Every week, FreightWaves explores the archives of American Shipper’s nearly 70-year-old collection of shipping and maritime publications to showcase interesting freight stories of long ago.

This article comes from the September 1975 issue of American Shipper and shows how Norwegian Cruise Line, at the time named Norwegian Caribbean Lines, moved from the ice and coal business to the cruise world. 

When M/S Sunward arrived at Miami in 1966, she set a new standard for entire cruise industry in Caribbean

Ice and coal would appear to have little in common with Caribbean cruising. But, with three generations of enterprising Norwegian Seafarers in between, they represent the beginnings and the present for a company which has become one of the most important factors in the American cruise industry.

That company is Klosters-Rederi A/S of Oslo, and it has come a long way since 1906, when Lauritz Kloster purchased the 830-ton steamer “Sjogutten” to haul ice and coal between Norway and Great Britain.

In 1975, doing business in the U.S. as Norwegian Caribbean Lines and sailing in far warmer waters, the firm’s fleet of three modern vessels will carry more than 80,000 passengers between the New Port of Miami and a host of destinations in the Caribbean and South America. These statistics place NCL among the top cruise ship companies operating in the U.S., impressive since it was little more than eight years ago that Klosters-Rederi first sought passenger trade with the introduction of M/S Sunward in 1966.

The decision to establish NCL at that time was dramatic and daring. A year earlier, the S/S Yarmouth Castle had burned at sea off the Florida coast, and in the wake of that tragedy, the Port of Miami — in those days a minor point of embarkation at best — had become almost dormant. To enter the cruise market under such circumstances — especially with a new, luxurious and therefore expensive vessel — was considered by many a reckless gamble. Instead, it turned out to be just the step forward the industry, and the area, sorely needed.

A new trend

The debut of M/S Sunward launched not only a company, but the entire concept of contemporary cruising. NCL had hit upon a new kind of passenger ship, her operations based on modern hotel considerations, and freed from some of the ultra-deluxe amenities that had priced her predecessors out of the mass market. She was a ship on which a reasonable passenger load — attracted at tariffs within the means of the average traveler — promised at least a modest profit after expenses. NCL also had developed a new kind of cruise experience … one which allowed that average traveler to feel comfortable and at ease while still retaining the aura of luxury he heretofore had considered beyond his reach.

Inspired others

Acceptance of M/S Sunward’s style of cruising was such that she served as inspiration not only for her three sister ships, but for new equipment launched by several other companies and new port development by an entire community. The emergence of the New Port of Miami, and its position today as the number one passenger embarkation point in the U.S., are largely attributable to the positive influence and progressive activity of Norwegian Caribbean Lines.

With construction of each new vessel, NCL manifested a confident commitment to further development of the contemporary cruise market. M/S Sunward had carved her niche in the three and four-day Bahamas trade. M/S Starward, commissioned in 1968, was the first Caribbean cruise ship to offer a year-round schedule of seven-day voyages with Jamaica as a primary destination; today, sailing every Saturday to Port-Au-Prince, Port Antonio, Montego Bay, and Nassau, she still is the only vessel combining Haiti, Jamaica, and the Bahamas into a single week-long itinerary.

Ever in search of new destinations, NCL became the first cruise company to call regularly at Cap Haitien, Haiti — home of the world-famous Citadel Laferriere — when it introduced M/S Skyward in January 1970. The picturesque village on Hispanola’s north coast continues to be the first call of weekly cruises which also visit San Juan, St. Thomas, and Puerto Plata.

14-day trips

When a demand for fourteen-day cruising dominated the market in early 1972, NCL was ready with its newest vessel, M/S Southward, offering the first regularly scheduled fortnightly departures from South Florida. And as current trends indicate growing public interest in a broader choice of destinations within a seven-day time span, the company is at the fore again. In June 1975, M/S Southward will begin a weekly schedule to Freeport, Montego Bay, Grand Cayman Island, and Cozumel … and Norwegian Caribbean Lines will become the only cruise company offering three separate, distinctive week-long itineraries, each with a unique passenger appeal.

Just as contemporary cruising is capturing the imagination of the American public, so is another relatively new travel concept — that of the all-inclusive package vacation. In the highly competitive, often confusing marketplace of the Fly/Cruise, NCL is the pacesetter once again. Its program of “Cloud 9 Cruises” is the most comprehensive in the industry — guaranteed weekly departures via scheduled air carrier from twenty-five major markets … combining airfare at economical group rates, cruise passage, transfers and taxes at a single price … offering excursion privileges such as open return and en route stopovers … and the convenience of NCL’s own optional ground packages at Miami’s Doral Beach Hotel or Walt Disney World in Orlando. Availability of “Cloud 9 Cruises” extends even to Europe, where, in cooperation with British Airways, the company’s London office — first overseas headquarters ever established by a Miami-based cruise operator — markets extensively throughout the United Kingdom and the Continent.

Sunward retired

Today, those first ambitious Bahamian cruises of M/S Sunward seem almost as long ago as the ice and coal carriage of the “Sjogutten.” Having become a little old lady by the standards she herself helped set, Sunward has passed from the Caribbean scene. Retired to the French Riviera and renamed Ile De Beaute, she sails between Marseilles and Corsica for Compagnie Generale Mediterranee, a subsidiary of the French Line.

NCL has in the design stage a new vessel which when completed will be the world’s first semi-catamaran cruise liner. Projected to be between 20,000-22,000 gross tons in size and carry nearly 1,000 passengers, she is described by NCL Board Chairman, Knut Kloster, as possessing a broad beam that will allow for “the greatest flexibility of facilities, and freedom of passenger movement, of any cruise vessel afloat.”

So it would appear that, despite its brilliant past, the brightest days for Klosters-Rederi A/S, as Norwegian Caribbean Lines, still lie ahead.

FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter!





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