For someone like me, born and blessed with a deep and abiding love of the great ocean liners, it has been an incomparable thrill, privilege and pleasure to sail on many of my favourite ‘ladies’ over the years.

The likes of Norway, QE2, Canberra and Rotterdam were all wonders that did not disappoint. And yet, in so many ways, I am just as enriched by sailing on many of the smaller, more traditional ships that have now mostly sailed on beyond the breakers. Many of these ships were- or are- just as big on character as those grand dowagers that have now rang down ‘finised with engines’ for the last time.

There were the two wonderful, heavily rebuilt sister ships that sailed for Classic International Cruises; Princess Daphne and her near identical twin, Princess Danae. I sailed on the Danae twice, and her sister ship just the once.

They were long, low seaboats, with a hull that curved slightly upwards at both bow and stern like some kind of wry, supine smile. The aft lido decks were some of the biggest and most expansive of any ships afloat. Each boasted huge cabins with thick, chunky furniture, and a suite of public rooms that ran out to the hull along both sides, a window walled, heavily mirroed promenade that made strolling a true delight. And, despite being only around 17,000 tons each, they were both superb as sea boats, proper 1950’s paragons that were as elegant as they were warm and unassuming.

The Ocean Countess was definitely of the next generation. Sleek with her swept back, aerodynamic funnel, rakish bow and squared off stern, she was as ‘seventies modern’ as it was possible to get back in 1975. Her cabins were so small that they would have left the average pygmy in agonised contortions.

She had a lofty oberyvation lounge with glass walls that afforded fabulous views out over the bow. To her last days, engraved Cunard ‘lions’ remained etched into the glass doors that led into this room.

There was a centrally sited pool and hot tub lounging area midships, perfectly shaded from the wind, and a fabulous indoor/outdoor night club that extended out over the stern. On warm summer nights in the Aegean, there were few more perfect places anywhere for watching a mellow sunset. She was a fine, funky little ship, one whose heart and character more than made up for her shoe box sized accommodations.

The Marco Polo, happily, remains with us. Now in her fiftieth year, she is literally unmistakable for any other ship, with her glorious, curved prow, stately single funnel and series of elegantly stepped terraces cascading down her stern in a veritable torrent of immaculate teak.

Inside, a run of perfectly proportioned Art Deco lounges and bars allow for a stately evening’s progress through a series of softly lit venues, suffused with wonderful live music. The trim blue hull and sparkling white superstructure truly mark her out as a thing apart. Whether stealing into a magnificent, mist shrouded Norwegian fjord at dawn or lounging off the hot spots of the French Riviera, the Marco Polo looks- and feels- utterly different to anything else out there today.

I remember the stately little Odysseus, too. Built in 1962, she endded her days with Epirotiki, which then became Royal Olympic Lines before it went bankrupt in the wake of 9/11.

She, too, had a long and low hull, swathed in shades of pristine royal blue. Her funnel- small, domed and slightly swept back- seemed out of all proportion to that seemingly endless, long hull.

Truth be told, she had quite a short superstructure and, like the CIC twins, she boasted an enormous, seemingly excessive amount of outdoor deck space aft, running all the way to the fantail. My most vivid impression of this quirky, quite intersting little ship was that she felt a hell of a lot bigger than her supposed 12,000 tons.

So, there we go- just a few of the ships that flit in and out of my memory like patches of Atlantic fog. If this article appeals, please let me know, and I’ll look at the possibility of a follow up piece in similar style.

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway

On board the magnificent Marco Polo in Flam, Norway


And another one sails off into the pages of history...

And another one sails off into the pages of history…

And another one bites the dust….

In a move that will probably sadden many and yet surprise few, the fire damaged Ocean Countess is listed as being ready for an imminent final journey to a Turkish scrapyard at Aliaga.

She follows hard on the heels of the Pacific Princess and, ironically, her former fleet mate Louis Rhea, originally the 1971-built Cunard Adventurer.

