Scarlet Lady – Leading the way to a greener future for Virgin Voyages

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 28 February 2020


Cruising is growing in popularity around the globe and this is attracting new operator entrants to the sector to fill niche gaps in the market. Most recent attention has been given to the expedition cruise market with hybrid ships designed for operation in remote locations being constructed in Northern Europe or to ships designed with the growing Asian market in mind.

Entrepreneur, Sir Richard Branson of Virgin Group fame has opted to cater for an adult only cruise experience with his new Virgin Voyages cruise brand. The company was founded in 2014 in partnership with Bain Capital and the order for three ships was placed with Italian cruise ship specialist Fincantieri in June 2013. At the time of the order it was announced that the ships would be for the young at heart. Since then it appears to have retained that ethos and also decided upon the adults only philosophy as well. A fourth vessel was added to the initial order later.


From the outset, Branson wanted the brand to be different in line with his airline Virgin Atlantic. This is reflected in the choice of name for the fleet’s flagship Scarlet Lady, a name which appeared on one of the earliest planes to fly for Virgin Atlantic. Now, as the flagship for the Virgin Voyages fleet, the Scarlet Lady name will be paired with the brand’s iconic mermaid image.

Given the Virgin Voyages brand image, and perhaps even the ship’s name, it seems somehow appropriate that it was delivered on Valentine’s Day this year. The ship is now on its way to its home base in Florida. Virgin Voyages will feature a programme of Caribbean and Mediterranean cruises some of which will call at the Bahamian island of Bimini where the company has established its own dedicated beach club for a ‘barefoot holiday experience’.

So what of the ship itself? Scarlet Lady is small by modern cruise ship standards but that is part of its attraction. It has 17 deck levels and leavings aside the passenger accommodation and public spaces that are spread over 13 decks (5-17) with such quirky innovations as the world’s first tattoo parlour and vinyl record shops, there is a fair amount of technical innovation that has been included.


The ship is 278m long, 42.m in beam and has a gross tonnage of 108,192. There are 1,430 cabins able to accommodate 2,800 Sailors – as Virgin Voyages has chosen to call its guests plus there is accommodation for 1,150 crew.

In outward appearance the vessel is similar to most modern cruise ships with superstructure stretching almost the full length of the vessel. The vertical stem is a feature that has appeared on many recent small ships of this size. Vertical stems were common on older cruise ships before the last world war but were replaced by severely raked and flared bows thereafter. Aida Cruises and Hurtigruten’s new ships also feature this type of bow.

The vertical bow form is said to improve seakeeping and fuel consumption although some say that it leads to more wetting in heavy seas. The stern of Scarlet Lady features an open air restaurant and bar that means the rise of the superstructure is more forward than on other cruise ships.

Richard branson cruise

Over the years Richard Branson helped found the Carbon War Room and has been an outspoken critic of shipping's impact on the environment so it is interesting to see how the technology employed on the first Virgin cruise ship stacks up. Some might say that in many regards Scarlet Lady is a little wanting in ambition. However, the agreement for building the ships and the design was completed before the IMO announced its decarbonisation plan for the shipping industry and also prior to the decision to confirmed in October 2016 to cut the permitted sulphur content of fuel to 0.5%.

The power and propulsion system of the ship is a fairly typical diesel-electric set up with two eight-cylinder and two 12-cylinder Wärtsilä 46F engines driving twin ABB Azipods. Between them, the four Wärtsilä engines produce 48,000kW and the two Azipod XO units rated at 16,000kW each with take two thirds of the power when running at full speed. The normal service speed of the vessel is 20kt.

Like many of the cruise ships catering for the US market, it will run on HFO rather than LNG. It also has a scrubber and a selective catalytic reduction (SCR) system installed for meeting the US ECA requirements for SOx and NOx respectively. The Wärtsilä Hybrid Scrubber System selected can operate in both open and closed loop modes using seawater to remove SOx. Significant reductions in the emissions of NOx and particulates will be made possible by the Wärtsilä SCR system.


Wärtsilä’s scope of supply for the vessel also includes a NACOS Platinum bridge system. The Finnish technology company will play a key role in the operation of the vessel as Virgin Voyages has entrusted it with a ten year optimised maintenance agreement. Wärtsilä’s Dynamic Maintenance Planning allows maintenance operations to be carried out based on remotely monitored and analysed real-time performance data. This makes it possible to extend service intervals so that overhauls can be scheduled to fit the operations of the vessel.

The extensive agreement includes Remote Operational Support Services, Specific Fuel Oil Consumption meters and calibration, spare parts and technical advisory services for the engines. In addition, Virgin Voyages will receive comprehensive technical support and personnel training.

There are no fuel cells or battery packs as are appearing on several of the new generation of cruise ships, nor an air lubrication system but Scarlet Lady does give an early reference for the Climeon waste heat recovery system. The system on Scarlet Lady comprises six modules of the Climeon Organic Rankine Cycle based energy recovery concept. Under ideal circumstances these six units can produce around 1,000kW of additional energy.

If Sir Richard Branson and Scarlet lady did not quite hit the nail on the head as far as decarbonisation goes, then they are at least leading the field in another current area of environmental concern – plastic waste.

At the ship’s naming ceremony in June 2018, Virgin Group Founder Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Voyages President and CEO Tom McAlpin announced that the company would eliminate the use of single-use plastics as part of its aim to create one of the cleanest fleets at sea. The initiative includes banning plastic items on board including straws, bottled water, other beverage bottles, condiment packets, shopping bags, food packaging, stirrers, and take-away coffee and teacups. Instead, the company will emphasise the use of recyclable and reusable materials across the ship.

The involvement with reducing waste goes a step further as a week before delivery of Scarlet Lady, Virgin Voyages announced it has joined forces with New York-based Bionic Yarn an organisation which produces fabrics from recovered and recycled waste plastic products. Some of the fabric is being used to make a wearable technology product which Virgin Voyages has dubbed The Band.

This is a wristband made from the fabric and coupled with a communications device that each of the ‘Sailors’ will be sent by mail before joining the ship. Activated with just the tap of the wrist, The Band is a hands, wallet and worry-free way for Sailors to access their cabins as it serves as a room key, make onboard purchases and for using at the ship’s casino amongst other things. The Band contains six grams of marine and coastal plastic, equivalent to one-half of a plastic water bottle that washes ashore. To complement The Band’s ease of navigation, A Sailor App will be available for Sailors to complete the check-in process, book Shore Things and more.

As Scarlet Lady is the first of the four sister vessels to be completed, it is to be expected that the later arrivals due at the rate of one each year may be adapted to incorporate some of the newer technologies and propulsion ideas that are being developed. It has already been confirmed that the fourth vessel will feature the innovative waste treatment solution developed by Norway-based Vow (Previously Scanship).

The system known as MAP (Microwave Assisted Pyrolysis) takes up the space of a typical incinerator and can turn any carbon-based waste including food, sewage sludge, paper, cardboard, wood and plastics into syngas and bio-char. The syngas can be burnt in the ship’s boilers or potentially used to power a fuel cell while the biochar is landed and used for things such as soil improvement or as a substitute for activated charcoal in purification processes.

All in all when things are weighed up, the ship may not quite be a green goddess, but Scarlet Lady is perhaps not quite as wicked as the name suggests.

The Journal

Published every February the journal is now recognised as the highest quality publication that covers all aspects of maritime technology and regulation and a must read for the industry.

More Details