The Bizarre History of 6 Cruise Ships: You Won’t Believe What I Found!
The Bizarre History of 6 Cruise Ships: You Won’t Believe What I Found!
On my most recent cruise aboard the Regent Seven Seas Navigator, I found out that the ship had a mysterious and murky past and it got my mind reeling. What other ships have I been on, or plan to go on, that also have a bizarre history, or even downright troubling pasts?
I found five more of them, including name- and even ship – swapping to hide and disguise misadventures, and also an incident so wild it sounds like the plot of a thriller.
Let’s look at some cruise ships with a very bizarre history…
Crazy Previous Life
Let’s start with Regent Seven Seas Navigator’s previous life. Unbelievably, the ship was originally intended to be a Russian spy vessel. Construction began on the ship in 1988 at the Admiralty Shipyards in St. Petersburg and the structured was named the Akademik Nikolay Pilyugin. It was the planned prototype for three planned satellite tracking ships used to track NATO submarines. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 ended these plans but the ship was pretty much completed. Eventually, it was bought by V-Ships and Mariachi Shipyards.
It was towed to Genoa and was converted from spy ship to luxury cruise ship. It eventually entered service in 1999 for Radisson Seven Seas, which later became Regent Seven Seas.
It’s now a 480-passenger ship, one of the most luxurious in the world. But, if history had gone a different way, it could have been something completely different.
That crazy previous life in the Soviet shipyards got me wondering if there had been other crazy stories during the construction of other ships?
Chaos during construction
Let’s start with Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Pride of America, which sails exclusively around the Hawaiian Islands. It has an incredible and very bizarre history.
The ship started life as part of “Project America”, a US government programme which tried rekindling the country’s shipbuilding industry. In 2000, a cruise line called American Classic Voyages commissioned the vessel and construction started in a Mississippi shipyard.
However, during construction, American Classic Voyages went bankrupt and the project ground to a halt with only about 40% of the Pride of America complete.
Eventually, Norwegian Cruises bought the partially constructed ship and towed what was built to Germany’s Lloyd Werft Shipyard to be finished, ironic considering this was supposed to be the rebirth of great American shipbuilding!
But the story didn’t end there. The ship sank during construction in Germany! It’s believed that a storm pushed water through an opening in the engine deck and filled the vessel. It sank to the bottom of the harbour, staying there for well over a month as arguments raged about who should foot the bill.
Eventually it was agreed that insurance would pay, and the ship was completed in 2005.
The Pride of America is also interesting because It’s the only American-registered cruise ship in the world. Most ships are registered with a ‘flag of convenience’. This means, for better or worse, they register with a country that provides them with favourable conditions for operation, like the Bahamas or Panama.
However, because this ship is American-registered, it must abide by US labour laws, gambling restrictions and tax policies. So that means no duty-free shopping and no casino on board. Staff wages are much higher than on your average ship but are still low in comparison to other American jobs. And because the ship must be staffed exclusively by US citizens, the ship often struggles to attract crew. Higher wages also mean the cruise is much more expensive for passengers.
The crazy history of this ship is part of what makes it so unique and that’s also true of the Diamond Princess.
The infamous Diamond Princess
Many people have heard of Diamond Princess for infamous reasons. In the early days of COVID, it was forced to quarantine in Yokohama, Japan in February 2020. By late March, at least 712 out of the 3,700 passengers and crew had tested positive. Sadly, 14 people on board died from the virus.
Even before COVID though, the Diamond Princess had a troubled past, let’s look at her bizarre history. It was originally named the Sapphire Princess with its sister ship called the Diamond Princess. Whilst under construction, the original Diamond Princess caught fire and was almost destroyed.
The fire raged for over a day before it was eventually put out. At the time, it was unclear whether the ship could ever be salvaged.
They eventually decided to swap the names of the ships, so the “Diamond Princess” could be delivered on time. So, crazily, the Sapphire Princess is the original Diamond Princess and vice versa.
So, while the ship’s COVID trouble may be well-documented, many on board now may never have known about the fire-induced name change.
Chaos in operation
And fire doesn’t only affect ships when they’re under construction…
People embarking on P&O Australia’s Pacific Encounter may be a little surprised to learn that the ship had a catastrophic fire on board during its previous incarnation as the Star Princess.
