Louis Cruise Lines, based in Nicosia, Cyprus, has purchased the former Ocean Princess, which Thomson Vacations - reportedly the largest tour operator in the United Kingdom - will charter for its entry into the cruise business in 1996.

Thomson has recently been rumored to be looking at ships following the quick success of its competitor, Airtours, which last year bought the former Nordic Prince and Southward, of Royal Caribbean Cruise Line and Norwegian Cruise Line, respectively, and recorded a sold-out inaugural season this summer.

However, the British cruise market may be suffering a supply-and-demand scenario somewhat reminiscent of what has occurred in North America, and consequently has been fraught with cruise price discounts, at times as low as 399 pounds for a seven­ day Mediterranean sailing.

The quick infusion of beds, according to Robert Duffett, Chairman of PSARA, a London-based cruise association with 1,600 travel agent members, could make selling cruises harder, especially in a relatively young market "There's a risk of further discounting with the additional tonnage, and it's already becoming harder (for retailers) to show a profit at the end of a day," said Duffett.

Presently, there are approximately 7,000 retail agents in the UK, with about 45 percent in the ownership of four mega companies, Duffett added.


According to George Chr. Michaelides, General Manager of Marketing at Louis, the vessel, to be renamed Princess Oceanica, was acquired from the Greek-owned Duchess Navigation Corporation of Monrovia, Liberia for $9 million. Louis, which will operate the ship, will refurbish the ship at the Perama shipyard in Piraeus for about $6.1 million. (The Ocean Princess was declared a total loss when she struck an underwater object on the Amazon and sank two years ago.) In addition to increasing the number of staterooms from 250 to 270, sprinklers and smoke detectors, as well as new carpets and furniture, will be added. Completion of the refurbishment is expected next January.

Thomson will receive the ship next April, renaming her the Saphire for the charter which may be up to three years. From May-October 1996, the Saphire will conduct two distinct programs from Majorca, Spain to various Mediterranean ports. During April and November, the Saphire will sail from Cyprus to Rhodes, Piraeus, Heraklion, Port Said and Haifa.

Currently Louis' five-ship fleet offers two- and three-day sailings to Israel and Egypt and five- and seven-day programs to the Greek Islands and Israel, some of which were sold through Thomson as part of all-inclusive vacation packages.