Because of the growing shortage of appropriate second-hand tonnage, Mediterranean Shipping Cruises (MSC) is looking at the possibility of constructing a new cruise vessel.

"Presently, we have an option with a shipyard for a newbuilding," said Nicola Arena, president and CEO of MSC USA.

MSC is looking for ships that are no more than 10 to 15 years old and which carry about 1,200 passengers. However, MSC doesn't want to spend much more than $70 million, which it paid earlier this year for the Melody (ex-Starship Atlantic), said Arena.

"I personally believe that if a second-hand ship, even if in excellent condition, will cost more than $80 million, then we should build a new one," he added.

Arena disclaimed published reports that MSC might buy Holland America Line's Nieuw Amsterdam. "We did look at the ship, and she would fit our requirements, but she is not for sale,' he noted.

MSC may feel compelled to build a new ship as another European company, Festival Cruises, will receive a newbuilding in 1999 from Chantiers de l'Atlantique. Until recently, regional European operators have been expanding their fleets with older vessels largely purchased from North American lines. However, as some of those North American operators have been bringing their newer vessels to Europe, European travelers are becoming more sophisticated about cruising and thus may want newer, more amenities-laden ships.

Meanwhile, MSC is gearing up for its entry into the Caribbean market and, more significantly, is looking to attract more Americans. MSC also wants to solidify its standing with Europeans, including the line's 25 percent repeat passenger base, primarily from Germany, Italy, France and Switzerland.

MSC will carry an estimated 100,000 passengers in 1997, with about five percent of its Mediterranean customers hailing from North America.

Beginning Jan. 13, 1998, the Melody will conduct a series of 12-day Caribbean cruises from Fort Lauderdale. Per diem pricing start at $102 per person. If booked four months or more in advance a 15 percent discount applies, dropping the daily rates to $86.

According to Arena, MSC is aiming for a 50-50 passenger mix between Americans and Europeans for its inaugural Caribbean season. "It is the first test for us in North America. If it goes well for us, then we could place two vessels in the Caribbean for winter 1998/99," said Arena.

MSC has already inked deals with some major consortia, including GEM, Cruiselink and Space & Leisure.