Louis Cruise Line will make an initial public offering (IPO) in Cyprus at the end of June hoping to raise $38 million. The initial offering price for the shares is expected to be equal to 72 U.S. cents, according to George Michaelides, general manager of marketing. The proceeds will be used to upgrade and expand the line's fleet of six ships, Michaelides said. Plans also call for listings in Athens, London and New York.

"The idea for the future is to extend and expand our operations in areas where we have a competitive advantage, in addition to upgrading and enlarging the fleet," Michaelides said.

The company is owned by the Louis Tourist Agency and Costakis Loizou, who also serves as chairman. After the IPO, 70 percent of the company will be held by its present owners, Michaelides said.

The organization is involved in all areas of travel and tourism, including travel agencies, hotels, duty-free shops and catering at airports in Cyprus, Poland, Hungary and Moscow. In addition, the organization is the master franchisee of the international Italian restaurant chain SBARRO for Greece and Cyprus.

The cruise line markets two- and three-day cruises to some two million tourists spending their vacations in Cyprus, Michaelides said.

"Our philosophy for the future is to invest in younger ships," Michaelides said, "but we emphasize the destination and not the ship itself."

To that end, the line has offered weekend cruises for the second straight year from Cyprus to Beirut aboard the 633-passenger Princesa Cypria from May to September. Toe tours are filled mostly by British, German, Scandinavian, Russian and a small percentage of American passengers already spending their holiday in Cyprus, Michaelides said. "The weekend cruise takes them to the Casino Du Li ban in Beirut," he said. In addition to gambling, visitors are treated to the Lido Cabaret from Paris, he said.

"It's very popular. Every weekend the ship is full of passengers," he said, stressing that passengers raised concerns about safety last year when the cruises were first offered. This year "it's a very popular place, full of life and word has gotten around. It's very popular with foreigners," he said. "It's no problem."

The line was not affected by this year's conflict in Kosovo because none of its ships sail the Adriatic Sea, Michaelides said.

Louis Cruise Line has charter agreements with two British tour operators (Thomson Holidays and First Choice Holidays), who pay the line a fixed amount, while Louis operates the ships. "We provide the ship, the crew and everything else, except for the entertainment. We assist in shore excursions," Michaelides said.

The line charters the 1,174-passenger Emerald and the 650-passenger Sapphire to Thomson Holidays. The Emerald sails seven-days year-round in the Caribbean and the Sapphire sails seven-day cruises in the Western Mediterranean.

In April 2000 the 650-passenger Ausonia will be chartered to First Choice Holidays for cruises in the Eastern and Western Med.