In 1988, the Compagnie des Iles du Ponant was established by several investors, the most important ones were Jean Emmanuel Sauvé and Phillipe Videau, who had been classmates at the French merchant navyschool in Nantes. Together with some other investors on subscription basis, the yaught Le Ponant was bought. This small ship, just 1189 tons with space for 64 passengers maximum, was built at the Societe Francaise Construction Navales at Villeneuv-la-Garenne and started her sailings in 1991. Later, the company bought out the other investors and the yaught was now completely owned by Cie. des Iles du Ponant. in 1998, the company used the same structure to built and buy their second ship, Le Levant, that was much larger with a tonnage measurement of 3504 and a passengercapacity of 90. The company steadily grew and in 2003, they were able to buy a thirth ship, together with the French operator Tapis Rouge Croisieres. This ship was the 1974-built Song Of Flower, and untill then it operated for Radisson Seven Seas Cruises. Although she was built in the 1970's as a freightliner for the Dutch Stoomvaart Maatschappij Oostzee (Baltic Steamship Company), she was rebuilt to an exploration cruiseship in 1985 and again in 1989 rebuilt into a very luxury liner for the Seven Seas Cruise Line.
For Cie. des Iles du Ponant, the ship was renamed Le Diamant and a special company was started up for her called Cie. des Iles du Diamant, which is a joint venture between Cie. des Iles du Ponant and Tapis Rouge Croisieres. Also in the first years of the new millennium, the company was for 70% bought by the major French containershipping company CMA-CGM. We also know this company of course as the original Compagnie Generale Maritime (CGM) that were the owners of the Compagnie Generale Transatlantique or French Line untill its demise in 1974. So in one way, the old company was again the owner of several passengerships, though in a totally different form. Due to the large financial backing of the group, Cie. des Iles du Ponant was able to order a new, much larger class of luxury cruiseships of which the first one, Le Boreal, entered service in 2010. Two other ships, L'Austral and Le Soleal followed, measuring some 10.600 tons and sailing with up to 264 passengers. Beause of these new ships that were added to the fleet, the company sold Le Diamant to Qark Expeditions for whom she recieved the new name Ocean Diamond. Also, Le Levant was sold, she became the Tere Moana for Paul Gaugin Cruises. Besides those ship changes, CMA-CGM sold the whole of Cie. des Iles du Ponant to the British private equity firm Bridgepoint Capital Ltd.. This company has no experience in operating cruiseships and of course, it also meant that the last true French-owned cruiseline is now also no longer French, leaving the country without its own cruiseships.
At the end of january 2014, Cie. des Iles du Ponant announced that the Boreal-class would still be expanded more, when in the spring of 2015 a fourth ship entered the fleet under the name of Le Lyrial. It is clear that the company has faith in its future and at the moment, they are one of the fastest growing luxury lines in the industry. Just before this ship came into service, in september of 2014 the company had changed its name to just Ponant, because the rather long original name can be too complicated and will not be remembered too easily. All company logo's stayed the same. Just afterwards, in december of that same year, Ponant bought a share in Travel Dynamics International, a company that operates educational programs aboard several small cruiseliners and expeditionships. The new name for Travel Dynamics International became Ponant - Cultural Cruises & Expeditions. Because of the aquisition, Ponant will be able to develop the cultural programs themselves.
Still another class of ships was ordered just after the order of the Le Lyrial, four ships strong and built at the VARD-yards in Norway. Their names were announced in september of 2016 as Le Laperouse, Le Champlain, Le Bougainville and Le Kerguelen (later changed to Le Dumont d'Urville), honouring French explorers. Also a 30.000-ton icebreaker was ordered, so the company will be able to double in fleetsize over the coming years. In 2018, two more ships were ordered by Ponant in the 'Explorer'-class, named Le Bellot and Le Surville for delivery in 2020. After all ships have been put in service, in 2021 the company will have 12 ships operating and their orderbook is now the largest measured by the number of ships, just after the also very optimistic MSC Cruises.
The Iles du Ponant are a small group of islands near the northern and western coast of Brittany.