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Orion Expedition Cruises is an Australian-based luxury expedition cruise line that operates the German-built 103 m, 4000 gross tonne MV Orion in Australasian and Antarctic waters on a year-round basis.
 
Founded by Australian business woman Sarina Bratton in early 2004, Orion Expedition Cruises (OEC) began actual cruising operations in March 2005 with the repositioning cruise of the MV Orion from Papeete, Tahiti in French Polynesia to Sydney, Australia via the Cook Islands, Samoa, New Caledonia, Fiji and Lord Howe Island. OEC operates Australian-based expedition-style cruises in areas as diverse as the Antarctic continent to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
 
On the 20th May, 2008 Sarina Bratton, Founder and Managing Director of OEC announced the purchase of the company by US private equity firm KSL Capital Partners, and Cruise Ferry Master Fund (CFMF), a division of German shipping bank DVB.
 
On 5 March 2013 it was announced that OEC had been acquired by US-based small ship operator Lindblad Expeditions, which owns five ships and charters a further five and operates cruises to a variety of destinations. CFMF also holds a 60% interest in Lindblad Expeditions.
 
The company’s mottos of “a path less traveled” and “it’s in our nature to explore” are apt descriptions of the nature of operations of OEC. The concept behind the formation of the operation was to bring Australian-based luxury expedition style cruising to a level never seen before in that country. There had never been an expedition vessel as luxurious and as sophisticated as the MV Orion permanently based in Australia before.
 
In 2005 OEC made history by being the first cruise line to take a ship into the newly independent nation of East Timor. Visiting the capital Dili and the nation’s second largest center Baucau, guests of the Orion were some of the first tourists to be part of organized travel in the country. OEC planned to continue and expand their operations in East Timor in 2006, but the company’s plans were suspended when the tiny nation descended into politically inspired chaos just a few weeks before the Orion was due to dock in Dili in June 2006. The Indonesian port of Kupang in West Timor has replaced Dili in OEC’s itinerary until the situation in East Timor stabilises enough to resume cruises there.
 
Current operations see the company offering expedition cruises to Antarctica from the Australian island of Tasmania and the New Zealand port of Bluff, in the rugged Kimberley region of Western Australia from the port of Darwin, to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands from the ports of Cairns and Rabaul as well as occasional cruises along the east coast of Australia focusing on the Great Barrier Reef and some cruising around Tasmania.
 
Following OEC’s acquisition by Lindblad Expeditions in March 2013, they announced that it will continue to operate cruises to Orion's destination mainstays of Indonesia, Borneo, Papua New Guinea and the Kimberleys. But from March 2014 it will also include itineraries to more easterly and remote Pacific islands. It will be equipped with an underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV), capacity for up to 24 scuba divers and ocean going kayaks, while cruises will be accompanied by a National Geographic photographer.
 
 
The luxury expedition ship MV Orion, the backbone of OEC, has been described by the Berlitz Guide to Cruising as “the latest in the quest to build the perfect expedition vessel”. Owned by the Marshall Islands registered company Explorer Maritime and leased under a long-term agreement by OEC, the vessel was previously operated, albeit for a short time, by US-based cruise operator Travel Dynamics International (TDI). TDI had operated the vessel in the Antarctic and the Arctic and many points in between before handing the vessel over to OEC in the Tahitian port of Papeete in March 2005.
 
The MV Orion will be renamed the National Geographic Orion from March 2014, and join Lindblad Expeditions owned National Geographic Endeavour, MS National Geographic Explorer, National Geographic Islander, National Geographic Sea Bird and National Geographic Sea Lion, along with their chartered vessels Delfin II, Jahan, Lord of the Glens, Oceanic Discoverer and Sea Cloud.



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