New NCL chief plans major fleet expansion

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MIAMI -- Former Princess Cruises executive Colin Veitch was hand-picked by Star Cruises to run Norwegian Cruise Line following Star and Carnival's 60-40 purchase of the struggling line. In an interview shortly after his arrival at NCL, Veitch made it clear which party is in control of NCL's future.

"The arrangement is still being finalized, [but] Star is taking an active role in the management of NCL, and Carnival is a friend," said Veitch. "Obviously, when you have a friend like Carnival, it's a tremendous asset."

Veitch said NCL's future hinges on a rapid infusion of new tonnage. "The main thing that needs to be done is to put new ships into the fleet. NCL's name is known, and the attributes of the brand are good ones," he said. "But we need the latest and newest ships to keep up with what the others are putting out."

NCL is building a 2,000-passenger, 80,000-GRT ship in Bremerhaven, Germany, with delivery set for September 2001. Veitch said the NCL will need more ships of the same scale. "We need ships that can compete in the Caribbean and Alaska, good 2,000-passenger ships that can be workhorses in the marketplace."

In fact, Veitch says NCL's only recently built ship, 2,000-passenger Norwegian Sky, "has been under-presented and under-appreciated in the marketplace."

But Veitch dismissed the notion that Star, which is building two 2,000-passenger, 85,000-GRT ships due for delivery this year and in 2002, would transfer the new ships to the NCL fleet, or take a smaller NCL vessel into the Star fleet.

"We don't have plans to transfer any ships in either direction," Veitch said. "The new Star ships would work in any market, but they will not sail for NCL. The plan is to build more ships specifically for NCL."

For now, said Veitch, the classic liner Norway, NCL's oldest vessel, will remain in the NCL fleet. "The Norway is a unique ship, an entirely different beast. If we can develop some different itineraries for Norway, there's still a future for the ship."

Veitch, who was a highly respected figure at Princess and its parent company P&O, admits he hasn't been among the industry's most visible cruise executives. Nevertheless, he was selected by Star to replace former NCL chief executive officer Geir Aune even before Star finalized its deal to buy NCL.

Veitch attributed his low public profile to "a lack of the ability to promote myself," and said he'd established a relationship with key Star officials over the course of his duties for Princess.

"I've known the people at Star for three years; I visited their ships just like I visited many others, and I kept track of them like I did other operators," h e said. When you're in a competitive business, you keep an eye on your competitors. We are not strangers."

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