U.K. conversion yard Cammel Laird will perform what has been dubbed "the largest ship conversion operation ever performed on a cruise liner anywhere in the world," signing an $80 million contract to lengthen Costa Crociere's 53,000-ton, 1,300-passenger Costa Classica, and beating out a competing bid from San Giorgo Del Puerto/T.Mariotti.

Work is scheduled to begin in Cammell Laird's Birkenhead shipyard in November 2000, with scheduled completion set for March 2001. The overall conversion job - valued in its entirety at $100 million including the owner-supplied aspects - encompasses the following:

• Addition of a new midsection to lengthen the vessel by 146 feet, from its current length of 724 feet to a new size of 870 feet.

• The addition of an entirely new deck, which combined with the lengthening will increase the Classica's gross tonnage from 53,000 to 78,000.

• The addition of 352 new cabins, increasing capacity from 1,300 passengers to 2,012 (double occupancy). The number of suites has been increased to 32, while 126 cabins overall will be equipped with verandas (to be incorporated on cabins installed on the new deck).

• The addition of a new swimming pool and large new public areas.

• The upgrading of the ship's propulsion system, which will give the Classica a cruising speed of 21 knots and a maximum speed of 22.5 knots. The contract for the Costa Classica also includes an option for similar work aboard the Costa Romantica, which is slated to be completed between November 2001 and March 2002.