Seems a lot of you are interested in ghost ships, so, here's my favorite!
The SS France was a Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (CGT, or French Line) ocean liner, constructed by the Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard at Saint-Nazaire, France, and put into service in February 1961. At the time of her construction in 1960 she was the longest passenger ship ever built. Her length of 316 meters remained unchallenged until the construction of the 345 meter RMS Queen Mary 2 in 2005. The France was later renamed SS Norway and undertook mostly cruises for Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).
The SS France was the French Line flagship from 1961 to 1974, combining regular transatlantic crossings - six days and nights - with winter cruises, as well as two world circumnavigations. As the SS Norway she was the flagship of the Norwegian Cruise Line from 1980 to approximately 1999.
Some, like ship historian John Maxtone-Graham, believe that the France was purpose built to serve as both a liner and a cruise ship, stating: "Once again, the company had cruise conversion in mind... for cruises, all baffle doors segregating staircases from taboo decks were opened to permit free circulation throughout the vessel." However, others, such as ship historian William Miller, have asserted that the France was the "last purposely designed year-round transatlantic supership."
The ship was constructed to replace the line's other aging ships like the SS Ile de France and SS Liberté, which by the 1950s were considered old and outdated. Without these vessels, however, the French Line had no ability to compete against their rivals, most notably Cunard Line, which also had plans for constructing a new modern liner. It was rumoured that this ship would be a 75,000 ton replacement for their ships RMS Queen Mary and RMS Queen Elizabeth. (This ship would eventually be the 68,000 ton RMS Queen Elizabeth 2.) Further, the United States Lines had put into service in 1952 the SS United States, which had broken all speed records on her maiden voyage, with an average speed of 35.59 knots (65.91 km/h).
Hull G19 was built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard, in Saint-Nazaire, France, her keel being laid down on September 7, 1957. She was built in a non-conventional manner: rather than constructing a skeleton which was then covered in steel hull plating, large parts of the ship were prefabricated in other cities (such as Orléans, Le Havre and Lyon). She was built with a unique double bottom that enabled her to carry 8,000 tons of fuel - enough for the trip to New York and back. The hull was fully welded, leading to weight savings, and had two pairs of stabilizing fins.
She was blessed by the Bishop of Nantes, Monseigneur Villepelet, and launched on May 11, 1960, at 4:15 pm, by Madame Yvonne de Gaulle, wife of the President, and was then named France, in honour both of the country, and of the two previous CGT ships to bear the name. By 4:22 pm the France was afloat and under command of tugs. President De Gaulle was also in attendance at the launch, and gave a patriotic speech, announcing that France had been given a new Normandie, they were able to compete now with Cunard's Queens, and the Blue Riband was within their reach. In reality, however, the 35 knot speed of the United States would prove impossible to beat.
After the launch, the propellers were installed (the entire process taking over three weeks), the distinctive funnels affixed to the upper decks, the superstructure completed, life boats placed in their davits, and the interiors fitted out. The France undertook her sea trials on November 19, 1960, and averaged an unexpected 35.21 knots.
With the French Line satisfied, the ship was handed over, and undertook a trial cruise to the Canary Islands with a full complement of passengers and crew. During this short trip she met, at sea, the Liberté on her way to the scrap yard.
The France's maiden voyage to New York took place on February 3, 1961, with many of France's film stars and aristocracy aboard.
On December 14, 1962, the France carried the Mona Lisa from Le Havre to New York, where the painting was to embark on an American tour. She sailed the North Atlantic run between Le Havre and New York for thirteen years. However, by the beginning of the 1970s jet travel was by far more popular than ship travel, and the costs of fuel was ever increasing. The France, which had always relied on subsidies from the French government, was forced to take advantage of these more and more.
Using the ship's versatile design to its full potential, the CGT began to send the France on more cruises during the winter, which was off-season for the Atlantic trade. One design flaw, however, was revealed when the ship reached warmer waters: her two swimming pools, one each for first and tourist class, were both indoors; the first class pool deep within the ship's hull, and the tourist class pool on an upper deck, but covered with an immovable glass dome. The latter, perhaps, was the more aggravating in hot weather. She also had limited outdoor deck space, with much of what was available protected behind thick glass wind-screens; useful on the North Atlantic, but frustrating when blocking cooling breezes in the tropics. (The Queen Elizabeth 2 suffered from a similar design flaw as well.)
None-the-less, the France's cruises were popular, and her first world cruise took place in 1972. Too large to traverse the Panama and Suez Canals, she was forced to sail around Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope. That same year, with the destruction of the Seawise University (former RMS Queen Elizabeth) by fire in Hong Kong, the France became the largest passenger ship in the world.
Still, as the opening years of the decade progressed, the cruise market expanded, seeing the construction of smaller, purpose built cruise ships which could also fit through the Panama Canal. Worse, in 1973 the Oil Crisis hit and the price of oil went from $35 US to $95 US per barrel. When the French government, at the end of the Trente Glorieuses, realised that keeping the France running would necessitate an addition ten million dollars a year, they opted instead to subsidize the then developing Concorde. Without this government money, the French Line could not operate, and with a press release issued in 1974 it was announced that the France would be withdrawn from service on October 25 of that year.
