What happens to old cruise ships? Scrapped, sunk or turned into hotels and museums

Ever wondered what happens to old cruise ships? Take a look at the final resting places of these once proud holiday vessels.

Cruise ships have a lifetime of about 30 years. Eventually, however, ageing cruise ships become unseaworthy, outdated or too expensive to operate, and sail off into their ultimate sunset.

PASSED ALONG

Most cruise ships go with a whimper rather than a bang. They're handed down from company to ever more budget company, then on to small-scale cruise operations in countries such as Russia or Korea, or are even used as overnight car ferries.

Among many examples, Carnival's Tropicale, built in 1981, became Costa Cruises' Costa Tropicale (2001), P&O Australia's Pacific Star (2005) and Pullmantur's Ocean Dream (2008). Since 2012 it has been used by a Japanese NGO and is called Peace Boat (peaceboat.org).

Another ship familiar to Australians, P&O Australia's Pacific Sun, started life as Carnival's Jubilee and went on to become the Chinese-owned Henna before being scrapped in 2017. And just this month, P&O Australia announced it had sold Pacific Eden (itself formerly Holland-America's Statendam) to Cruise & Maritime Voyages, which takes over the ship in April 2019.

SCRAPPED

When ships get truly dilapidated they're sold for scrap, with parts and metals recycled. Most end up in one of the world's three largest ship scrapyards: Alang in India, Chittagong in Bangladesh or Gadani in Pakistan. Ships are run aground on the beach and a vast army of underpaid, unprotected workers break up the ship, stripping everything useful, cutting up the hull's steel plates and abandoning hazardous materials to the elements in scenes that could be straight out of a Mad Max movie.

Among cruise ships eventually scrapped is Pacific Princess, which famously appeared in the TV series Love Boat in the late 1970s and early '80s. It had a particularly sad fate of deterioration under subsequent owners, saw several fatal crew accidents, and was eventually seized by a Genoan shipyard because of unpaid bills. In 2014, it was sold to a Turkish scrapyard for just €2.5 million.

ABANDONED AT SEA

Some cruise ships don't even make it as far as the knacker's yard. Ocean liner America (1933), which later became American Star, was being towed across the Atlantic in 1993 for conversion into a luxury hotel when it ran aground off the Canary Islands in a storm and broke in two. For quite some time it provided spectacular photos. Parts of the ship's structure eventually collapsed into the sea. The remainder of the stricken vessel is now only visible at low tide.

When Society Expeditions' World Discoverer struck a reef off the Solomon Islands in 2000, passengers were evacuated and it limped towards Roderick Bay, where it was abandoned off the beach. It's still there, stripped of its contents by islanders, and has become a local tourist attraction – or for some, an eyesore.

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SUNK

It's mostly naval ships that are sunk to create artificial reefs for recreational diving, though there are a few exceptions such as small cruise ship Salamanda in Fiji, now encrusted with anemones and coral for your scuba-diving delight.

Cruise ships seldom sink by accident, though in 1999 Vista Sun caught fire and sank in Malaysian waters, and in 2007 Gap Adventure's Explorer hit an iceberg and sank off the South Shetland Islands. (Everyone on both ships was safely rescued.) The notorious Costa Concordia, which ran aground off Italy in 2012 killing 32 people, was eventually refloated at eye-watering cost and dismantled in Genoa.

Occasionally cruise ships sink accidentally in just the right place. The 736-passenger cruise ship Bianca C sank off popular tourist beach Grand Anse in Granada (puregrenada.com) in 1961. Now inhabited by sharks, eels and eagle rays, Bianca C is considered one of the world's best dive wrecks.

Visits to the world's most famous wreck, Titanic, have been restricted for years, but this year Blue Marble Private (bluemarbleprivate.com) is offering submarine dives to the site 3800 metres below the North Atlantic's surface at the cost of a cool $130,000.

REPURPOSED

Some ships are refitted to become floating, permanently moored hotels, convention centres or restaurants. The most famous is Cunard's Queen Mary (queenmary.com), retired in 1967 and now docked – with much of its machinery removed – in Long Beach, California. Occasionally it serves as a movie set, most notably for the 1972 disaster flick The Poseidon Adventure. Visitors can tour the ship and learn about its illustrious history.

Cunard's Queen Elizabeth 2, which retired in 2008, disappeared into limbo for a decade as rumours swirled about its future. In April 2018, it finally opened as a hotel permanently docked in Dubai (qe2.com), with 224 rooms, 13 restaurants and bars and various entertainments. Its lobby has a museum of the illustrious liner's history and reproduces the original bridge and a first-class cabin.

See: QE2 opens as hotel in Dubai

When the trans-Baltic cruise-ferry Silja Festival was retired in 2013 it was sent to Kitimat on Canada's west coast to provide temporary housing for 600 construction workers upgrading industrial facilities. (The ship is now operated by Corsica ferries under the name Mega Andrea.) Carnival's ship Holiday was used to house victims of Hurricane Katarina in 2005, became Iberocruceros' Grand Holiday and again used as a hotel during the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014. It now sails as Cruise & Maritime Voyages' Magellan.

A few companies are turning cruise ships into residential communities or retirement homes at sea. Florida-based Cruise Retirement (cruiseretirement.com) launches its Enchanted Explorer, formerly Delphin, in early 2019.

TURNED INTO MUSEUMS

A tiny handful of cruise ships end up permanently moored as museums, among them the steamship Bore in Finnish port Turku (msborea.fi), on which you can visit the passenger cabins and crew quarters and learn about its history.

Holland-America's 1959 vessel Rotterdam (ssrotterdam.com), moored in Rotterdam and also operating as a hotel and restaurant venue, has tours around its chart room, captain's cabin and the boilers and turbines below decks.

In Yokohama, Hikawa Maru (nyk.com) preserves the interiors of a luxe 1930s trans-Pacific cruise liner, including an art deco dining room and cabins, and elaborate ceilings and staircases. You can also inspect the engine room and crew quarters.

RUSTING AWAY

Some cruise ships simply remain in limbo. That's the sad fate of one of the world's best-known cruise liners, United States, which on its maiden voyage in 1952 broke the transatlantic speed record. It has had a disappointing afterlife since retiring in 1969. Several owners failed to make it profitable during the 1970s. In 1984 its furniture and fittings were sold off, in the mid-1990s its interior almost completely stripped. The once grand ship now sits in the Delaware River in Philadelphia. A conservancy group (ssusc.org) is now attempting restoration.

Ship graveyards such as Olenya Bay in Russia and Nouadhibou Bay in Mauritania feature retired naval vessels, cargo ships and tugboats rather than cruise ships. You can visit some, such as Arthur Kill Boat Yard in New York on photography tours (nymediaboat.com), Landévennec in France (landevennec.fr) and Port Adelaide in South Australia (environment.sa.gov.au), where some 25 ships, steamers and barges decay.

Take a look at some of the final resting places of these ships in the photo gallery above.

See also: Into the boneyard - where old jumbo jets go to die

See also: Scrapped - first A380 superjumbos to be broken up for parts

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