With their sleek lines and gleaming paint work, cruise ships are wonderful things to look at. But as they only have an average working life of thirty years, all that paintwork does – eventually – turn to rust. So what does happen to all those old cruise ships when their time is up? Given that they will have given thousands of passengers thousands of happy memories, most unfortunately suffer ignominious ends.
The worst end is probably to be towed to a breakers yard in somewhere like Pakistan, India or Turkey and be broken up for scrap. Sometimes these breakers yards are simply beaches where hundreds of (unprotected) workers swarm over the vessels pulling them apart.
Another dismal end is to be deliberately sunk. Most naval vessels end their lives this way and an increasing number of cruise ships are too, although they can then provide happy memories to another group of holidaymakers, scuba divers.
A small cruise ship called Salamanda has been sunk in the sea off Fiji and is now encrusted with anemones and coral, much to the delight of scuba divers. Meanwhile, the more famous 736-passenger cruise ship Bianca C sank off a popular tourist beach called Grand Anse in Grenada in 1961. It’s now inhabited by sharks, eels and eagle rays, and is considered to be one of the world’s best dive wrecks.
Some cruise ships don’t even get that far and are simply abandoned at sea. That’s what happened to the unfortunate Ocean liner America (which later became the American Star) when it was being towed across the Atlantic for conversion into a luxury hotel. It ran aground off the Canary Islands in a storm and broke in two and most of the ship’s structure collapsed into the sea. The remainder of the vessel is now only visible at low tide.
Being converted into a floating hotel or museum is a much more dignified end as has happened to Cunard’s Queen Mary, which was retired in 1967 and is now permanently docked in Long Beach, California. It also happened – finally – to Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth 2, which was retired in 2008, but spent decades in limbo before finally finding a permanent berth in Dubai where it now boasts 224 hotel rooms, 13 restaurants and bars and various entertainments.
Some cruise ships have been turned into residential communities or retirement homes at sea, whilst others are repurposed to provide temporary accommodation to construction workers or even victims of natural disasters.
Ship graveyards can be found all over the world. You can visit some, such as the Arthur Kill Boat Yard in New York, Landévennec in France and Port Adelaide in South Australia.
But spare a thought for those that just remain in limbo. Perhaps the most famous of these is one of these is the United States, one of the world’s best-known cruise liners, which broke the transatlantic speed record on its maiden voyage in 1952. It was retired in 1969 but as several owners failed to make it pay so its furniture and fittings were sold off and its interior stripped out. The once grand ship now sits in the Delaware River in Philadelphia. A sad end to a ship that had such a bright start to life.