Royal Caribbean International has signed letters of intent with three shipyards to build up to seven new ships. Four of the orders are firm and three are options, subject to confirmation in the future.

The first two ships are Millennium-class ships for Celebrity Cruises which will be built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique. Slated for delivery in June 2000 and January 2001, these ships, which are described as a progression of Celebrity's Century-class, will be about 85,000 tons and have a passenger capacity of approximately 1,900. RCI has an option on two more Millennium-class ships.

Next is a Voyager-class vessel for Royal Caribbean. Described as a progression of RCI's Vision­ class, the Voyager ships will also be about 85,000 tons and carry just over 2,000 passengers. The Voyager will be built at Meyer Werft. The first ship is slated for delivery in February 2001. RCI holds options on one more Voyager-class ship.

The building cost is about $350 million for each of the Millennium and Voyager ships.

The last is a third Eagle-class ship to be built at Kvaerner Masa-Yards. This 142,000-ton, 3,100-passenger ship is a previous option that RCI had to decide upon by January 31. The third Eagle will be delivered in spring 2002.

While the Millennium- and Voyager-class ships may share a common hull and technical platform (RCI is a little vague on this idea) similar to Carnival Corporation's new ship concept, they will share many of the same technical components and all will be equipped with Azipod propulsion drives.

The new orders bring RCI's total investments in new ships to some $3 billion between now and 2002.

The added capacity will help RCI continue to increase revenues while improving economies of scale which in turn should lead to earnings increases as the the new ships are introduced.

RCI would not comment on future deployment plans although it is known that the company intends to expand its operations in Europe, nor would the company comment on the sales of older ships. Next to be sold may be the 1982-built Soni: of America.