Premium French expedition cruise line Ponant has confirmed plans to grow its fleet to a total of nine ships in response to overwhelming passenger demand through the construction of four new expedition ships similar in design to its four existing 142 metre mega-yachts.

None of the new additions have been named as yet but will be slightly smaller at around 128 metres in length. Each will cater to around 184 passengers on a twin-share basis, served by a crew of 110, whereas its existing family of four sister ships Le BorealL’AustralLe Soleal and Le Lyrial welcome up to 264 guests per sailing. The ships will be built by VARD, a Norwegian affiliate of Italy’s Fincantieri shipyard, which also put together the existing four.

Each will be constructed with an ice-class hull to enable safe access to the Polar Regions of Antarctica and the Arctic Circle. The ships will also be aimed at the Oceania region including Australia, the Orinoco River in South America’s Amazonia, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica and the Indian Ocean islands including the Seychelles and more. Each ship will be loaded with technology, much of which will be targeted at the preservation of the environment in the regions to which they will sail.

Through its expanded fleet, the company’s existing ‘White Expeditions’ to the Poles will effectively be joined by the new ‘Blue and Green Expeditions’ concept to these uniquely natural zones rich in plant life and native animals, in many cases found nowhere else in the world. Designs of each ship’s interior have been entrusted to Jean-Philippe Nuel – the same man who envisaged Ponant’s existing yacht fleet.

Like the existing Ponant experience, each voyage will be accompanied by a team of expert naturalists to help deliver the French expedition product, which Ponant says will be a “host of unusual itineraries to get as close as it is possible to local cultures”.

Today’s announcement of expansion is the first since the company was purchased by well-known French investment firm Groupe Artemis – the holding company of one of France’s richest men Francois Pinault. The first two new ships will be delivered in 2018 with the second pair coming a year later. In addition to the soon-to-be fleet of eight yachts, Ponant also operates Le Ponant – a 67-guest three-masted traditional sailing vessel.