In March 2006, what was then the Star Princess was sailing off the coast of Jamaica with 3,813 guests.
It was just before 3am that a crew member smelled burning. They couldn’t see anything and didn’t think it was a fire. But, shortly after that, someone in a cabin set off an alarm after they saw the glow of fire from their balcony. The fire spread right along the ship’s balconies and up onto other decks.
At 3:20am, a ship-wide emergency alarm sounded, and people evacuated their cabins. The heat from the fire on the balconies was so hot that their glass doors started shattering and the fire began to spread inside the cabins.
The fire itself raged for over an hour and a half. 297 cabins were damaged or destroyed from both fire and smoke, around a quarter of all cabins on the ship.
It is believed the fire started when a discarded lit cigarette butt set alight either balcony furniture or the partitions between the balconies.
It was later discovered that the partitions and balcony furniture were built from some more flammable materials, polycarbonate, and polyurethane, which accelerated the burning.
The fire was only put out at 4:30 AM and the ship was eventually able to, under its own power, head into Montego Bay, Jamaica where it docked, and all passengers evacuated from the ship.
Sadly, one passenger, 72-year-old Richard Liffidge, from Georgia, died from smoke inhalation. 13 other passengers suffered significant smoke-related injuries.
As a result of the fire, rules were changed significantly to make sure that balconies followed the same fire safety rules as the inside of the ship. Many cruise lines have changed their balcony furniture and banned smoking on balconies because of the risk.
12 years after the fire, the ship was transferred to P&O Australia, Princess’s sister line, and is now called Pacific Encounter. So, some passengers might not know that they’re staying in a cabin that in 2006 was ravaged by fire!
Here comes the “poop cruise”
Another ship which changed names is the Carnival Sunrise. It was previously called the Carnival Triumph. That was until the “poop cruise” gave the ship a bad reputation and a bizarre history for all the wrong reasons.
Carnival Triumph left Galveston, Texas in February 2013 for a short four-day cruise. After a stop in Cozumel, a fire broke out at 5am in the cruise’s engine room, leaving the ship without power. Most things stopped working, including the plumbing.
This led to a horrific experience on board. Passengers had limited water, experienced extreme heat with no air conditioning and, at one point, had human waste running down through the hallways. Some ships passing by helped provide supplies but, without power, the Triumph spent four days drifting in the Gulf of Mexico in these awful conditions
Eventually, the ship was towed to Alabama and these weary, exhausted passengers disembarked on February 14th. Carnival did offer each passenger some money in the form of a voucher for a future cruise, but many passengers were very unhappy. Multiple lawsuits were launched seeking millions of dollars in damages, though most weren’t very successful.
The ship carried on as Carnival Triumph for another six years until it was taken out of service and had a major revamp. At the same time Carnival ditched the ship’s troubled name, reintroducing it to the world as the Carnival Sunrise.
So, if you ever go cruising on Carnival Sunrise, remember that it was once the infamous “poop cruise ship”.
Pirates in the midst…
One of the most dramatic and interesting stories, one which could be from the pages of a bestselling thriller, is about Le Ponant. Le Ponant is a masted sailing ship owned by Ponant, the luxury French cruise line group. It has 16 staterooms holding a maximum of 32 guests.
On the 4th April 2008, as Le Ponant was sailing from The Seychelles through the Gulf of Aden, it was attacked and taken by Somali pirates. There were no passengers at the time, but all 30 crew members were taken hostage, 22 French, six Filipino, one Cameroonian and one Ukrainian.
French and Canadian forces were in the area at the time, with helicopters and navy ships monitoring the yacht. But the hostages were only released 8 days later because the shipping company CMA CGM paid a 1.7-million-euro ransom. But the French military did not let that rest.
They tracked the pirates back to their home in Somalia and captured them, recovering some of the ransom money. They brought the pirates to trial in Paris where they were eventually convicted. Four of the six pirates were sentenced to between four and 10 years in jail.
Piracy has been an issue in that area for some time, and there have been unsuccessful attempts to attack a few other cruise ships over the years. But Le Ponant is the only one where they successfully took the ship.
The luxury on board Le Ponant now might make current passengers forget the bizarre history of the yacht.
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