Sailing into the early morning light of the Bay of Naples last week, I was at once charmed and then saddened to recognise the silhouette of an old friend, outlined in ominous relief against the shadowy backdrop of Mount Vesuvius. It was MSC Melody, still looking pristine, and seemingly unwanted since being withdrawn from service in January. A sad, unloved vibe covered her like a funeral shroud from stem to stem.
It’s little over thirty years since she first sailed triumphantly into New York harbour in 1982, under the name of Atlantic, to join her larger sister, the already legendary Oceanic, on the weekly Home Lines service to Bermuda. Each winter, like migrating birds of passage, the two ships would head south to Port Everglades, to run a season of very popular Caribbean and Bahamas cruises, before returning to New York with the spring.
With the demise of Home Lines in 1988, the Atlantic and Oceanic were sold to Premier Cruises, a company that specialised in short, three and four day cruises from Florida to the Bahamas. With her hull painted bright red, and under the moniker of Starship Atlantic, she sailed from Port Canaveral to Nassau and a private island known as Salt Cay. Tied in with Walt Disney land stays, these cruises were extremely popular. So much so they that eventually made Disney decide to create its own cruise line. We all know the rest.
She was then sold on to MSC, the nascent cruising arm of the former Lauro fleet, in 1997. Here, she joined the smaller Monterey and Symphony in offering a series of more personal, highly styled cruises in the Mediterranean and Caribbean. Though smaller than the new breed of mega ship then entering service, the ship- renamed Melody- was a popular draw, known for her good food and service. With a tonnage of about 30,000 and a passenger capacity of around 1100 looked after by 535 crew, she was the flagship of the fleet.
The rapid and dramatic expansion of MSC in the last decade left the Melody- renamed MSC Melody in 2004- looking small and outdated, Lacking balcony cabins, the ship was used as ‘pathfinder’ for the company; pioneering new routes such as from Italy to South Africa, where she had a number of successful seasons operating cruises out of Durban.
It was while returning from one such season that she had her finest hour. The Melody was attacked some 300 km off the coast of the Seychelles by Somali pirates on April 25th, 2009. The raiders were kept at bay by a barrage of furniture rained on them by the passengers, and then driven off altogether by gunfire from the Israeli security team on board. The story made headlines around the world at the time.
Now laid up again for sale, the ship could have a new role operating for a company like Louis Cruises, for whose short, destination intensive itineraries she would be perfect. But at the time of writing, a new Indian start up company called Royal Asian Cruise Line is actively seeking up to five small to medium sized start up vessels for a new cruise operation, centered on the Indian sub continent. The laid up Melody would also be a good fit for this as well.
Whatever happens, I hope this doughty, finely styled lady of the seas ends up back in her natural element sooner rather than later. She still has several good years in her, and looked absolutely beautiful in the early morning Neapolitan sunlight the other week. A sublime sleeping beauty, waiting for a wake up kiss. Good luck……
UPDATE: Cruise Industry News is citing various reports, emanating in Italy, that the ship is heading out to Goa to be used as a floating hotel, under the management of a company called Sahara India.
Her funnel logos-still in place when I saw her in Naples in October- have apparently been removed, indicative that a sale of some nature has been made.
Of course, there are many Indian scrapyards not far from that general area as well. Stay tuned for further news.
UPDATE 6/12: Portuguese sources are reporting that the MSC Melody is now at anchor off the entrance to the Suez Canal, and bearing the name of Qing. She is also reported to be now registered in India, an en route to a new role as a floating hotel.