Who Owns MSC Cruises – Behind the Global Cruise Line

Who owns MSC Cruises? MSC Cruises is a privately held, family-owned operation with its beginnings in Naples, Italy, that has grown exponentially.

Initially founded in Naples, Italy, in 1989, MSC Cruises is now located in Geneva, Switzerland. They have 19 cruise ships in their fleet and employ about 30,000 people. These statistics make this company one of the most rapidly growing global cruise brands. We explore in depth who owns MSC Cruises and its history.

MSC Cruises provides luxury accommodations with a relaxing and upscale experience on board. It is most known for its European hospitality. It attracts a slightly younger crowd, with the average age being 45 years, while other cruise lines average those who are 46 years of age.

Until recently, MSC Cruises generally catered to Europeans, with most customers coming from Germany, France, Italy, and Spain.

MSC Cruises is an upscale cruise ship line designed to catch the attention of luxury travelers, with MSC Yacht Club being at the top of its fleet. The MSC Yacht Club has a pool, private lounge, restaurant, and sun areas. They also have a 24-hour butler with a dedicated concierge.

In 2017, they expanded their fleet to create a location in North America. Previously, they only had one vessel in North America. However, they now have three MSC cruise ships that are based out of United States ports.

They are currently building MSC cruise ships that are large and resort-like to cater to the North American crowd. They provide various forms of entertainment ranging from race car simulators to huge waterparks.

Who Owns MSC Cruises?

Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) is the owner of MSC Cruises. They are the second-largest business in the container shipping industry. They have 570 container ships. Mediterranean Shipping Company includes these divisions:

  • Mediterranean Shipping Company – cargo shipping
  • MSC Cruises – holiday cruises
  • Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV) – ferries
  • Società Navigazione Alta Velocità (SNAV) – ferry operation
  • Terminal Investment Limited – port operations
  • MSC Ship Management Limited – shoreside and onboard crew
  • MEDLOG – inland logistics

The Founder

Gianluigi Aponte is the person who owns MSC Cruises, alongside his family: wife Rafaela, daughter Alexa, and son Diego. Aponte is an Italian billionaire and MSC’s owner, founder, and chairman. His family is involved in crucial roles throughout the business. 

Gianluigi and Rafaela Aponte have a net worth of $13.2 billion, making them one of the wealthiest couples in the shipping industry. They are also known to be the 126th richest people in the world.

Gianluigi Aponte
Gianluigi Aponte (Photo: MSC)

Gianluigi was born June 27, 1940, and owned the Mediterranean Shipping Company, which was the parent company of MSC Cruises. MSC operates 510 cargo ships. 

Gianluigi started out as a ship captain and entered the shipping industry in 1970 with his wife alongside. Since then, MSC has grown to be the second-largest shipping company globally by vessel capacity, only slightly behind AP Moller Maersk. 

In terms of their cruise line, they rank fourth largest behind Carnival Corporation, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, and Royal Caribbean Group. Gianluigi retired from his position as CEO of MSC in 2014, becoming chairman. Diego, his son, took over the role from his father.

Is MSC Cruises Privately or Publicly Owned?

Other cruise lines are publicly traded and owned by shareholders. On the other hand, MSC Cruises is privately owned by the Aponte family and is one of the world’s largest privately owned cruise lines.

MSC Cruises in Miami
Photo Credit: Solarisys / Shutterstock

Since the company is privately owned, it does not have stock. People cannot buy shares in this company as they can with Royal Caribbean, Carnival Cruise Line, and Norwegian Cruise Line. 

The current CEO of the business is Gianni Onorato. Gianni Onorato has 30 years of experience within the cruise ship industry, having previously been the president of Costa Cruises, and has held the position since 2013. 

History of MSC Cruises

Despite MSC Cruises being founded in 1989, the Aponte family was involved in the shipping industry much earlier than this. 

The first known record of their involvement was in 1675, with shipping going in and out of Naples, Italy. This operation included the ship felucca Giovannina, which went around the Sorrento Peninsula for many years. 

The cargo division of the Mediterranean Shipping Company began in 1970 when Gianluigi borrowed money to buy his first ship, the Patricia, then the Rafaela, and founded the company. Gianluigi started the first route between the Mediterranean and Somalia.

MSC Shipping
MSC Shipping (Photo Credit: Mariusz Bugno / Shutterstock)

In 1989, MSC purchased Lauro Lines and was renamed StarLauro Cruises with the two ships, Achille Lauro and Monterey. Achille Lauro originally founded Lauro Lines during the 1960s. It began operating the MS Achille Lauro and MS Angelina Lauro. Mr. Lauro was a mentor to Aponte. This marked MSC’s first cruise line.

