Today, the very last UK built passenger liner arrived at her final resting place at plot 58, owned by Malwi Breaking Co. in Alang, to join her former fleet mate, Sagafjord in maritime memories and history. Every time I mention one the other is included. They are permanently interlinked, first for Norwegian Amerika Line, then Cunard and finally Saga Cruises.
She entered service in 1973, built at Swan Hunter on the Tyne. Both she and her sister Sagafjord joined Cunard 10 years later after NAL was absorbed by Cunard. They repainted the funnels but promised to keep the grey hulls and names. I first saw her in 1988.
Sagafjord left the fleet in 1996, joining Saga in 1997. Vistafjord was renamed Caronia in 1999, becoming a mini QE2 with her dark hull. Acromas Shipping Limited, parent company of Saga, became her manager in May 2003 and owner in June 2003. With the advent of Queen Mary 2, it was announced Caronia would be withdrawn in 2004. Her farewell cruise commenced on the 20th October, a 12 night voyage to the Canaries, returning to Southampton on the 1st November. Alas I have no photos of her in he livery, just this video from 2000.
She emerged to begin her new life as Saga Ruby in 2005, arriving in Southampton on the 7th February. I’ve posted the video on other blogs so won’t here. Saga love their old girls and look after them well. As Saga Ruby, she retained a couple of paintings of her in her NAL colours, including one dedicated from the last Captain of Caronia which had pride of place in the Captain’s quarters.
She was a fantastic little ship and on of the favourites of the late journalist Steve Read. I was thrilled when he invited me along to help him cover six ships in Southampton on the 5th January 2011. He asked Cunard, P&O, Fred Olsen and Saga if we could visit. Saga replied immediately with a resounding yes. P&O was a resounding no. So Steve planned a day on Ruby. The day before, Cunard said no, Fred said yes, then Cunard buggered up the party by agreeing to just one but must be off my noon. Outside filming before going onboard and we ended up on Ruby in time for afternoon tea. A fabulous couple of hours which included interviewing Captain Steve Angard in his quarters. It was easy to fall in love with her.
Sadly time is not kind to our Grande Dames of the Seas and Saga announced in 2012 she would leave the fleet in 2014. She must have known as her final world cruise in 2013 was beset with crankshaft trouble, despite having a refit during November 2012. She was supposed to set off on the 7th January but ended up being moved to berth 40 on the 8th to undergo repairs.
Meanwhile, Ruby was returned to City Terminal on the 23rd January, still unfixed. Saga was forced to revise the world cruise, allowing a repair window. The new date was 20th February. Sea trials were due on the 9th February for 24 hours, including an anchorage off Nab. A problem was discovered, delaying her but then it was fixed and she began moving away almost twenty-five minutes late. After she’d been turned, she just stopped off Mayflower Park. Another fault developed so they tried to find it, deciding if they couldn’t they would either continue on one engine or go back alongside. They eventually found the problem was caused by an air valve so parts were looked for as they tried to repair it. After an engine test at 10.52am, it was decided to return to the berth.
A further attempt was made several hours later, this time successfully.
They didn’t stay away the planned 24 hours. Instead she returned after about 20 but it was still a good crack at it and seemed successful.
And so, much to the relief of everyone at Saga, her loyal passengers and dedicated fans, she set off on her new world cruise on schedule.
Due to being busy in Southampton, she sailed into Portsmouth at the end of her world cruise before heading to Dover for her usual summer season.
She returned in October for her final cruises. Her farewell cruise began from Southampton on the 7th December 2013, ending just before midnight on the 9th January 2014. The last journey as a Saga ship would be to Gibraltar on the 10th where she was renamed Oasia. Although never officially confirmed by Saga, BBC South announced she would be a hotel in Myanmar. The pilot was stuck in traffic so one boarded from the Harbour Master boat then with 44 passengers and a farewell from Saga Pearl II, she was off for pastures new.
She underwent dry docking in Gibraltar to fix a lot of things including hull damage before finalising the sale. Her name was changed to Oasis on the 1st February, also being reflagged to the Bahamas that day. Fleet Pro became her manager while Millennium View Limited was her new owner. After leaving Gibraltar on the 15th she got to Suez the 23rd she reached Penang on the 10th March where she remained for 2 days with reports she would be a hotel in Yangon, Myanmar.
She never arrived in Myanmar, however. Sattahip in Thailand ended up as the nearest destination. Several times a year, beginning the 27th June that year, she would tootle about.
During one such trip, in March 2016, rumours abounded she was for sale due to being at Sattahip anchorage. January 2017 seemed to begin as usual with short jaunts but by March things were definitely afoot. She left for Sattahip anchorage on the 1st. On the 2nd it was reported she had been sold.
Strange things began happening on the 4th, including raising the anchor and going further than she had before, returning the 5th.
The 5th March, coincidentally, would have been Steve Read’s birthday. Later that night, UK time, her flag was changed to the Flag of Death – St Kitts & Nevis, name changed to Oasis, though it took a while for the details on Marine Traffic to catch up. It turned out her new owners were called Best Oasis Limited, a name used by Prayati Shipping Pvt Ltd in India and they had been since he 27th February while her name was changed to Oasis on the 1st March. While that made it a little better considering how much Steve loved that little ship, it was still like watching the death throes of a close friend.
The 7th was it. She set off. Thankfully the webcam of Diamond Princess giving on final glimpse, though it would have been better in daylight.
After several days not transmitting, she did again on the 12th which showed she had moved. The following day, she headed towards Singapore for refuelling. Rumours abounded she was about to be saved there. She stopped transmitting on the 16th for five days when she was clearly sailing back the way she came. By the 24th her fate of Alang was confirmed.
She came back into range off Sri Lanka four days later. One drawback with Marine Traffic is you can watch ships go to their doom. It isn’t that easy to not watch as you need to believe it’s real, especially when it’s one of your favourites. She arrived at Bhavnagar Anchorage which is the holding area, on the 4th April, just missing the beaching tide. The next was 10th-15th. She had been joined by MSC Claudia, which had arrived on the 31st March and Harmony Ace, which arrived on the 2nd and she passed both en route to anchor.
Her demise grew ever closer when she followed Harmony Ace to wait off the death beach at Alang on the 8th April.
Her death row mate, MSC Claudia joined the anchorage on the 10th April, followed by Seagell-K. Both the MSC and Harmony Ace beached on the 11th. Seagell-K was about 12 hours later on the 12th.
And then there was one. But when would she join them? High tide in Bhavnagar was 5.56pm local time but 45 minutes earlier at Alang where it would reach 10.6 metres. With her AIS intermittent, she moved as suddenly as she went out of range. At least she spared us the sight of her hitting the beach like her death row mates.
It is with a very heavy heart I finish this blog entry. When I set up this blog in 2010, there were only two little ships in consideration for the banner photo. While there are many ships I love, these two made me more excited than any others. They are my absolute favourites and I miss them enormously. ❤