There appears to be a mad scramble to see which of several cruise lines will be able to launch the first one-day vessel from San Diego to capture what many believe will be a lucrative market for spillover groups from the city's new convention center.

The Port of San Diego, which lost an estimated $5 million annually when Crown Cruise Line moved the 700-passenger Viking Princess to Palm Beach, Fla., in 1985, is hoping that it can recoup those losses if any of several start-up cruise operations get the capital to move into its recently renovated $3 million cruise ship terminal.

Industry rumors have revolved around such established cruise operations as Admiral Cruises, Delta Queen, and SeaEscape and start-up Baja Sun Lines and Fiesta Cruise Lines have also been mentioned as most likely to launch a day ship there.

Although Baja Sun Lines President Herb Skyles said he would hold a press conference in San Diego this week to launch the new cruise line Admiral Cruises President Berrue Chabot denied that Admiral would take part as the supposed marketing partner in the start-up operation.

Chabot acknowledged that Admiral Cruises discussed the possibility of acting as joint marketing partner "a year ago" but emphasized that Admiral "isn't negotiating with any cruise line and we don't expect to in the near-future."

Skyles also said that Baja Sun Lines was in the final stages of negotiations to acquire the 696-passenger Pegasus from Epirotiki Line that the cruise line had sufficient capital to acquire the vessel. Epirotiki President Art Lubin said that he had "no comment" because he "doesn't know the man" but acknowledged that negotiations could be going on through other parties in Europe.

President George Diaz of what's currently called Miami Cruise Line said he hopes to acquire a northern European ferry for $4 million and convert it to a passenger ship at an unnamed West German shipyard for an additional $5.5 million. Diaz said that he has a contract to convert the vessel - if and when he purchases it - but that negotiations acquire the ferry have been hampered by the sagging value of the U.S. dollar.

Diaz said that he hopes to convert the 1,200-passenger ferry to a 1,000-passenger day ship to cash in on what he expects to be a large potential incentive and family market in San Diego when the convention center opens in 1990. He said that the renamed Fiesta Cruise Lines could begin year-round operations as early as December if contract negotiations are finalized.

A spokesman for Delta Queen Stemboat Company said that the two-ship company had, indeed, done a feasibility study about the possibility of acquiring an existing ship in Greece for a one-day operation year-round in San Diego. He said that the project was dropped about a year ago because a day-ship didn't fit in with Delta Queen's long-range plans.

President H. Joel Rahn of Atlantic Associates said recently that the company had already ordered a 600-passenger catamaran from a Spanish shipyard for the one-day San Diego cruise market as one of the major principals for Miami­ based SeaEscape. Rahn couldn't be reached at presstime to elaborate on when the day-ship operation would begin.

A spokesman for the Port of San Diego acknowledged that port officials have discussed the possibility of berthing a new one-day passenger vessel with Skyles, Diaz and several other potential operations over the past several months. He conceded that he didn't quite know which cruise operation would win the race to launch a day-ship there or if a second one would then emerge to share the day-cruise market.

One industry analyst said that he expected competition to build-up soon in several potential one-day cruise markets because many cruise operations are beginning to realize that the one-day market can be very lucrative. He acknowledged that San Diego's new convention facility should make the city more attractive for both large incentive groups and even full charters.