French cruise line Compagnie du Ponant’s second newbuild in two years, the 264-passenger L’Austral, will spend its inaugural season in the Mediterranean after launching in April 2011.

The small-ship line launched the Austral’s sister ship, the Boreal, last May. The Boreal was Ponant's first new ship in more than a decade.

From April 27 to Oct. 11, the Austral will sail in France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Greece and Turkey.

Its seven-day maiden voyage, from Marseille to Lisbon, departs April 27.

The Austral is the fifth ship in Ponant's fleet. Terri Haas, the line's chief commercial officer, said demand for new ships exceeded the company’s expectations.

“We are ahead of where we expected to be [with bookings],” she said.

Ponant opened its first U.S. sales office this year in an attempt to expand its presence in the North American market and increase its FIT sales in the U.S..

From May to August, the Austral will sail seven-day Adriatic itineraries roundtrip from Venice, visiting the Dalmatian Coast and stopping at 11 ports and islands in Croatia and Montenegro.

From there the ship will visit Greek ports on Venice-to-Athens and Athens-to-Istanbul sailings. In November, the ship goes to Morocco, the Cape Verde Islands and Dakar, Senegal, before heading to its first season in Antarctica.

Ponant will have five ships in its fleet: the Austral, the Boreal, 64-passenger yacht Le Ponant, 90-passenger yacht Le Levant and 226-passenger ship Le Diamant.

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