File photo: The island will also offer some of the finest beaches in the world.

Johannesburg - MSC Cruises is embarking on the biggest island development by any cruise company in the Caribbean.

Over the next two years a former sand extraction station in the Bahamas will be transformed into a thriving and breathtaking private marine reserve, following the signing of a 100-year lease agreement between Prime Minister Perry Christie and executive chairperson Pierfrancesco Vago.

The agreement, which was signed in the capital Nassau, will enable the company to occupy and develop the island into the Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve.

MSC Cruises will work hand-in-hand with the government and ecologists to develop the extraction station into the reserve. The project will transform the local economy base from “resource exploitation” to “resource conservation”.

In keeping with providing authentic cruise holidays, the island will also offer some of the finest beaches in the world, amid an array of Caribbean-inspired experiences.

Guests will be able to step off the ship straight on to the island by means of a purpose-built berth and pier on the seafront. This means guests can move between ship and island, which will be useful since a key part of their visit will be the night life, in particular live music and entertainment at the 2 000-seat amphitheatre, and many restaurants and bars. In addition, the ship and all onboard services – including the casino – will stay open while berthed at the reserve.

“MSC Cruises has more than 300 years of seafaring heritage, which has engendered a deep respect for the ocean that underpins the company today. The company is committed to protecting the waters it navigates and, as one of the most ecologically conscious cruise lines in the world, we will invest around $200-million (R3.3bn) in creating a flourishing natural haven from a desert island,” says Vago.

“As well as being the only marine reserve island experience, at 38.5 hectares, and with 3.5km of pristine beachfront spread across six distinct beaches, Ocean Cay MSC Marine Reserve will be – by a large margin – the biggest island development by any cruise company in the Caribbean.

“In addition, it will offer a multitude of other key distinguishing features soon to be revealed.”

Saturday Star