Mediterranean Shipping Cruises (MSC) which has purchased the 1982-built, 36,500-ton, 1,098-passenger Starship Atlantic, plans to introduce another ship by 1998, bringing it to a five-ship fleet, according to Managing Director Antonio De Rosa.

Meanwhile, the Atlantic will be renamed the Melody and will join the three vessels currently owned by the line, the Monterey, Rhapsody (formerly the Cunard Princess), and Symphony (formerly the Eugenio Costa,).

MSC markets its cruises in Europe and carried more than 41,000 passengers during its 1996 Mediterranean season, from March through October, De Rosa explained.

In addition, MSC has found a significant market in South Africa which produced 49,000 passengers for the company last year, as well as in South America, where De Rosa said that the line is developing new markets in Argentina and Brazil.

New Caribbean Player

According to Nicola Arena, president of MSC (USA), the ship will begin sailing in the Caribbean in early January 1998. He said the ship will have a four­ month cruising period in the Caribbean, probably sailing out of Miami (although homeport arrangements have not been finalized), and would offer 11-day cruises catering to the median-to-upscale market.

Itineraries have not been definitively set, however, MSC has announced it will offer alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises.

"In the past, we've been able to fill our ships on the Mediterranean cruises with Europeans. But now, with the addition of the new ship, which is a big one, we're technically doubling our capacity in the Mediterranean. So we will be aggressively looking for more American passengers," said Arena.

Even more aggressive will be efforts to fill the Canbbean sailings with American passengers. Arena said the company is aiming for a 50-50 mix of Americans and Europeans on the Florida-based program.

Arena believes that MSC will be able to find its own niche in the highly competitive Caribbean market. "We certainly do not intend to compete with the big boys," he explained. "We are very much aware of our limitations. But we do offer a quality product for discriminating passengers who don't like the big crowds and glitz of modern ships. Also, we believe there is a certain market that wants to take a European-style cruise," he said, noting the ship's Italian service and cuisine.

Classic Italian

In fact, De Rosa is confident that MSC has found its niche offering a classic Italian atmosphere, because Costa Crociere is no longer truly Italian, De Rosa said. "Our passengers want Italian waiters and stewards," he said. "They don't find them anymore aboard Costa's ships."

With regards to future plans, Arena explained, "Even though we may not be well known in the cruise industry, MSC's parent company, Swiss-based Mediterranean Shipping Company, is one of the largest shipping companies in the world. The company owns 72 ships, and we are not intimidated by growth in the passenger field. We intend to expand ship by ship and grow responsibly."