The ship was originally built in Denmark as the Cunard Countess, back in 1975. Together with her almost identical (and still intact) sibling, Cunard Princess, she spent several decades in Caribbean cruise service for Cunard, mainly from San Juan. Not until 1996 was she sold for a brief lived, soon ended Asian cruise service, before passing on to Epirotiki Cruises in 2001.

It was that now defunct company that renamed her as Ocean Countess, employing her on short, destination intensive Greek Island cruises from Piraeus. Her intimate size and large amount of open deck space made her perfect for just such a role.

She was taken over by Louis Cruises in 2007 after a brief lived German charter. That company was in need of tonnage to replace the recently lost Sea Diamond, and she was put back on her old Greek Islands run, under the name of Ruby.

It was in this guise that I spent a short but memorable weekend aboard her. Even then, the Ocean Countess still had many little reminders of her Cunard heritage dotted around the public areas. She was a feisty, funky little ship with a lot of soul; I liked her a lot.

Her subsequent 2010 charter to Cruise And Maritime for ex-UK cruising seemed encouraging, especially as the ship was given some three million pounds’ worth of cosmetic updating, prior to entering their service. Sadly, the charter was ended in September 2012, and the Ocean Countess came round to lay up in the port of Chalkis, Greece.

She spent all of 2013 laid up here, but was actually in the course of being refurbished, ready for a 2014 Russian charter,when fire engulfed her on the afternoon of Saturday, November 30th.

Five workmen on board were safely rescued from the flames, which seemed to engulf the forward observation lounge, as well as part of the adjacent pool deck. Though the ship burned and smouldered overnight, the flames were actually extinguished by the next day, and the ship remained on an even keel.

What followed was a wall of deathly silence, and the inevitable tidal wave of media speculation.

Today’s sad, yet expected news puts an end to all that as, sadly, another classic lady slips away from our sight.

RIP Cunard/Ocean Countess, 1976- 2013


Is HAL downsizing?

Is HAL downsizing?

February has broken with some possible welcome news in the cruise industry, an unfortunate accident, and a few question marks that have been hanging around for some time. Let’s take a look at some of them

Following the fire that ravaged part of her lido deck and forward superstructure at the end of November, 2013, there is still no word on whether or not the veteran Ocean Countess might possibly see a return to service. Indeed, the pall of silence that has enveloped the blackened, but seemingly only superficially damaged ship, is far thicker- and potentially more noxious- than the smoke that shrouded the burning ship.

I’ve already touched on the Marco Polo accident in a previous blog, but owners Cruise And Maritime now also have to contend with the second punch of an awful double whammy; the news that partner company, All Leisure Cruises, is putting the chartered MV Discovery up for sale.

This puts CMV- who only recently dipped a first tentative toe into European river cruising- in a bit of a bind. Do they buy the Discovery outright themselves, or perhaps look elsewhere to charter? Ironically, the Ocean Countess, mentioned above, was at one time also chartered by CMV.

Meanwhile, seemingly reliable (that is to say, non official) sources in Dubai are saying that all of the engines aboard QE2 are  now back on line, and that her whistle has been heard, bellowing around the bay. The same sources have intimated that former Cunard staff are on board the veteran ship; all straws in the wind that indicate that her much hyped voyage to China via Singapore, originally scheduled for October 2013, may indeed finally be on.

Is QE2 finally about to move?

Is QE2 finally about to move?

Though her future is still shrouded in uncertainty, my feeling is that any sign of regeneration right now must be viewed as a positive. Past experiences tell us all too well that official pronouncements must be taken with a ton of salt. And even so, we can only watch, wait, and hope.

Still on the veteran ship front, seemingly great news comes from Oman, where the former Kungsholm is still moored. A return for the 1966 built Swedish American veteran to either Stockholm or Gothenburg seems on the cards, together with the restoration of her mutilated forward funnel. With her interiors already adapted for hotel use during her stay in Oman, the only real obstacle to returning the beloved liner to her home country seems to be the securing of a permanent berth for her. Negotiations for that are, apparently, ongoing right now.

