The joint owners of Croiseres Paquet, the Accor and Chargeur group, has acquired a 24 percent interest in Costa Crociere. The Costa family retains a 31 percent interest. The rest remains on the public market.

Plans call for the cruise ship fleets to be integrated which would create the largest cruise operation in Europe. The combined fleet of 11 vessels, which would operate under existing trade names, will have a capacity of 8,800 berths and generate annual revenues of about $500 million.

Accor and Chargeur have reportedly paid $60 million for their 24 percent interest in Costa. The Italian company has reportedly invested $1 billion in its newbuilding program and has three new ships; a fourth scheduled for delivery later this year; and four older vessels.

The Paquet group owns and operates three older ships through its Paquet, Ocean and Pearl cruise lines.

European Group

The new cruise group will get more than 50 percent of the French cruise market; 60 percent in Italy and Spain; 30 percent in Switzerland; and 60 percent of the South American market.

The new partners have not yet commented on the specific benefits of their new grouping or whether there will be any organizational changes in Europe or the United States. A prepared statement said that the new alliance between the cruise companies would "allow for unique synergies, increased stability for shareholders and increased financial strength as a group that will encourage further growth and development."

At press time, executives from Paquet and Costa were unavailable for comment and were said to be meeting in Miami.

In the meantime, speculations are ripe that Costa is getting out of the American market. Already it will be operating its new ships eight months out of the year in Europe. It may also be focusing on the European market to fill its winter cruises in the Caribbean.

Costa's recent introduction of the EuroLuxe concept was not successful and the company has since undergone a reorganization including appointment of new top level management. Still, its new ships seem to be flounderig in a very competitive North American market.

While Costa enjoys a much stronger market position in Europe, the European markets are also in a recession and are being ravaged by discounting as well.

American Family Cruises

Costa may maintain a year-round presence in North America through a new joint venture about to be announced between Costa and its new President and Chief Executive Officer, Bruce Nierenberg.

Later this month, it is expected that Costa and Nierenberg will announce the formation of American Family Cruises. It will be an attempt by Nierenberg to return to the family cruise business he helped launch successfully with Premier Cruise Lines.

Sources said that American Family Cruises would deploy the Costa Riviera and the Eugenio Costa in Miami and Tampa. It is unclear, however, how American Family Cruises expects to succeed in light of the competition offered not only by Premier but also by the other cruise lines looking for their share of the family business.