MSC Cruises towards duplication of the fleet

Genoa - Onorato: “Seven more ships will be launched by 2022”. Four will be built by Fincantieri.

di Alberto Ghiara

Genoa - Two hundred million Euros for the Renaissance programme, five billion in total if you count the seven ships that will be built between now and 2022: this is the planned investment by MSC Cruises, the company that yesterday presented the MSC Armonia in Genoa. The ship has been extended and modernized by Fincantieri in Palermo. The new units will double the capacity of the fleet, from 40,000 to 80,000 passengers per day. “And to think,” the managing director Gianni Onorato remembers, “that in 2004 we hosted 80 thousand passengers throughout the year.” MSC Cruises is going through a period of rapid growth, reminiscent of the climb to the top by its sister company dedicated to container business, which is now the largest in the world if we also take into account the ships to be built. The shipowner Gianluigi Aponte, who recently handed over the leadership of the group to his son Diego, is behaving as if he would like the satisfaction of becoming a “top player”, in other words, one of the largest operators in the world including the passenger business, but competitors are far ahead.

Since the group is not listed on the stock exchange, it does not leak information about their accounts. The only information that has filtered through, is that the turnover of MSC Cruises was €1.45 billion in 2013, an increase compared to 2012. But are the investments put in place sustainable? “The numbers,” Onorato says, “are giving us courage. This year, we were able to raise prices and we have seen a drop of 20-25% in the price of bunker fuel for ships, which was the main cost for all companies. This will allow the shipping industry to be more optimistic.” The forecasted industry growth also supports investment: 9% per year in Western Europe, where the share of the total number of tourists is still low (1% compared with 3% in the US). MSC’s plans provide for the expansion of four ships (the just delivered Harmony, Sinfonia arriving in January 2015, Lirica in May and Opera on 31st August) as part of the Renaissance programme. Following that, a further four ships will be added to the fleet, with a possible three more to be confirmed. Onorato has confirmed, “We have based our plans with a view to have seven more ships.”

The ships will be built in the STX shipyard in Saint Nazaire, France (two ordered and one under option) and Fincantieri in Italy (two ordered plus two options). The first step was the presentation of the MSC Armonia yesterday. 24 metres were added to the ship, by way of “naval surgery”: the ship was literally cut in half to insert a new section 24 meteres long and weighing 2,200 tons, which will allow the addition of 193 cabins for passengers and 59 for the crew. During the party, new areas for children were opened, equipped by the sponsors Chicco and Lego. The godmother was the show-girl Lorella Cuccarini (pictured with Gianni Onorato). Today, the ship starts the first trip to the Canary Islands, where it will stay for the winter. MSC’s activities will be centered in the Mediterranean area but the company is hoping to create a stronger presence in South America (where a fifth ship will be added in 2015), Dubai (where a larger ship will be assigned), and South Africa (where Symphony will go). Meanwhile, in January, the new headquarters of Genoa will be inaugurated, which will bring together 600 people in one building, including the container and cruise divisions.