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Royal Caribbean founder who helped grow field dies at age 90

MIAMI (AP) — Arne Wilhelmsen, a founder of Royal Caribbean Cruises who helped shape the modern cruise industry, has died. He was 90. The Miami-based company said in a statement that Wilhelmsen died Saturday in Palma, Spain. No cause of death was given.

As a member of the company's board for three decades, Wilhelmsen saw the potential for the cruise industry to become one of the fastest growing segments of the vacation industry. He helped shift the hub of the industry to warm weathered places like South Florida, instead of transportation centers like New York.

He also believed in building bigger and more efficient ships. Royal Caribbean now has 61 ships, including some of the largest cruise liners in the world. “At a time when the rest of the world thought cruising was a niche use for old transatlantic liners, Arne was already seeing glimmers of the growth that was possible,” said Richard Fain, RCL’s chairman and CEO. “He had a vision of the modern cruise industry when the ‘industry’ might have been a dozen used ships, total.”

Wilhelmsen was born in Oslo, Norway in 1929. After earning an MBA at Harvard University, he worked as a chartering assistant for Norway’s EB Lund & Co. and later as a shipbroker in New York. In 1954, he joined his family's shipping concern, Anders Wilhelmsen & Co AS, and became its president in 1961.

He helped establish Royal Caribbean in 1968 with his family's company, along with two other Norwegian shipping companies. In 2003, he stepped down from the board and was succeeded by his son, Alex. No further details on survivors was listed in the company's statement, and a company representative did not immediately respond to an email inquiry.

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