In 1994 the SS American Star (SS Australis) was being towed to Thailand to become a floating hotel. Disaster struck while passing the Canary Island of Fuerteventura and a strong storm beached the ship and broke her in two. Today you can still see the bow of the ship sitting on the beach and rusting away...
I find myself intrigued by this ship and her story. I have never been to the Canary Islands but thought that this might be something that this community would find interesting. I've gathered information and photos from various sources, which will be listed at the bottom. For further information I highly encourage you to visit the websites. Enjoy!
The SS America was an ocean liner built in 1940 for the United States Lines. She carried many names in the 54 years between her 1940 construction and her 1994 wrecking, as she served as the SS America (carrying this name three different times during her career), the USS West Point, the SS Australis, the SS Italis, the SS Noga, the SS Alferdoss, and the SS American Star. She served most notably in passenger service as the SS America, and as the Greek-flagged SS Australis for Chandris.
As originally designed, the SS America could carry 543 in cabin class, 418 in tourist class, 241 in third class, and 643 crew. The interior accommodations were designed to be the utmost in contemporary American design, making use of stainless steel, ceramics, and synthetics.
Due to the war going on in Europe, in which the United States was still neutral, the ship's name, "United States Lines", and two American flags were painted in large size on both sides of her hull. At night, she sailed while fully illuminated. In addition, she did not immediately take to her intended North Atlantic service, instead sailing in safer waters. She was, however, quietly fitted with a degaussing cable for protection against naval mines on January 3, 1941.
On May 28, 1941, the America was called up to service by the United States Navy, while the ship was at Saint Thomas, in the United States Virgin Islands. She was ordered to return to Newport News to be handed over to the Navy.
The America's postwar career was successful, if uneventful. Finally, she was able to sail her New York-Le Havre-Bremerhaven-Cobh route that had been delayed by World War II. To many ship lovers, she was the most beautifully decorated liner to fly the American flag, less rigid and not as menacing-looking as her soon-to-debut fleetmate, the SS United States. Many American tourists preferred to travel on an American-built and owned ship, as some considered them safer and cleaner.
With the introduction of the larger and faster United States in 1952, America's reign as queen of the US merchant marine was taken away from her. Their disparity in size and speed prevented them from becoming true running mates like the RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth of the Cunard Line. But she still was a favorite of many.
One little known fact is that America was one of the few ocean liners, American or otherwise, that had her interiors designed by women. There were few women working in maritime design, and America's women designers created a warm and rich American atmosphere. The stodginess and overwrought decor from liners of the past was jettisoned to create a comfortable and friendly ship. Interior design and furniture were installed to provide an atmosphere of "Yankee lightness, cheerfulness and sophisticated charm".
The America was sold to the Greek-owned Chandris Group in 1964. At twenty-four, she was getting older and facing competition from newer, faster ships as well as the airplane. The postwar emigrant run from Europe to Australia had become a lucrative market for passenger ships in spite of the growing popularity of air travel.
The America, now renamed Australis (Greek for Australian Maiden) was refitted extensively. This increased her passenger capacity from less than 1,200 to 2,258. Some 350 additional cabins were installed and many existing cabins were given extra berths. She usually sailed from Southern European ports to Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania via South Africa.
The Australis was also popular as a cruise ship, although her primary purpose was the transfer of immigrants. She continued this trade for fourteen years. But rising fuel costs, aging infrastructure, and the creation of long-range jetliners caused Chandris to pull the Australis off the Australian run in 1978.
Following a period of layup in Timaru, New Zealand, the Australis was sold to Venture Cruises of New York. Under Venture Cruises ownership, the ship was renamed America once again in an attempt to capitalize on the ship's heritage, despite her Greek flag. The ship was repainted in a blue and white color scheme.
America set sail on her first cruise on June 30, 1978. Her refit, however, had not been completed by the time of the sailing. The ship was filthy, with piles of soiled linens and worn mattresses, scattered piles of trash, and a scent of kitchen odors, engine oil, and plumbing backups. In addition, water in overhead pipes leaked. Along with maintenance issues, attempts to spruce the ship up led to other problems, with too many layers of paint visible on the outer bulkheads, as well as the lifeboat davits and lifeboat gear. Additionally, the public rooms were carelessly repainted, with the America's stainless steel trims now scarred with brush strokes.
Due to overbooking and her state of incompletion, a number of passengers "mutinied", forcing the captain to return to New York, having only barely passed the Statue of Liberty. 960 passengers were offloaded upon the ship's arrival. On a second sailing that day, an additional 200 passengers left via tender at Staten Island.
The America left for a five-day cruise to Nova Scotia on July 3, 1978. Upon arrival, she was met with $2.5 million in claims from passengers. Further issues saw the cancellation of all further sailings, and the America was arrested on July 18, 1978 for non-payment of debts. The America also received an inspection score of 6 out of a possible 100 points by the US Public Health Service. On August 28, 1978, the America was ordered to be sold at auction by the United States district court.
Chandris Lines repurchased the Australis/America and renamed her Italis with the intention of making her a full-time cruise ship. Her forward funnel was removed, but that was as far as the renovations went.
The Italis never sailed for Chandris due to mechanical problems, and the ship was laid up in Piraeus, Greece. The ship was sold to Intercommerce Corporation in 1980, and was renamed the Noga. Intercommerce's intention was to convert the ship to a prison ship, to be anchored in Beirut. This would never happen.
In September 1984, the ship was sold to Silver Moon Ferries, and she was once again renamed, now carrying the name Alferdoss, which means "paradise" in Arabic. However, only the name on the port bow was changed. The name on the stern and starboard bow was not changed, and continued to show Noga.
While under the ownership of Silver Moon Ferries, a bilge pipe burst, which caused flooding in the engine room and some crew quarters. Due to the quickly-occurring list, her starboard anchor was raised and her port anchor was cut away, and she was quickly beached to prevent her from sinking. After being pumped out and repaired, she was returned to her original location.
In the late 1980s, the ship was sold for $2 million for scrapping. The scrap merchant made an initial deposit of $1 million, and began work. Following the demolition of the lifeboats and lifeboat davits, the scrappers defaulted on payments, and pulled out.
The Alferdoss would continue in this state until 1993.
In 1994, the ship was sold yet again, with the intention of being refitted to become either a hotel or prison ship off of Phuket, in Thailand. Drydocking at that time revealed that despite the years of neglect, her hull was still in remarkably good condition. She was renamed American Star, and with her propellers removed, she left Greece under tow by the Ukrainian tug Neftegaz 67.
On January 15, 1994, while caught in an Atlantic storm, the tow lines broke, and attempts to reestablish the tow at sea were unsuccessful. On January 17, the crew aboard the American Star was rescued by helicopter. The ship ultimately ran aground off of Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands.
While discussions between the ship's owners, the towing firm, and the companies insuring the ship were going on, the ship was left to nature. With the forward part of the ship resting on a sandbar, the ship broke in two just past the second funnel. Due to this, the ship was declared a total loss on July 6, 1994. The stern section soon collapsed completely and sank, while the bow continued to remain upright.
In November 2005, the port side of the bow section collapsed, causing the liner's remains to assume a much sharper list. This also caused the funnel to detach and fall into the ocean. The collapse of the port side caused the ship to begin to break up. In October 2006, the wreck had nearly collapsed completely onto its port side.
In April 2007 the starboard side collapsed. This caused the wreck to break in half and fall to ground level. The remains are slowly sinking and falling apart into the Atlantic ocean. Very little is left.