There is now yet another player vying to enter the U.S.-flag cruise market. Startup Mayflower Ocean Lines plans to charter a late 1980s-built foreign-flag ship in the 1,600-passenger range, re-flag it U.S., then place an order for a 75,000-ton, 2,000-passenger vessel at a U.S. yard, according to principal Robert Chamberlin.

Mayflower Ocean Lines was incorporated in Florida in early 2000, and plans to target a largely business-oriented clientele, sailing seven-day cruises departing Mondays from either Port Everglades or Miami, calling in Key West, St. Thomas and San Juan. "It's what we call 'American Caribbean' cruises," he explained, noting that the targeted passenger mix would be comprised of 70 percent business travelers and 30 percent leisure travelers. Prices for a seven-day cruise would be competitive with a five-day land-based stay, and would allow for all U.S. convention tax deductions.

Stylistically, the ship would celebrate "the heritage of U.S. maritime history, from the Mayflower to the S.S. United States," said Chamberlin, who bas been involved in the cruise industry for 16 years, previously serving as port operations manager for Holland America Line and before that, for port agent Eller & CO. He said other principals in Mayflower Ocean Lines include "industry veterans" who could not be named at this time.

Currently, Mayflower is in negotiations to bring aboard a major hotel chain as a joint-venture partner in the deal. The company also plans to apply for Title XI loan guarantees. Chamberlin said that requests for proposals for construction of the newbuild would go out to all U.S. yards, although be mentioned Ingalls Shipbuilding and Nassco as likely candidates.

Chamberlin's timetable is to get the chartered vessel into operation by mid to late 2002, with a five­ year construction plan for the newbuilding. He confirmed that in order to provide the necessary business facilities, the chartered vessel would have to have interior reconfiguration work done, thus, a long­ term charter would be necessitated.