It also appears that the 1992 built Statendam is up for sale. The ship, the first of a ‘new’, five ship series, built for the Holland America Line, would perhaps make an ideal fit for Fred. Olsen, long known to be interested in acquiring her smaller fleet mate, Prinsendam.

Also welcome news from Star Cruises, who have now ordered a second new giant ship from Meyer Werft of Papenburg, Germany. My guess is that these two ships will be modified versions of the hugely successful Breakaway class, now sailing for sister company, Norwegian Cruise Line.

That’s it for now. As ever, stay tuned.


Ocean Countess is scheduled for scrapping at Aliaga, Turkey, this month according to a report on

My grateful thanks go to Chris Thompson for pointing me in this direction.


It has been a long goodbye for the classics

It has been a long goodbye for the classics

So 2013 chugs wearily towards it’s end, and the shipping fraternity has suffered a series of shocks, losses and complete non starters perhaps without parallel in living memory. It has, indeed, been both emotional and farcical by turns.

At the upper strata of heartbreaking farce is the seemingly endless, hopelessly unfunny circus that continues to surround the QE2. Hopes were raised for an October departure for a Chinese shipyard, and subsequent conversion into a 300 room hotel. There was even talk of a three month tour, a kind of ‘greatest hits’ voyage around the Far East, to showcase the ship’s legendary charm and alleged, newly ‘enhanced’ elegance.

Of course, none of this has transpired, Today, QE2 remains, slowly suffocating in her Dubai sarcophagus, surrounded by silence and with almost all of her lights switched off. Whatever faint credibility her current owners might once have had has now disappeared as completely as Atlantic fog. People are just so weary of lies, half truths and fatuous bluster that any future pronouncements will simply be greeted with a mixture of apathy and scorn.

Losses aplenty have manifested themselves, too, as the first generation of purpose built cruise ships begins to succumb to a lethal cocktail of age, apathy and sheer indifference on the part of most everyone, save for the owners of those ever hungry scrapyards. The grim procession to the block has already claimed Pacific Princess, Song Of Norway, Cunard Adventurer, and even the 1984 built Fairsky. And, with no word on the stance or condition of Ocean Countess since the fire that partly ravaged her at Chalkis on November 30th, we might yet be looking at another victim coming early in the new year. And, sadly, this list of the lost is by no means exhaustive.

Still marking time

Still marking time

We were also treated to the sobering sight of the partially salvaged Costa Concordia, as her sad, shabby carcass came back onto something of an even keel. Meanwhile, the equally sad, shabby carcass of her former Captain, Francesco Schettino, continues to be butchered in a parallel exercise by an Italian court of inquiry.

People continue to watch with a kind of vaguely uneasy hope all the goings on surrounding the SS. United States, where all concerned are hoping fervently for some Prince Charming to come to the rescue of this legendary ship. Unlike QE2, there is no questioning the sincerity or dogged determination of those fighting so hard to save the ship, and it is to be hoped that their efforts prevail in 2014.

All of which is a million miles away from the ghastly charade called Titanic II. Delayed more often than a First Capital Connect train, it was supposed- yet again- to have a definitive launch date set this December. But since the fickle ambitions of the brilliantine swathed, bon vivant Clive Palmer became gradually more attuned towards Australian politics over the previous summer, the prospect of his much touted ‘ship of schemes’ ever seeing the light of day has vanished as completely as his famously once bruited zeppelin project. Feel free to insert your own jokes regarding hot air and/or serially self obsessed windbags.

So, you will be seemingly deprived forever of the chance to move, with all of your luggage, between each of three classes every two days. Nor will you be able to pose for tasteful ‘Jack and Rose’ style shots on the prow, even as you sail over the gravesite of the real thing. Oh well, it’s all back to the Queen Mary 2, then.

