Mediterranean Shipping Cruises (MSC) is gearing up for the debut of its North American sailing program.

The 1,180-passenger Melody (ex-Starship Atlantic) launches a program of nine 12-day cruises from Ft. Lauderdale, starting Jan. 13 through April 11.

The Melody will call at Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios, Santo Domingo, Turks and Caicos, and Key West on its Jan. 13 , Feb 4 and 26, March 20, and April 11 sailings, and at St. Thomas, Guadeloupe, Grenada, Barbados, Antigua and the Turks and Caicos, on its Jan. 24, Feb. 15, March 9 and 31 sailings.

The cruise-only rates, including port taxes, range from $995 per person to $3,395. An early booking discount of 15 percent is offered on bookings four months prior to sailing.

Genoa-based MSC has offices in New York while Florida-based John Mucklow has been brought aboard as director of sales. Mucklow was most recently with Premier Cruise Lines and before that with Costa Cruises and Home Lines.

Mucklow said that his goal is to fill 75 percent of the cruise capacity here with North American passengers. That translates into 7,500 passengers, Mucklow explained.

Mucklow said that MSC has some unique selling points, including attractive pricing; unique itineraries; and Italian crew. According to Mucklow, MSC employs Italians in all service areas as well as the captain and senior officers.

He also said that MSC has signed contracts with several of the travel consortia; carried out a mailing to Cruise Line International Association member travel agents; and tested some consumer advertising.

According to Mucklow, the four-ship company plans to add two more ships in the next 12 months, with the sixth ship based in North America year-round.