A gold coin won by a member of the family that owns MSC Cruises in a piano-playing contest has been welded to the keel of MSC Fantasia, which will join the cruise line's fleet in autumn next year.

This was a very significant move given that music and tradition are the cornerstone of MSC's strong company values as, indeed, the names of the liners themselves suggest.

MSC Cruises is owned by the Aponte family and the coin welded the ship's keel belonged to Rafaela Aponte, recognised in Geneva as an acclaimed pianist. The coin was given to her by a music conservatory in Geneva as the first prize for her piano-playing.

Apart from Mrs Aponte's coin, another gold coin, this time coming from the shipyard, was also welded to the keel.

This occurred during a traditional ceremony held earlier this week at the Aker Yards in Saint-Nazaire, France.

The steel-cutting ceremony marking the beginning of another MSC liner - the Serenata, which will join the fleet in spring 2009 - was held on the same occasion.

The MSC Fantasia and the MSC Serenata are two of the largest ships built for a European ship owner. Present for the two ceremonies were MSC Cruises CEO Pierfrancesco Vago and the Director General of Aker Yards Jacques Hardelay.

Mr Vago said the event heralded the start of his company's new builds of post-Panamax (Panamax are the maximum dimensions that will fit through the locks of the Panama Canal) prototypes.

"MSC Fantasia represents an innovative product for the European cruise industry with the birth of a new concept - La Dolce Vita. These two ships will be offering a unique experience including a three dimensional cinema, a 1,500 square metre spa, plus an interactive sports bar and the Tex Mex restaurant, which will be open 24 hours, seven days a week," he said.

The Fantasia will ply the Mediterranean.

Domenico Pellegrino, MSC Cruises' managing director, said the building of the two new ships meant the company was setting new standards of quality. "This combination of new technology and innovative design, added to great maritime traditions and the culture of European hospitality, enables us to offer an inimitable product, eminently suited to the discerning cruise traveller".

MSC Cruises are represented exclusively in Malta by Hamilton Travel Ltd, of Floriana.

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