Monday, September 15, 2014

Bill Miller's Millergram is back...


by Bill Miller
September 15th 2014

​from aboard the Silver Whisper​

Note:  I plan to do a monthly version of the Millergram, but there's simply so much at the moment that a mid-month version is temporarily needed.   Soon, I'll cat
​ch up​...

BALTIC PORTS: Boom times! Cruising in the Baltic has reached its highest levels. St Petersburg, as an example and with a giant new cruise terminal called the Marine Facade, had a record day last June – 7 liners were in port in a single day: AIDAbella, Brilliance of the Seas, Legend of the Seas, Mein Schiff 2, MSC Orchestra, Seven Seas Voyager & Thomson Spirit. Busy tour guides – these 7 ships brought almost 16,000 visitors to the historic city. Meanwhile, Stockholm had its busiest year ever – with 274 cruise calls delivering just short of a half-million passengers. 
COSTA: Hiccups! Incidents involving cruise ships are very much part of their operations. The Costa Deliziosa suffered a blackout for several hours last spring while docked at Valencia in Spain. The new, but unfinishedQuantum of the Seas had a fire in June while getting her finishing touches at the Meyer Werft Shipyard. There was $100,000 in damages. Later in June, Holland America's Westerdam had to abruptly return to Seattle following a boiler room fire. Her cruise lasted but 1 hour before she had to return to port. ... The 121,000-grt Celebrity Silhouette had some disrupted European itineraries over the summer. The 2,850-bed ship had engine problems. ... And Aida's AIDAdiva was said to have been "attacked" by rockets while in Israeli waters in July.
CRUISE & MARITIME VOYAGES: Switching places! While the 43-year-old Discovery (ex-Island Venture/Island Princess/Hyundai Pungak/Platinum) will be retired next winter, she's being replaced by an even older ship, the chartered, the 66-year old Azores (ex-Stockholm/Volkerfreundschaft/Volker/Fridtjof Nansen/Italia Prima/Valtur Prima/Athena). Her first cruise for UK-based Cruise & Maritime will be a month-long jaunt to the Caribbean, sailing from Avonmouth, and later a special trip farther north in search of Total Solar Eclipse on March 20th. ... The aged Discovery is, it is reported, will be going for scrap (and following her twin sister, the Pacific (ex-Sea Venture/Pacific Princess), which was demolished last year out in Turkey). (Note by LMC: although AZORES hull is in fact 66 years old, the present cruise ship is much more modern, she was rebuilt in 1994 and only parts of the original hull were retained).
CUNARD: Facelift! Even four-year-old ships need to keep pace. Last May, the 2,100-passenger Queen Elizabeth was off to Hamburg – but without passengers & destined for the Blohm & Voss Shipyard there. New single cabins were added, the shopping centre extended, all carpeting & mattresses replaced and 1,200 flat-screen televisions installed. ... The 2007-built Queen Victoria is having a big refit this winter and the ten-year-old Queen Mary 2might well be having one later in 2015.
NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINES: Growing, growing, growing! As the 3rd biggest and busiest cruise line, NCL is expanding into the luxury market. Earlier this month, they acquired Prestige Cruise Holidays, which owns both Oceania & Regent-Seven Seas. This comes to an additional 8 cruise ships, each in the six-star category, in NCL's existing fleet of 14 large, mass-market liners.
ROYAL CARIBBEAN: Busy at work! The keel for the third 225,000-grt plus Oasis Class ship was laid in May at the STX Shipyard in St Nazaire and so construction is well underway. Hugely successful, a fourth of the class has now been ordered. Similar to the earlier Oasis of the Seas & Allure of the Seas, this new ship will carry 6,200 passengers & 2,800 crew. The cost is high and might just be the greatest yet for a cruise ship: $1.5 billion! ...
Meanwhile, in a whispered rumor from a RCI staff member, "It would not be surprising to see one of these Oasis class ships – the biggest cruise liners ever – go into Chinese cruise service."
