2.11.2007

Poor old 'Lady'

This is a prodigiously long blog post, but it's something I've been meaning to write about for awhile.

So, my family likes to cruise. It's been our family vacation every year for many years now, and as a result I've cruised on four different lines — Norwegian, Celebrity, Carnival (blech) and Royal Caribbean. We've largely gone to different areas of the Caribbean, although last year we went to Bermuda, and this year we're doing a New England/Canada thing.

When I mention this to people, they often ask what my favorite cruise was, or what was my favorite place to go. Favorite cruise, hands down, was our first, on the SS Norway:


Doesn't look like your usual McMegaCruiseShip, does it? That's because the Norway was built as the SS France, one of the last (along with the Queen Elizabeth 2) Transatlantic ocean liners.

The France, which for a long time was the longest ship in the world, didn't have a very long career as an ocean liner. By the time she came out, flights had become a more popular way to cross the Atlantic. By the mid-70s, the ship was mothballed, until it was resurrected by Norwegian Cruise Lines to serve as a Caribbean cruise ship, and rechristened the SS Norway.

While the ship doesn't look like one of those giant floating plastic things that run laps around the Caribbean now, it was HUGE for a cruise ship in the 1980s, and pioneered those mega ships. It was built super long so that it could sit on the crest of three ocean waves at once, and the photo above was taken, I believe by my mom, from a tender, a smaller boat used to get from the ship to shore at many of the Caribbean islands. The ship needs a deep water port to dock — think New York, not St. Thomas — and it was so big it carried two boats that were oceanworthyin themselves.

While the ship had undergone a lot of renovation, and had even had decks added, to make it more suitable for cruising, there were still lots of places where you could still see that ocean liner — in the dining rooms, certain lounges, and its glassed-in promenade (nobody spent much time outdoors crossing the Atlantic). I love old things and ocean liners, so I thought it was super cool.

When we cruised on the Norway, in 2002, despite her age and lack of rock-climbing walls and ice skating arenas and other such things in the newer mega ships, she was still the second most popular ship in NCL's fleet. In 2001, she went on what was supposed to be her farewell voyage, a last Transatlantic trip, including a last stop in New York, in early September. The ship was at sea on September 11, and not long after, NCL decided to keep her in service in the Caribbean.

But in 2003, one of her old steam boilers exploded as the ship came into the port of Miami, killing eight crew members. After the tragedy, NCL had the ship towed to Germany, to assess whether it could be repaired. Repairs were deemed too expensive, and NCL announced that the ship would never sail again.

I think it's really sad that they didn't make an effort to keep one of the last ocean liners going — replacing the old boiler with something more safe, to prevent another tragedy. But what happened to the Norway is even worse.

The ship was built at a time (1960) when asbestos was a commonly used material, and it is full of it, and other toxic materials. The ship should never have left Germany for the purpose of being scrapped, because the toxic materials, under European law, should not have been exported.

The ship was towed out, though — possibly under the auspices of being turned into a floating casino somewhere. Instead, though, she was towed around the world until she ended up at Alang, India, to be scrapped. Prior to that, there was a stop in Bangladesh, which wouldn't let the ship enter its waters to be scrapped due to the toxic materials.

Improperly dismantling a ship full of toxic materials isn't legal in India, either, and the ship, now rechristened the SS Blue Lady, is now part of a battle in the Indian Supreme Court over whether she can be scrapped there. She has been beached, and much of the hull has been out of the water. Even if the Supreme Court rules that it can't be scrapped, it may have to be, if it can't be moved without expensive dredging. And because the ship has been out of the water so long, the hull may be compromised, so that she can't float.

The ship could have been properly scrapped in Germany, which is equipped to handle the materials. But it would have cost far more to do it there, and safely, with no impact to the environment.

This site shows pictures of the ship as the France, and the Norway, and finally as the Blue Lady, beached at Alang. Apparently there are some groups out there looking to buy the ship, saving it and turning it into a floating hotel. NCL could have done right by history and the environment and pushed to find a buyer that wanted to see the ship preserved in the first place. Now, even if someone comes up with financing and the breakers sell the ship, it may not be able to float.

So all in all, a terrible story. The last great CGT ocean liner, the former flagship of the French Line, left rusting away in Alang, on Greenpeace's watch list.

I know she's just a ship, but she's also a piece of history, and I think the poor old "Blue Lady" deserved more than this.

1 comment:

Jessica said...

Yeah, I cried when I saw those pictures of the Norway. I don't believe NCL would do that to her.