At that, the crew decided to take matters into their own hands: an eastbound crossing on Sept. 6, her 202nd crossing, was delayed several hours while the crew met to decide whether to strike then and there, in New York, or six days later outside Le Havre; Le Havre won, and the ship was commandeered by a group of French trade unionists who anchored the France in the entrance to the port, thereby blocking all incoming and outgoing traffic. The 1200 passengers aboard had to be ferried to shore on tenders, while approximately 800 of the crew remained aboard. The hijackers demanded that the ship be allowed to continue to serve, along with a 35% wage increase for themselves. However, their mission failed, and the night of the hijacking proved to be the ship's last day of service for the CGT. It took over a month for the stand-off to end, and by December 7, 1974, the ship was moored at a distant quay in Le Havre, known colloquially as the quai de l'oubli - the pier of the forgotten.
By that time the France had completed 377 crossing and 93 cruises (including 2 world cruises), carried a total of 588,024 passengers on trans-Atlantic crossings, and 113,862 passengers on cruises, and had sailed a total of 1,860,000 nautical miles.
The SS Norway was registered in Oslo, given the call sign LITA (literally meaning "small"), and was re-christened on April 14, 1980, as the first superliner employed in cruise service. On her maiden call to Oslo, senior steward Wesley Samuels of Jamaica, in the presence of King Olav V, hoisted the United Nations flag as a sign of the ship's international crew. The Norway remains the only ship given permission to fly the UN flag.
She began her maiden voyage to Miami that same year, amidst speculation about her future in the cruise industry. The France had been built as an ocean liner: for speed; long, narrow, with a deep draft, as well as an array of cabin shapes and sizes designed in a compact manner more for purpose travel than languid cruising. But the Norway proved popular, and made the notion of the ship being a destination in itself credible.
Her size, passenger capacity, and amenities revolutionized the cruise industry and started a building frenzy as competitors began to order bigger and larger ships. As cruise competition attempted to take some of Norway's brisk business, the Norway herself was upgraded several times in order to maintain her position as the "grande dame" of the Caribbean, including the addition of new decks to her superstructure. While many ship aficionados believe the new decks spoiled her original clean, classic lines, the new private veranda cabins on the added decks were instrumental in keeping Norway financially afloat during the later years of her operation, as these became a common feature throughout the cruise industry. Competition eventually overtook the Norway, and she even started taking a backseat to other ships in NCL's lineup itself. No longer the "Ship amongst Ships", her owners severely cut back on her maintenance and upkeep. She experienced several mechanical breakdowns, fires, incidents of illegal waste dumping, and safety violations for which she was detained at port pending repairs. Despite the cutbacks, the ship remained extremely popular among cruise enthusiasts, some of whom questioned the owner's actions in light of the continuing successful operation of the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2, which had become a well-maintained rival operating 5-star luxury cruises still for Cunard.
In spite of this, the cutbacks continued and problems mounted even as the ship continued to sail with full occupancy. A turbo-charger fire erupted on the Norway as she entered Barcelona in 1999, which pulled her out of service for three weeks.
Slated for retirement, the Norway sailed out of Manhattan's west side piers for the last time on September 9, 2001, on yet another transatlantic crossing to Greenock, Scotland, and then on to her home port of Le Havre, France. Her passengers would learn of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington two days later, while in mid-ocean. However, as the cruise industry reeled from the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, her owners decided to place her back into service - operating bargain-basement cruises from Miami, after a brief cosmetic refit that failed to address her mounting mechanical and infrastructure problems.
On May 25, 2003, after docking in Miami at 5:00, the Norway was seriously damaged by a boiler explosion at 6:30 am, killing seven crew members, and injuring seventeen, as superheated steam flooded the boiler room, and blasted into crew quarters above through ruptured decking. None of the passengers were affected. On June 27, 2003, NCL/Star decided to relocate the Norway, and she departed Miami under tow, although at first NCL/Star refused to announce her destination. However, she headed towards Europe and eventually arrived in Bremerhaven on September 23, 2003. NCL announced that constructing a new boiler was not possible, however boiler parts were available to repair her. In Bremerhaven she was used as accommodation for NCL crew training to take their places on board the line's new Pride of America.
"France will never sail again," it was announced on March 23, 2004, by NCL Chief Executive Colin Veitch. The ship's ownership was transferred to NCL's parent company, Star Cruises.
Due to large amounts of asbestos aboard the ship (mostly in machine and bulkhead areas), the Norway was not allowed to leave Germany for any scrap yards due to the Basel Convention. However, after assuring the German authorities that Norway would go to Asia for repairs and further operation in Australia, she was allowed to leave port under tow. It was reported that the art from her two dining rooms, children's playroom, stairtower, and library were removed and placed in storage, to possibly be utilized on board a revitalized SS United States, or another ship in the NCL fleet. However, later photos of the ship at the scrapyards of Alang, India, would prove this statement to be untrue. The Norway left Bremerhaven under tow on May 23, 2005, and reached Port Klang, Malaysia on August 10.