On the other hand, it also neatly deprives Celine Dion of any excuse to get back into a recording studio somewhere.

I suppose every cloud has a silver lining.


The brilliantined buffoon that is Clive Palmer has just had an extraordinary national meltdown on world wide television. On the subject of China- where he was supposedly going to have his Titanic II built, Palmer has fumed that ‘They shoot their own people; they are mongrels, they have no rule of law, and they want to take over this country.. . (Australia).’

Phew. While it is good that Clive has noticed all of this, it is just a shame that none of it seemed to register with him while he was attempting to get them to build his ‘ship of schemes’.

Amazing how quickly grapes can go truly sour these days, no?

I guess we can also call time on that guard of honour from the Chinese navy as well?

Thanks and goodbye, Clive; it’s been emulsional.


Louis Aura, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

Louis Aura, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

A report from Peter Knego in Maritime Matters today brings the sad news that Louis Rhea, the former Cunard Adventurer, is about to head off to the scrapyards of Alang.

This comes just days after the fire that seems to have consigned her successor in the Cunard fleet, Ocean Countess ex-Cunard Countess, to a similar fate. The timing is grimy ironic, to put it mildly.

Cunard Adventurer was one of a pair of sisters acquired in 1971. The other ship, Cunard Ambassador, was rebuilt as a livestock carrier after a major fire, and has since subsequently been scrapped.

After six years with Cunard, the ship was sold to what was then called Norwegian Caribbean Lines in 1977. Renamed Sunward II, she was then used for many years on twice weekly, three and four night cruises out of Miami to the Bahamas. It was a role in which she proved very popular for several years. While with NCL, her original tall, single funnel was replaced with a pair of twin, side by side uptakes, angled slightly outboard, to bring her into line visually with the rest of her fleetmates,

In 1991, the ship went firstly to Epirotiki Cruises, the Greek operator, who ran her in the Aegean and Mediterranean as the Triton. She continued in their service when the company name changed to Royal Olympic Cruises, staying with them until the line’s eventual, drawn out demise in 2004.

A move to Louis Cruises followed, when the 14,000 ton ship was renamed again, this time as Coral. A refit included the conversion of her former Observation Lounge, high above the bridge, into a block of de luxe cabins but, otherwise, her appearance had changed very little over the decades.

Coral went to work, both on short, three and four night Aegean cruises, and sometimes on longer, ten night Mediterranean cruises that allowed embarkation in both Genoa and Marseilles. It was a role she was to largely maintain right through 2011, when the ship was laid up at the end of that season.

There was an ambitious plan to bring the ship back into service as the Louis Rhea, running a series of seven night itineraries that would also have allowed for the welcome addition of an overnight stay in Mykonos. Sadly, this very promising option never did come to pass, and Louis Cruises has finally decided to call time on the career of the now forty-three year old veteran.

Ironically, another of her former Norwegian fleet mates- the 1968 built Louis Aura ex-Starward- continues in service for Louis Cruises, with a French charter in the offing for the first part of 2014.

The impending loss of Louis Rhea raises the decibels on alarm bells ringing for that first generation of purpose built, Love Boat era cruise ships. With Song Of Norway and Pacific Princess already confirmed casualties of this maritime cull, it looks as if the procession to the block is getting longer by the week. Deeply sad and inevitable.


The classical, on board styling of Portuscale's Lisboa has few modern equivalents

The classical, on board styling of Portuscale’s Lisboa has few modern equivalents

Last week delivered a trio of heavy shocks for lovers of the traditional, smaller cruise ships. First came the sad news that the pioneering Song Of Norway, the start up ship for Royal Caribbean, had been sold for scrap. More than anything, this brought home the shaky mortality and status of that maritime ‘Brady Bunch’ of older vessels.

