MOONACHIE, N.J. -- MSC Cruises tapped former Celebrity Cruises president Richard Sasso to head its North American operations. Sasso said he accepted a position as president and CEO of MSC Cruises U.S.A.

MSC Cruises, which markets primarily in Europe, is based in Naples, Italy, and is a division of Mediterranean Shipping Co., a privately owned line based in Geneva that operates 225 container vessels.

But MSC Cruises is a relative unknown in the U.S. cruise business, something that Sasso said he'll be working to change.

MSC, he said, "has been growing very rapidly and building and buying new ships. There is a need to create a North American presence to accommodate that kind of growth."

The line recently was awarded the European Vision, which formerly was operated by Festival Cruises, in an auction in Barbados. The ship has been renamed the Armonia, MSC said.

MSC also has expressed interest in the two remaining Festival Cruises ships, the Mistral and the European Stars.

The line's newest build, the 1,760-passenger Opera, meanwhile, will begin operations in June; last year the line took delivery of its sister, the Lirica.

In March, MSC placed orders for two 2,550-passenger cruise ships, with an option for a third. MSC also operates three older vessels.

The Lirica and the Opera will be based in Fort Lauderdale this winter. Sasso said MSC Cruises will expand operations in the U.S., including opening a Florida headquarters.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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