UK tycoon Sir Richard Branson has taken delivery of the first of four cruiseships ordered by his Virgin Voyages start-up in Italy.

Specialist yard Fincantieri said the 110,000-gt scrubber-fitted Scarlet Lady was handed over from the Genoa Sestri Ponente yard on Friday.

An official ceremony saw top management from both companies attend, and the release of a glossy launch video, and other plans are afoot to showcase the $500m ship in the UK and the US.

The 278-metre vessel, which will accommodate more than 2,770 passengers, will be at the centre of events in Dover this week and Liverpool next week, the company told TradeWinds.

It will then head over to the US for a naming ceremony in its home port of Miami on 19 March.

The second vessel, Valiant Lady, will be delivered in 2021, with ships three and four following in 2022 and 2023.

Virgin said the vessels meet the latest energy-efficiency standards with state-of-the art equipment, and it is also offsetting its direct climate change emissions through the purchase of carbon offsets.

It claimed this will be the first time a cruise line has become carbon-neutral from its first day of operation.

"It's wonderful to welcome Scarlet Lady," said Virgin Group founder Branson.

"I'm so proud that as we start this exciting journey, we also bring to life Virgin Voyages' commitment to preserving the ocean and the first of many steps towards a net zero carbon future."

"The ocean is our home, and we are on a mission to protect it. The single-biggest threat facing our ocean is climate change, and we want to be part of the solution," added Tom McAlpin, CEO and president of Virgin Voyages.

"We are committed to pioneering new technologies on board and working with our industry peers to advance research and development for zero-carbon fuels."

Adults only

The company said it is one of the first to use Climeon, a technology that uses heat generated from the ship's engines to generate electricity, decreasing the demand for fuel.

The fledgling Virgin Voyages is basing its approach on cruising with a difference: adults only, no kids allowed.

“If you’re not 18, you’re not getting on the ship,” McAlpin told TradeWinds at company headquarters in Plantation, south-eastern Florida, just outside Fort Lauderdale, last year.

It aims to shake up a sector that is dominated by Carnival Corp, Royal Caribbean Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings.

The Scarlet Lady’s itineraries will focus on the Caribbean, but future vessels will head towards Europe and may even offer world cruises.

While China is expected to have the largest cruise market by 2050, the company has said it is keeping Asia on the back burner for now.

Fincantieri has built 98 cruiseships since 1990 and another 48 are currently being designed or built at the group’s yards.