Majestic International Cruises’ 17,500 ton Ocean Countess is on fire along the length of most of her upper works as she currently lies in layup in the Greek port of Chalkis. Five men working aboard the 1976-built former Cunard Countess have been accounted for, and are all safe.
The ship began life for Cunard as the Danish built Cunard Countess, and spent twenty years with that line. She predominantly sailed on alternating, seven night circuits of the Caribbean out of San Juan alongside her twin sister, Cunard Princess. The two sisters were hugely popular, more casual versions of the typical Cunard product.
She was sold for service in the Far East as the Awani Dream 2 in 1996, but that operation collapsed after two years. She then moved to the now defunct Epirotiki Lines, first as the Olympic Countess, then as the Ocean Countess and, when that operation foundered in 2004, the ship went to Louis Cruises. Under the name of Ruby, the ship was placed on three and four day cruises out of Piraeus, as a replacement for the sunken Sea Diamond.
There was also a reported spell under charter, under the name of Lili Maarlen for a German tour operator.
I sailed on her in her guise as Ruby in the summer of 2007, and found her to be a ship with considerable charm, with a good amount of open outdoor deck space, and a nice variety of stylishly decorated public rooms, including a really sweet indoor/outdoor nightclub that opened out onto the fantail. Some of her original Cunard fittings- such as the famous company Lion logo- could still be seen on board, etched into the glass doors of the observation lounge. The weak point was the small cabins, with their paper thin walls.
Later, in 2010, the ship was chartered to the fledgling Cruise and Maritime Voyages to join the Marco Polo in offering cruises to an older UK passenger market. She was given a two million pound interior refurbishment, and took back the Ocean Countess name once more.
At the end of 2012, Cruise and Maritime decided not to renew their charter, and the Ocean Countess went round from Liverpool into layup in Greece that same autumn. She has been there ever since, totally inactive over the entirety of the 2013 season.
Ironically, she was due to return to service next year, ostensibly for a Russian charter operator. Given the evident- and ongoing- scope of the damage, this seems unlikely at the very best. Her age, and the already visible extent of destruction might well sadly mean that this famous, popular ship will never return to service in any guise.
Questions will inevitably circulate about whether or not this is an insurance job but, until there is a thorough forensic examination of the still burning ship, we will be starved for answers.
Stay tuned for updates.
Update: Tuesday, December 3rd,
The fire aboard Ocean Countess has been extinguished. Photographs and video indicated that the blaze was centered on the midships pool area, and the observation lounge located immediately forward of this.
An investigation into the cause of the fire that ravaged the 37-year old ship is apparently under way, but details on her current condition are scant on the ground. Most media commentators have concluded that this incident will mark the end of the career of the former Cunard Countess.
Ironically, one of the ships that she was built to replace- the 1971 built Cunard Adventurer- will be returning to service next year for Louis Cruises, under the name of Louis Rhea.