Throwback: the Renaissance Programme
January 10, 2020

At the end of 2013 MSC Cruises announced a multi-million dollar programme that that would have involved all four Lirica Class cruise ships over the following two years: the 200 million euro Renaissance Programme.

The project had been commissioned from Fincantieri in Italy, one of the world’s leading shipbuilding companies, and was completed by 2015. It consisted in the stretching of the four ships, MSC Armonia, MSC Lirica, MSC Sinfonia and MSC Opera, adding a new 24 metres pre-built section in which we would have found new entertainment options, technological advancements, expanded shopping options and up to nearly 200 new cabins per ship.

MSC Armonia was the first, from August 31 to November 17, 2014, then MSC Sinfonia from January 12 to March 16, 2015; MSC Opera from May 2 to July 4, 2015 and finally MSC Lirica from August 21 to November 9, 2015.

Engineering Evaluations

Everything had started more than a year earlier. In order to make the Renaissance Project to come true, first there had to be a long period of thorough engineering evaluations. Eight months passed from the theoretical idea to the elaboration of feasibility study. Then a large team of dedicated engineers set to work on the final design of the project in September 2013.

The analysis and calculations were substantially the same as when a new ship is designed.” sais the architect of this project, Emilio La Scala, General Manager of the MSC Cruises Technical Department. “After the first general considerations, we started on basic design and examined the aspects related to stability and structural strength. Following this, we tested the capacity of the electrical, plumbing and air conditioning systems so we could meet the needs of the increased number of guests on board. It was only after all of this that we began to design the systems to be installed in the new section and how they would be linked to the existing ones.


251m > 274,9m

58.600t > 65.542t

2,161 > 2,679

New block construction

The laying out of the new block of MSC Armonia’s keel on 19 May 2014 marks the beginning of the Renaissance Programme in Palermo, the shipyard chosen by Fincantieri and MSC for this project. The 24-metres section being laid out weighs around 350 tonnes.

Each new block was built in approximately six months following the same process employed to build a new ship: first of all, the steel sheets were cut, then they were welded, the parts making up two or three decks and their related planking (the outer iron covering that coats the hull) were assembled and then these were gradually raised with two powerful cranes and placed on the slipway where the whole block would be assembled. When the structure had been completed, the focus shifted to the interior and the outfitting of the various systems that would then be connected to those of the existing ship. Once completed it weighs 2,000 tons.

After the float-out, the block was transferred by tugboats inside the construction dock, waiting for the ship that would have arrived immediately afterwards

Ship’s arrival

The ship arrived, sailing slowly into the setting of the Gulf of Palermo. The rebirth was about to begin. She entered the dock sternwise. The new section was already there waiting. For 11 weeks the ships would have been the protagonist of an amazing engineering project.

There were 10 metres of draught close to the dock gate, a hermetic movable gate which closes the entrace of the dock. The ship had a draught of about 6 metres so she could enter the dock easily. In order to add the new section of the ship, she had to be placed on the keel blocks (blocks of wood upon which the ship’s hull rests on during work in the dock) with millimetre precision. Specialized divers helped in that: two were positioned forward, two at the stern and two on a boat. They communicated by radio with the staff, who traced the exact position of the ship from the shore in relation to the keel blocks. Based on that information, the technicians directed the crew in the manoeuvres to centre the ship using ship’s conveyor system and winches.

The process of emptying the dock began when the ship was in line with the keel blocks and was completed when it would rest perfectly in place. At that point, the jumboisation, the stretching, started. It was the first time at the Palermo shipyard that a new section was added in dry-dock, despite they were specialized in those types of complex operations. The work on MSC Armoniawas in fact the 25th adding of a new block into existing ship, but the previous ones were performed in floating. In this case the engineering team had decided that a dry-dock would have guarantee a better precision.

Cutting process

Then then it was the expert plotters’ turn. By means of theodolite (an instrument used to measure azimuth and zenith angles), they defined a plan perpendicular to the axis of the ship. All of the straight lines that would have served as a guide for the oxy-acetylene torches to make the cut were lied on this plan. Then they set the tracing for the planking and decks. At the same time, targets were used to identify the pipes and cables that passed through the section of the cut. These will then have to be connected back together.

All ships were cut 82 metres from the stern. They chose this point because it was where the impact on the design and structure would have been less noticeable.

Separation process

While all of these activities were being carried out, the system was set up on the dock floor to move the cutted bow forward. This activity could be carried out thanks to the skid shoes, a system of sliding keel blocks specially designed and made for the Renaissance Programme to allow the movement of the ship’s section. The most dramatic phase in the operations, the manoeuvre to divide the ship into two parts, began only eight days after the arrival in Palermo. The bow was gradually moved away while the stern remained stationary in its original location. 

New block placement and matching

The trolley used to move the new section had a total of 232 wheels. It was composed of four-wheel modules which were differentiated by load capacity. In assembling the trolley, the higher-capacity modules were placed where the section was the heaviest. The control unit, or console, was the heart of the system: the orders to operate the entire convoy would have come from there. All of the wheels were set out to steer in the “correct direction”, that is, they were arranged along the same circumference and therefore with the same radius of curvature. The console set the various steering programmes so that the manoeuvres were correct, down to the very last millimetre.

10 days from docking, the three parts of the ship were already aligned. The matching operation began at the shipyard. The structures, planking and decks were connected and then welded, a process that took approximately two weeks. At the same time, the technicians connected the pipes and electrical wiring and checked that all of the reassembled systems would work correctly.

Outfitting and upgrade process

Work got underway inside the ship after the insertion of the new section. In addition to the new cabins and lounges, all four ships had been given a major general restyling, with 16,500sqm of carpet replaced, 12,000 bulbs installed, 500sqm of high-quality teak wood and more than 2,000sqm of new resin added in the outdoor areas.

Furthermore, important innovations and upgrades were made on safety, environmental impact and energy efficiency. The environmental impact of the ships was reduced by optimizing fuel consumption and treating the hull to reduce drag. An inverter system was also introduced to significantly reduce power consumption by adapting to operational requirements, and traditional lighting was replaced with LED technology.

Armonia and Sinfonia bow thrusters were replaced by enlarged ones to provide more power during manoeuvering.

Sea-trials and delivery

Once these operations were finished, the ship left the dry-dock and was moored at the pier. Here her system was inspected to guarantee that it was fully functional and ready for sea-trials before delivery to MSC.

The sea-trials were required for verification and resulting classification of the ship. They took two days and were performed with the crew on board, including the ship register, the appointed shipyard technicians and the entire team that worked on the project. The certification companies have verified that all technical and operational standards were respected.

In november, first Renaissance ship MSC Armonia was delivered back to MSC and relaunched amid much fanfare in Genoa for a 10-day inaugural cruise to the Canary Islands.

Among the novelties presented, MSC Armonia had more balcony cabins, new Armonia Lounge, flexible new dining options and new dedicated clubs for younger guests of all ages equipped and endorsed by Chicco® and LEGO®. She also had a new outdoor Spray Park – a fun-filled wet zone with interactive jets, slides and ingenious water features and restyled pool area.

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