Carnival Corporation ship

(9:20 a.m. EST) -- Carnival Corporation & plc has signed a binding memorandum of agreement with Italian shipyard Fincantieri and the China State Shipbuilding Corporation for the construction of two cruise ships to be built in China for the Chinese market. The agreement also includes an option for four additional ships.

There is no detail on either the size or the capacity of the new ships, the first of which will be delivered in 2023 and will be operated by the new Chinese cruise brand -- the first domestic Chinese cruise line designed specifically for the Chinese traveler.

The agreement is valued at approximately $1.5 billion for the two ships.

Carnival Corp.'s joint venture -- a partnership announced in 2015 with CSSC in which Carnival Corporation holds a minority interest -- will launch the cruise brand initially using ships that are purchased from Carnival Corporation's existing fleet.

"We are proud to be able to order the first China-built cruise ships and play a leadership role in developing cruise shipbuilding capabilities for the first time in China," Arnold Donald, CEO of Carnival Corp., said in a written statement. He added the agreement represents an "important milestone" in building a globally prosperous cruise industry.

The new ships will be built at the Shanghai Waigaoqiao Shipbuilding Co. Ltd.'s shipyard. Under the agreement, Carnival Corp. will provide onsite supervision and support during ship construction.

--By Dori Saltzman, Senior Editor