There followed the indescribably painful sight of the Pacific Princess, famed as the original Love Boat, hauled up to be butchered at a Turkish slaughterhouse. Listing painfully, shabby and dilapidated, the once graceful ship has been reduced to a sad, squalid shadow of her former glory.

Then, only yesterday, the beloved Ocean Countess caught fire in the Greek port of Chalkis as she was being readied for a new charter season next year. The fire, now extinguished, seems to have centered on her midships pool and forward observation lounge. No impartial assessment of the resultant damage has yet been put in the public arena, but it hardly helps the prospects of the 37 year old former Cunard stalwart.

Even worse, 2014 will see the withdrawal from service of the Saga Ruby, the former 1973 built Vistafjord. This legendary ship, the last passenger ship to be built in the UK, is facing a very uncertain fate, and optimism regarding her future employment- if any- is very thin on the ground.

Louis Aura, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

Louis Aura, the former Starward of Norwegian Cruise Line

All of these point up a simple, salient fact for anyone wanting the chance to sail in one or more of this dwindling band of thoroughbreds; get out there and do it, while you still can. The clock is ticking, and options are really running out now.

With that in mind, here’s a list of some of the classically styled ships still sailing out there. I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible, and apologies in advance for any unintentional omissions.

Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines still operate the classic duo of Boudicca and Black Watch, a pair of 1972 beauties originally built for the Royal Viking Line.

Competitor Cruise And Maritime offers cruises on the Discovery, the former Island Princess (and sister ship of the Pacific Princess) as well as the 1965 built Marco Polo.

All four of these ships can be embarked from a series of different ports around the UK. Looking further afield increases your options a lot. Here’s a few more options for your consideration.

Louis Cruises will sail the Louis Rhea, the former 1971 built Cunard Adventurer, out of Piraeus this summer. She will be running with her former Norwegian Cruise Lines fleetmate, the 1968 built Louis Aura, best remembered as the famous, fondly remembered Starward.

From Israel, the Golden Iris operates cruises for Mano Maritime. She is the former Cunard Princess and, by an ironic coincidence, she is currently laid up for the winter alongside her former sister, the fire ravaged Ocean Countess, in the Greek port of Chalkis.

Flamenco is still sailing as a cruise ship for the Chinese market

Flamenco is still sailing as a cruise ship for the Chinese market

Most potent of all, the Lazarus- like resurrection of Portuscale Cruises in Lisbon has put a quartet of platinum chip, beautifully styled former ocean liners back on the market. Azores, Funchal. Lisboa and Porto will all be sailing full schedules over the 2014 season and, while some of these will be on European charters, there are options to board the exquisite Funchal in the UK over the summer. Many of those cruises are being marketed by Travelscope Holidays in the UK.

The future prospects of all of these ships are, of course, directly related to their profitability as going concerns. That being so, 2014 might well be a good time for true lovers of the ocean liners of the past to turn those fond, romantic dream voyages into a more practical, eminently rewarding reality.


CNV00198Majestic 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.


The pool of small, stylish cruise ships is getting steadily smaller

The pool of small, stylish cruise ships is getting steadily smaller

With yesterday’s announcement that the pioneer Royal Caribbean ship, the 1970-built former Song Of Norway has been sold for scrap in China, a harsh light has been shone once more on the fate of the first real generation of small, purpose built cruise ships. With a still depressed financial outlook and the continuing public love affair with amenity laden mega ships, the real surprise is perhaps that many of these ships have lasted for so long.

There were ominous straws in the wind, principally with the long drawn out end of the Pacific, the former Pacific Princess. Nothing brought home the mortality of these ships like the sight of the shabby carcass of the world famous Love Boat, hauled up to be butchered at a Turkish waterfront breakers. And she was preceded to the block by the Atlantic, a ship built as recently as 1984.

So, with the maritime equivalent of death row looking like it might soon be full to capacity, what other ships are there in the background that look as if their days might be numbered? The actual roster is as illustrious as it is worrying.