RUSSIA: Well, bygone Russians! Polish-built in 1982 but for the Odessa-based Black Sea Shipping Company, the 9,800-grt Konstantin Simonovrenamed Russian owned, but hoisted the Cypriot flag in 1996 as theFrancesca. Between 2001-09, she sailed for Israel's Mano Cruises as The Iris, running Eastern Mediterranean cruises out of Haifa. Next stop: she was sold to Finland's Katarina Cruises, becoming the Kristina Katarina. But they pulled out of cruising just last year and so the ship was chartered out – being used as an accommodation ship in the Shetlands as the Ocean Endeavour. For the summer of 2015, she's returning to cruising, for operators called Adventure Canada, for Canadian Arctic & coast of Greenland cruising. ... A twin sister, the Lev Tolstoy, has resumed cruising as well. She spent last summer operating for Turkey's Apex Tours, running 3 & 4 night cruises from Kusadasi in Turkey to the Greek isles. She too has had a varied career – becoming the Cyrprus-flag Palmira in 1996, then sailed as The Jasmine from 2001-06 and then, in 2008, as the EasyCruise Life for the short-lived, no-frills EasyCruise operation. Thought to be used by other Greek operators, nothing materialized in recent years. Now, as theEasyCruise Life, she's busy with this Turkish charter.
SAGA CRUISES: Expanding! Operating the Saga Sapphire and Saga Pearl II, UK-based Saga is said to be "seriously" looking for a 3rd liner. Rumor while misty have always included buying Holland America's 750-passenger Prinsendam (ex-Royal Viking Sun/Seabourn Sun).
TORONTO: Lunch at 1! About 20 years ago, during a visit to Toronto, we wandered down to the waterfront and had lunch aboard XX. Berthed at the foot of Young Street, the small, xx-tonner had been a cruise ship in its previous life – sailing as the Rijeka-registered Jadran for the long-gone Jadrolinija on Adriatic coastal itineraries. She was one of three sister ships. A Toronto businessman known as Captain John bought her in the xx and then brought her (through the St Lawrence Seaway) to Toronto for use as a moored restaurant. Financially ailing in more recent years, however, she was seized recently by local authorities, the owners owing $3 ½ million in unpaid taxes. The next step: the 1958-built ship has gone to the auction block and been sold for $33,000 to other local buyers, but who plan to scrap it.
SS UNITED STATES: Updated rumors, plans & schemes continue! In November, the super liner United States will have been laid up & idle for 45 years, far longer than most ship's sail. The 990-ft long ship itself is 62 years old, having been first commissioned back in 1952. While she remains silently moored at Philadelphia (for 18 years, since 1996), she has long been a ship of rumor, plans, revitalization projects. The very latest include moving the liner to Pier 7 in Brooklyn Heights, in fact just north of the Brooklyn-Red Hook Cruise Terminal. Brooklyn itself is busily redeveloping the former Port Authority freighter piers as parks, promenades, marinas, shops, restaurants & hotels. Plans and preliminary studies to bring the onetime Blue Ribbon champion to Brooklyn were said (according to some good sources) underway as of last summer. Earlier, in the late '90s, there were – among a boatload of ideas – ideas of bringing the ship to Pier 1 in Brooklyn and also of berthing her in the former Brooklyn Navy Yard (which would include moving her twin funnels, placing them on a barge and then towing her under the Brooklyn & Manhattan bridges – and afterward re-installing those mammoth funnels). Other current ideas for the 53,000-tonner include mooring her in Chester, Pennsylvania, near the former Sun Shipbuilding Shipyard, and making her over as a casino & complex of restaurants. On the reverse side, there were reports in 2013 that the liner would go for scrap – either in Philadelphia, at Chester or Bordentown in nearby New Jersey or, following a long tow, at Brownsville in Texas.