In fact, the ship was sold to an American naval demolition dealer for scrap value in December of 2005. After eventually reselling the ship to a scrap yard, the ship was to be towed to Bangladesh or India for demolition. However, in light of protests from Greenpeace, potentially lengthy legal battles due to environmental concerns over the ship's breakup, and amidst charges of fraudulent declarations made by the company to obtain permission to leave Bremerhaven, her owners canceled the sale contract, refunded the purchase price, and left the ship where she was.
On April 24, 2006, Indian media reported that Star Cruises, parent company of NCL, had sold the SS Norway. The ship was renamed SS Blue Lady in preparation for scrapping, and left anchored in waters off the Malaysian coast, with a skeleton crew aboard for minor maintenance. The beginning of a move of the Blue Lady towards Indian waters was reported three weeks later, and subsequently Gopal Krishna, an environmentalist and an anti-asbestos activist, filed an application before the Supreme Court of India to ensure that the ship, reportedly containing asbestos, complied with court's October 14, 2003, order which sought prior decontamination of ships in the country of export before they could be allowed entry into Indian waters.
The ship was sold to Haryana Ship Demolition Pvt. Ltd. by Bridgend Shipping Limited of Monorovia, Liberia, which in turn had bought it from Star Cruises. Earlier the government of Bangladesh refused the Blue Lady entry into their waters due to the asbestos. In mid-May it was announced that she had left Malaysian waters for the United Arab Emirates for repairs, and to take on new crew and supplies. But this information may have been a ruse, as contrasting documents asserted that the vessel was towed directly to India. Indeed, it was documented that on May 17, 2006, Kalraj Mishra expressed his "concern over environmental pollution due to an incoming ship from Malaysia and a need to formulate a policy on ship breaking" to the Indian Parliament, and requested that the government put a halt to it. The ship, however, did not arrive in Indian waters, 100 km off the coast, until mid July, after departing Fujairah, UAE, on June 14. She was allowed to do so due to the Indian Supreme Court's lifing of any ban on the ship's entry. This also cleared the way for her scrapping at Alang, in Gujarat, pending an inspection of the on-board asbestos by experts from the Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB).
After GPCB chairman, K.V. Bhanujan, said the Board had constituted an experts' committee for inspection Blue Lady was docked in Pipavav, Kutch District. On August 2, 2006, after a five day inspection, the experts declared the ship safe for beaching and dismantling in Alang. However, this prompted a fury of controversy over the legality of such an act, including a press release from the NGO Platform on Shipbreaking that critiqued the technical report, alleging that the Technical Committee was under undue pressure to allow the ship to be beached, and had failed to follow the Basel Convention and the Supreme Court of India's order that ships must be decontaminated of hazardous substances such as PCBs and asbestos, and, in any case, must be fully inventoried and formally notified prior to arrival in the importing country. No such notification was made by either Malaysia (last country of departure) nor Germany (country where the ship became waste). The NGO Platform on Shipbreaking also announced that it was prepared to launch a global campaign against Star Cruises and their subsidiary Norwegian Cruise Lines for corporate negligence in this case.
Contrary to inaccurate reports which emerged in mid August, 2006, stating that the Blue Lady had been beached in Alang, and citing the Supreme Court's approval for the move, photos revealed that she was still partially afloat off the coast; her bow on dry beach at low tide, and the ship fully afloat at high tide. The photos also showed that neither NCL nor Star Cruises had removed any of the ship's onboard furniture or artworks (including the murals in the Windward Dining Room and Children's Playroom, and the Steinway piano in Le Bistro), as had previously been reported. Fans of the France became concerned about the future of the art pieces, both due to the ship lying at anchor in a very humid environment without power for air conditioning, and due to lack of concern for preservation on the part of the scrappers. Still, it was stated that as of early September of 2006, the ship's owner had signed contracts with various buyers, including auctioneers and a French museum, to sell the artworks. Other fittings were to be sold by the ton.
Gopal Krishna again moved an application seeking compliance with the Basel Convention, and three days later the Indian Supreme Court decided that the scrapping was to be postponed, stipulating that the Technical Committe, which earlier approved the scrapping, were to write a new report to be submitted before the Court's final decision. At last report, however, the scrappers continue to winch the ship further ashore in a zig-zag pattern.
The vessel is currently still beached at Alang. The Supreme Court of India has ruled that the beaching of the vessel was in contempt of court and therefore illegal. The final court date regarding the statues of the vessel is due in May. The Supreme Court is currently determining whether scrapping of the vessel can be carried out in Alang. There are also interested groups seeking to purchase the vessel. The SS Blue Lady is currently sitting on the mud of Alang at low tide, but at high tide is surrounded by water. The Supreme Court has acknowledged that the vessel can be refloated with some dredging and the use of tugs. The future of the vessel is still to be determined.
A look inside...
The Promenade Deck...
"With each passing year, it becomes more extraordinary because nothing like it will ever be wrought again"
I found her on GoogleEarth, at the shipyard in Alang. I've pasted an aerial (comparison) shot.