Former Celebrity Honcho Assumes MSC Helm

April 28, 2004
Rick Sasso, the former Celebrity Cruises president who also has worked for Costa, has been named president and chief executive officer of MSC Italian Cruises. The company is the U.S. marketing arm for the Naples-based MSC Crociere (formerly known as MSC Crociere Italiane).

This executive shuffle strikes us as particularly relevant because MSC Crociere is the largest all-Italian financed cruise line (Costa is, of course, part of the Carnival Corp. fleet of cruise lines), and as a result of the demise of its other European-based competition -- specifically First European/Festival and Royal Olympic -- it is just about the only line left to compete against Costa.

In an interview today with Cruise Critic, Sasso says his experience with Celebrity, in which "we promised a great product at a fair price with exceptional service and top-rated food -- and then maintained that," will serve him well in his new post. First order of business, Sasso says, "is to make sure people know about MSC. This is an Italian-European cruise line that emphasizes service and food."

He notes that Italian crew and officers on MSC's ships account for 85 percent.

Indeed, MSC has already picked up one of Festival/First European's ships -- European Vision, after a refurbishment, will begin sailing for under the cruise line's flag as MSC Armonia in late May. (Read MSC Italian Cruises Acquires Festival's Vision for more information.) The company has also, beyond Sasso's appointment, made numerous changes to the company.

Key among them is the design and launch of its first newbuild; MSC Lirica debuted just last year. MSC Opera, its second newbuild and a sister ship to Lirica, will premiere this year, in late June. Two more newbuilds are on order, with expected delivery dates in 2006 and 2007. In addition, the six-ship fleet includes three older vessels -- MSC Melody, MSC Monterey and MSC Rhapsody; the latter received a significant refurbishment earlier this year.

When asked about the chance of MSC's acquiring other Festival/First European ships that come up at auction Sasso doesn't discount the possibility, maintaining that the cruise line is most definitely in growth mode. He also says MSC could potentially be placing additional orders for new builds.

The Naples, Italy-based MSC Crociere -- and its U.S. subsidiary MSC Italian Cruises -- is part of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, one of the world's larger operators of cargo ships. It founded the cruise line in 1988.

Sasso, a 32-year veteran of the cruise industry, will establish a South Florida office for MSC Italian Cruises, which is currently based in New York and has a reservations center in New Jersey.