Holland America Line (HAL) and Korea's Samsung Heavy Industries have signed a "letter of understanding" for the construction of two 80,000-ton, 1,800-passenger vessels at a contract price of roughly $330 million per ship, with an option for a third. Delivery of the ships would be scheduled for early 2002 (or late 2001) for the first ship, and 2003 for the second. While there is significant optimism that the HAL-Samsung deal will go to contract, there is still much work to be done before it is signed, and European yards are still not entirely out of the picture, according to a high-level source directly involved in the negotiations.

HAL has been trying to finalize its "Cruise 8000" series of newbuildings for many months, originally intending the first ship to be delivered in 2001 and the second in 2002. Contracts for the deal had been nearly signed with European yards in the past, but were stifled by sudden fluctuations in currency. In addition, recent problems at both Fincantieri and Kvaerner Masa-Yards have benefited Samsung's position -­ specifically, the construction-delay issue at Fincantieri and the uncertainties about the future at Masa-Yards following Kvaerner's decision to exit shipbuilding.

While Samsung has no experience building cruise ships, HAL would put very tight specifications in place on the work in an attempt to ensure its quality would match Europe's.