Sarina Bratton, former head of Orion Expeditions and considered a pioneer of the Australian adventure cruise industry, has been appointed to lead Australiasian operations for French line, Compagnie du Ponant.

The company plans to have a new expedition ship in and around Australia from late 2015, with a program of itineraries which will include Asia and the Pacific islands.

The move indicates the strength of interest in adventure and expedition cruising in Australasia – Lindblad Expeditions purchased Orion this year, and has plans to relaunch the vessel as National Geographic Orion next March. It has already launched a new brochure which features its fleet of expedition ships.

Campagnie du Ponant is expected to heavily market its trio of brand new luxury adventure ships: L’Austral, Le Boreal and Le Soleal. Lindblad will be a key competitor.

Mrs Bratton, described in a press release today as “Australia’s First Lady of Cruising”, has been named Compagnie du Ponant’s Australasian chairman, and special advisor to the company’s Marseilles-headquartered executive team.

Mrs Bratton will head up international development “with a specific focus on the Asia Pacific region”, according to a company statement. The company will announce details of a Sydney-based regional management and sales operation shortly.

Jean-Emmanuel Sauvee, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Compagnie du Ponant, said he was “extremely delighted and excited” to have Sarina Bratton join the Compagnie du Ponant executive team.

“There are very few entrepreneurs and founders of cruise companies in this world, so Sarina and I are kindred spirits,” he said.

“We see the Asia Pacific region being an important strategic development for our business and recognise the pioneering itineraries, destinations and source markets developed by Sarina and her former team over the past ten years, as guiding pathways for our ongoing development.”

Mrs Bratton said in a statement Compagnie du Ponant had the assets and balance sheet to become the global leader in small and five-star expedition ship operations.

“It is a real honour and a challenge to be a part of this unique business, both to help with the internationalisation of Compagnie du Ponant and also to bring a unique luxury product into a market I know so well,” she said.

“Australia has never seen ships like these. The majority of the world’s small expedition ships are old, having been built in the late 1980’s and 1990’s. But Compagnie du Ponant has a fleet of four, brand-new, ‘state of the art’ ships and a touch of that unique French avant-garde style”.

Compagnie du Ponant representatives in Australia, Travel the World general manager Michelle Taylor says the company is delighted with the new of a new yacht bound for Australian waters.

“We are excited to be working with Sarina Bratton and Compagnie du Ponant and continuing our partnership into the future.”

Each ship carries 240 guests, and has advanced technical and environmental systems. Compagnie du Ponant is owned by one of the largest private equity funds in Europe, Bridgepoint.

Words: Peter Lynch