In 1979, Angelina Lauro sank at a pier in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. This event spiraled the company (then Lauro Lines) into financial challenges. The fleet remained at two ships until Achille Lauro caught fire in December 1994. It sank off the coast of Somalia while it was headed to South Africa. The financial difficulties allowed the company to be open to being purchased by MSC.

Former Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: beagle84 / Creative Commons

In 1995, the cruise line again changed names to MSC Cruises. That same year, they bought the Cunard Princess, renaming it MSC Rhapsody. They also purchased MSC Symphony. Melody joined the MSC Cruises fleet in 1997, bringing the company to four cruise ships.

Fifteen years later, the company invested 5.5 billion euros in building 12 new cruise ships to establish the most modern fleet. In 2014, they again invested 5.1 billion euros for seven new ships, along with the enlargement of four pre-existing vessels.

Two years later, they invested 3.9 billion euros for four world-class ships and paid 2.6 billion euros for another three vessels the following year. This year, MSC Cruises announced it would create an additional cruise terminal in Miami for these ships. It is to be an expansion of their North American program, which was originally slated for completion in 2022, but is now expected to be completed in December 2023.

MSC Cruises Miami Terminal
Render Courtesy: MSC Cruises

Later that same year, MSC unveiled they had purchased four luxury ships that were 64,000 gross tons. These cruise lines were to be ultra-luxury vessels based on the luxury concept of MSC Yacht Club. The first of these ships will launch during the spring of 2023.

The year 2019 marked the beginning of a 100-year lease on an island called Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve. They opened their doors that year to receive guests and announced the first virtual cruise assistant called ZOE. Harman International created this artificial intelligence device, featured on MSC Grandiosa and MSC Bellissima. It will also be on future builds once delivered.

After the pandemic in 2020, MSC Cruises was the first large cruise line to restart operations, thanks to their industry-leading protocols in health and safety. 

In January 2021, MSC announced MSC Grandiosa would begin a seven-night cruise and that MSC Magnifica would resume ten-night cruises in February. Both cruises were in the Mediterranean and only open to Schengen countries.

MSC Grandiosa in Barcelona, Spain
Photo Courtesy: MSC Cruises

In June, MSC stated it was beginning a luxury brand called Explora Journeys along with four ships beginning with Explora. They also unveiled the first robotic bartender found at sea called Rob. It appeared on the MSC Virtuosa

MSC Cruises is registered in Switzerland, with its headquarters in Geneva. It has operational offices in Venice, Genoa, and Naples. The company provides cruises on a global scale, catering to different nationalities. Therefore, it has many languages spoken while guests are on board. Announcements are frequently made in German, French, Spanish, Italian, and English. 

They have recently signed a deal spanning several years with Formula 1 as an official cruise partner. They are in the middle of a significant expansion, building four mega-ships designed to weigh 200,000 tonnes. Each of these ships will carry 6,761 passengers.

Read Also: MSC Cruises Ships by Size, Age and Class

MSC Cruises will build another class of large ships that will arrive later this decade, along with a series of smaller luxury cruise lines operating under separate divisions. The onboard entertainment centers around visuals like acrobats, dancers, or music. 

Where Are MSC Cruise Destinations?

While it sails everywhere globally, the MSC group is mostly concentrated in Europe, where it is the largest cruise operator. During the summer, they deploy most ships in Northern Europe or the Mediterranean. Recently, they have run two ships in Florida over the summer months to the Caribbean islands and the Bahamas.

MSC Cruise Ships
Photo Credit: Luciavonu / Shutterstock

During winter, more ships are added to the Bahamas and Caribbean routes. Four ships will also be sent to South America, although there are plans for a fifth. Vessels are also deployed to go to the Middle East and South Africa.

Interesting Facts

Sophia Loren was asked if she was interested in being MSC Lirica’s godmother for its launch in 2003. Since then, she has christened every fleet vessel up until the MSC Virtuosa

Regrettably, because of the COVID pandemic, she did not christen the MSC World Europa and MSC Virtuosa, but Zoe Vago, Aponte’s granddaughter, did.


Who owns MSC Cruises? The cruise line is still proudly owned by the Aponte family, whose family members work in various capacities within the business. It has an interesting history of success and steady growth, making it the fourth-largest cruise fleet in the world.

MSC Cruises FAQ

When did MSC Cruises begin?

MSC Cruises was established in 1988, starting with the cruise ship Monterey. Previously, the cruise line was known as Lauro Lines.

Are MSC Cruises privately owned?

Yes, MSC Cruises is a privately owned company based in Geneva, Switzerland. The cruise line is part of the Mediterranean Shipping Company, founded by Gianluigi Aponte.

Haiyan Ma
Haiyan Ma
I absolutely love cruising with my favorite ports of call being in the Caribbean. As a former crew member for Disney Cruise Line, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival Cruise Line I can continue my passion by sharing my experiences with readers. Find out more about us here.


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