The beautiful, 1973 built Saga Ruby ends her final stint of service with Saga Cruises next year and, with no future buyer yet in evidence, the smart money is on this gorgeous, iconic ship following her sister ship, Saga Rose, to some wrecking beach somewhere. I hope I’m wrong, because this wonderful ship would make a good fit for Fred. Olsen or, indeed, the rival Cruise and Maritime.

The excellent Aegean Odyssey is happily still sailing

The excellent Aegean Odyssey is happily still sailing

Speaking of Cruise and Maritime, they were the last company to operate the now laid up Ocean Countess, better known as the famous Cunard Countess of 1976. The ship has been laid up in Greece since her final sailing in October of 2012 and, barring a sale to a company like Louis Cruises (who did actually own her at one time) the pretty little ship has got to be looking at the distinct possibility of one final, one way trip.

I hope this is not the case, having been lucky enough to enjoy a sunny, fun filled weekend around the Greek Islands on this lovely ship a few years ago. Sadly, sentiment does not impact the steely resolve of scrappers, and their almost limitless lust for fresh blood.

Also looking more than a bit dodgy is the MSC Melody, the former Atlantic of 1982. Laid up in Naples and offered for sale since January 2013, the former Home Lines matriach has yet to find any gainful future employment.

This is a ship that would be a much better fit for Louis, with a decent passenger capacity that would allow relative economies of scale, especially on short, destination intensive cruises. The fact that she also has a sliding glass roof over her central lido pool would also mean that the company could consider operating her year round, perhaps in the Mediterranean, or even further afield. The one downside to this is that she has no balcony cabins, but this is less of an issue on short Greek Islands cruises.

P&O's original Sun Princess was last sailing as the New Flamenco

P&O’s original Sun Princess was last sailing as the New Flamenco

Sadly, the truth is that the future for these ships- and many others of their size, style and heritage- is not looking particularly bright. Owners want bigger, more fuel efficient and less labour intensive ships, while passengers- long since conditioned to ever larger, more diverse mega ships- want bigger, shiny new toys.

This dovetailing of owner/passenger desires and expectations, combined with what still amounts to a depressed market in the Eastern Mediterranean, sadly amounts to a perfect storm for those vintage vessels still in a state of limbo. With the warm weather, short cruise season at an end for 2013, it might well be that some lines will keep their powder dry and attempt to snap up a bargain or two at the start of the new year.

Let’s hope so and, if they are indeed playing Russian roulette, let’s also hope that at least a few of these storied, sophisticated ladies manage to dodge the proverbial bullet.

As always, stay tuned.


P&O's original Sun Princess was last sailing as the New Flamenco

P&O’s original Sun Princess was last sailing as the New Flamenco

The first part of this narrative detailed the ‘after lives’ of several former favourites that sailed for cruise lines such as Carnival, Celebrity, and Royal Caribbean. The reaction to that piece was both surprising and very gratifying, hence this follow up.

Holland America Line made big attempts to upgrade its fleet in the mid eighties, well before the spectre of a takeover by Carnival began to loom. To that end, the company commissioned a pair of spectacular, mid sized sisters in 1983 and 1984, respectively; the Nieuw Amsterdam and the Noordam.

These two ships were very popular and successful, cruising mainly in the Caribbean and Alaska. However, after the Carnival takeover in 1997, Holland America began planning and construction of the new, far larger Vista class vessels that populate the fleet today. It was then  obvious that Nieuw Amsterdam and Noordam were on borrowed time.

The Nieuw Amsterdam was sold to Louis Cruises in 2002, and Louis then chartered her long term to Thomson Cruises UK. She continues in service for that company as the Thomson Spirit, operating cruises in the Mediterranean and Baltic regions.

The Noordam also found a second life with Thomson, she cruises mainly in the Aegean and Adriatic regions as the Thomson Celebration.

