Luxury vessel with 1,188 cabins timed for delivery in 2007 as demand soars Star Cruises, the world's third-largest cruise-line operator, has commissioned German firm Jos. L Meyer to build a $4.05 billion vessel to serve North America. As part of the main board-listed company's expansion plan to satisfy growing demand, the 1,188-cabin luxury passenger cruise vessel is scheduled for delivery in the first quarter of 2007. The North American cruise market is projected to carry 10.5 million passengers this year, up 10.5 per cent on last year's record of 9.5 million, according to a Los Angeles Times report citing Cruise Lines International Association figures. Alaska and the Caribbean account for 61 per cent of the world cruise market. 'Construction of the vessel is in line with the group's long-term strategy in expanding its fleet for continuing business development,' the company said. North America accounted for 69 per cent of its turnover in this year's first nine months and Asia Pacific 24 per cent. In the period, NCLC Group, the firm's operating arm in North America and Europe, saw occupancy rise to 106.5 per cent from 104.3 per cent in the period last year. The purchase will be 80 per cent financed by loan financing and the remainder by internal resources. About $568.9 million will be payable next year, $189.6 million in 2006 and $3.2 billion in 2007. The company had US$247.41 million of cash as at September 30. With US$2.25 billion of bank debt at the time, the ratio of net bank borrowings to shareholders' equity stood at about 108 per cent. Star Cruises, controlled by Malaysian businessman Lim Goh Tong, makes port calls in Asia-Pacific, North and South America, Alaska, Antarctica, Bermuda, the Caribbean, Europe and the Mediterranean. More than 40 per cent of its 130,000 passengers a year boarded in Singapore. It has 17 vessels in operation, and three under construction - one for delivery next year and another in 2006. These and the latest vessel will be operated under the Norwegian Cruise Line and NCL America brands. Although the latest contract is a large deal that would require shareholders' approval, as two allied shareholder groups with a combined holding of more than 50 per cent have approved the deal, no shareholders meeting will be convened. Star Cruises posted a 94.71 per cent year-on-year growth in net profit to US$28.24 million for the first nine months of this year, thanks to lower depreciation expenses and a 2.31 per cent rise in turnover to US$1.24 billion. Last week, it unveiled the purchase of 20 per cent of Singapore budget airline Valuair in a deal that will allow the two companies to jointly offer fly and cruise holidays.