Viking Cruises Ltd. ordered two vessels to start an ocean cruise business, a first for the company, which has focused on river voyages, Chairman Torstein Hagen said.

The 928-passenger ships are being built by Fincantieri Cantieri Navali Italiani Spa and will sail beginning in 2015 and 2016, respectively, on European itineraries, Hagen, who leads Woodland Hills, California-based Viking, said yesterday in an interview. The company may order as many as four more, he said.

Viking, founded by Hagen in 1997, operates river cruises in Europe on vessels with fewer than 200 passengers. In addition to sailing smaller ships, the company aims to give passengers more time at ports, an average of 12 hours per day, and less on the water.

“Most everyone has forgotten about the destination,” Hagen said. “We want our passengers to be able to see the Sistine Chapel at night.”

The 37-vessel company has been in expansion mode, introducing 16 ships in the past two years, with 12 more to come in 2014, Hagen said. Passenger volumes have climbed 35 percent annually over the past four years.

Viking is planning its first U.S. river cruise and may sell shares to the public, Hagen said. Its smaller vessels are built by Neptun Werft Gmbh in Rostock, Germany.

Editor: Anthony Palazzo.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at cpalmeri1@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net.

Photo Credit: A Viking River Cruise on the Rhine. Rolf Heinrich / Flickr