Another former ‘Flying Dutchman’ that has found new life over at Thomson Cruises is the Thomson Dream. This famous ship started life in 1986 as the Homeric, the last newbuild for the ailing Home Lines.

Purchased by Holland America in 1988, she was renamed Westerdam, and then ‘stretched’ in a German shipyard. She then moved on to Costa as their Costa Europa before finally winding up with Thomson back in 2008-9, where she remains to this day. She typically spends her time making seven night cruises around the Mediterranean each summer, and relocates to the Caribbean for winter cruises out of Barbados.

Dreams and memories: the perky little Ausonia was the perfect 'mini liner'

Dreams and memories: the perky little Ausonia was the perfect ‘mini liner’

Another former Home Lines survivor is the 1982 built Atlantic. She went to MSC Cruises in 1997 as the Melody, and had a long and successful career with them. Put up for sale in January of 2013, she has yet to find an official buyer. I saw her laid up in Naples in October, still in her MSC colours, and still looking very trim indeed.

Back in the mid 1970s, Cunard tried to shake off it’s dowdy old class conscious image, when it commissioned a pair of 17,000 ton sister ships expressly for the Caribbean cruise trade; the 1976 built Cunard Countess and her 1977 sister, the Cunard Princess. The latter ship was christened in New York by Princess Grace of Monaco.

She is still sailing in the Eastern Mediterranean as the Golden Iris for Israeli-owned Mano Cruises, and has been since 2009. After a long spell with Louis Cruises, and then UK firm Cruise and Maritime, the Cunard Countess is currently laid up in Chalkis, Greece, under the name of Ocean Countess, awaiting a new buyer or charterer.


The laid up MSC Melody could be a candidate for start up operator, Royal Asian Cruise Line

The laid up MSC Melody could be a candidate for start up operator, Royal Asian Cruise Line

Word is beginning to circulate about the imminent announcement of a new cruise line, formed for and aimed at tapping the potentially vast cruise market on the Indian sub-continent.

The company will be known as Royal Asian Cruise Line, and it eventually envisages deployment of up to five, second hand ships. Already said to have been acquired is the Gemini, a 19,900 ton ship that last sailed for the short lived Happy Cruises. She was originally a twin sister of Fred. Olsen’s Braemar, and has also sailed for Cunard, Commodore, and Star Cruises. Her last reported usage was in Tilbury, as a hotel ship for the 2012 London Olympics.

This is not the first time that a company has attempted to tap the market in India; both Louis Cruises and Star Cruises themselves have attempted to start up single ship operations from India. Issues with port infrastructures conspired to defeat both operations at the time- obstacles which the new company clearly believes can and will be addressed prior to any start up of services.

The new line intends to tailor its services, cuisine and on board facilities to meet the tastes and lifestyles of what it assumes will be it’s predominantly Indian passengers. It is hoping to launch with three ships in the first stage.

So, given that the line would be made up of second hand tonnage, what options are currently available to Royal Asian?

For starters, MSC Cruises have still not found a buyer for their laid up MSC Melody. I saw her last week in the harbour at Naples, looking quite smart. At around 32,000 tons and capable of carrying around 1200 passengers, she would be a solid choice for a no frills, start up line. She also has the advantage of being available immediately.

Another candidate could well be the 17,000 ton Ocean Countess, recently disposed of by Cruise and Maritime. With a capacity of around 800, she is roughly comparable with the Gemini in terms of size.

Another candidate could just possibly be the venerable Saga Ruby, due to finish her final season with Saga Cruises next year. Also back on the market is 28,000 ton Veronica, last used as a hotel ship in Oman. This ship, originally built as the Swedish American Line’s Kungsholm back in 1966, is also available now.

Cruising regions for the new line would include the Indian ocean area, including Sri Lanka.

The final pieces of the jigsaw are expected to be put in place in Barcelona next week, where investment bankers are currently said to be putting together money to finance the project.

As ever, I’ll be updating this as and when developments become clear. Stay tuned.