​ Heard Along the Boat Deck: THE LATE, GREAT “NORWAY”

Cato Christensen was staff captain, between 1999 and 2001, of one of the greatest ocean liners of all time, the Norway. She was the world’s first mega-cruise liner, the longest passenger ship afloat for many years and was, of course, the illustrious France in her previous life. As Captain Christensen sat together in the warm, blue waters of the Eastern Caribbean, aboard the Crystal Symphony, we recalled the greatNorway. Her last remains had been chopped-up by scrappers out in India just the month before, in October 2008. The Norway had been around for 43 years, since her initial commissioning as the pride of the French merchant marine in late 1961.
“As the Norway, she still had this great ambience. It was very special. She had a different feeling than other ships,” recalled the Captain. “There was history, even great history, in the walls. Even in some of her public rooms, such as the Club International, there was a special tone. Simply, she was like no other ship.”
Built at St Nazaire in western France for the final years, the twilight, of the great and grand North Atlantic run, the ship as built as the France carried 2,000 passengers --- 500 in fancy, upper-deck first class and 1,500 in tourist class. She had vast public rooms, an array of luxurious penthouses & suites, a chapel and dog kennels complete with miniature New York City fire hydrants. While her food was often said to be beyond compare and coupled with the finest wine cellar at sea, even the dogs had menus while the dog biscuits were specially made. She sailed for about 9 months of the year on regular relays between Manhattan’s Pier 88, Southampton & Le Havre; for the rest, she cruised --- to the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Carnival in Rio. In 1972 and ’74, she also made winter cruises around the world. But, as passengers declined, her operational costs rose and while the French Government pulled the plug on her operating subsidy, the France was decommissioned in October 1974. For almost 5 years, she sat idle, at a backwater berth near Le Havre, and just waited. She might even have been scrapped. But Norwegian Cruise Lines bought her in ’79, gave her a costly $150 million makeover as a cruise ship and then introduced her as the Norway in May 1990. Her new role: weekly 7-night cruises from Miami to sun-filled ports in the Eastern Caribbean. “The Norway was strong and solid, and built like very few other ships,” added Captain Christensen. “Her watertight doors, for example, could be individually operated and closed in 30 seconds. They were so advanced for a ship designed in the ‘50s and built in the early ’60. Although the forward engine room had been removed by NCL, she had her original steam turbines. But I think Kloster [then the owner of NCL] regretted not converting her to diesel during the big refit in ’79-80. She was, of course, quite a different ship to handle and to experience. She had delayed maneuvers. There were 45 second delays. It was always quite an experience to handle this 1035-foot long ship in, say, the Miami turning basin.”
“But she was a great ship to the end,” continued the Captain. “Of course, we needed extra staff in the engine room because of those steam turbines. The crew liked, but mostly loved her. They felt, quite rightfully, that she was a ship of history. They worked extra hard to make her work. We had one man continuously painting, for example, in the galley just to keep it looking spotless and fresh. About 85-90% of the crew always returned to her. Her US Public Health Scores were sometimes on the edge before her age and we’d always lose 2 points just because of that. Most of Deck 5 was still original, for example, and so were many of the suites. In the Captain’s office, there was still a button on the desk that connected directly to the pantry for instant service. As Vice Captain, my cabin had been the ‘dog house’ when the ship had a large kennel. The kennels themselves and that New York City fire hydrant were gone, however. By 2001, we still had great passenger loads and lots of repeater passengers. One guest came with his butler and had a big suite for 4-6 cruises at a time. But once the butler sent the chauffeur & the car off, but with all the luggage as well. So, the chauffeur had to fly to the first port of call, to St Thomas, with the luggage and the clothes.”
The Norway had a serious boiler explosion at her Miami berth in May 2003. Six crew members were killed and others seriously injured. “NCL lost almost all interest in her after the explosion,” concluded Captain Christensen. “Star Cruises, the new, Malaysian parent of NCL, lost interest as well. Everything actually changed with Star. The mood was different. There was no chance of seeing her getting expensive repairs and returning to service. Of course, now it is very sad that she has been scrapped. She should have been saved, possibly as a museum and hotel, and like theQE2 in Dubai. This would have been better. Her steel hull was still so strong. It was 2 inches thick below the waterline. We once had a problem undocking. Bit in the end, there was more damage to the pier than to the ship.”Photograph, by Luís Miguel Correia, of PORTUSCALE CRUISES AZORES arriving Lisbon on 13 September 2014. Further interest in readingthe FRANCE and NORWAY story? Get your copy of L.M.Correia and Bill Miller's book on the FRANCE / NORWAY, available for purchase here....
Texto e imagens /Text and images copyright L.M.Correia. Favor não piratear. Respeite o meu trabalho / No piracy, please. For other posts and images, check our archive at the right column of the main page. Click on the photos to see them enlarged. Thanks for your visit and comments. Luís Miguel Correia
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