The transatlantic route between Europe and North America may have been the most competitive and most prestigious ocean liner service, but it was hardly the only one. Prior to airplanes, ocean liners were the sole means of travel between continents, so the oceans of the world were crossed by numerous liners on numerous routes. While 10 transatlantic liners have survived to the present day, the survival rate of other liners is much, much lower. Here's the five surviving "other" ocean liners, two of which can be considered liners only on a technicality.
SS Medina (1914) – later Roma/Franca C./Doulos/Doulos Phos
Built: 1914 by Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Newport News, Virginia, USA
Original Operator: Mallory Steamship Company/Clyde-Mallory Lines: 1914-1948
Rebuilt in La Spezia, Italy (1950), Genoa, Italy (1953), Genoa, Italy (1959), Hamburg, West Germany (1978), Cape Town, South Africa (1992)
Re-Engined 1953, 1970
5,426 gross tons (as built)
6,549 gross tons (as rebuilt in 1950)
6,818 gross tons (currently)
981 passengers (1950)
552 passengers (as cruise ship)
One of the longest serving merchant ships in history, this one makes it onto this list as a technicality. Medina was originally built as a freighter, with no passenger accommodations; and was also built for coastal services and only later moved into liner routes.
Nonetheless, this is one ship that has defied the scrapyards at least 6 times that I'm aware of, and has had about 4 totally different careers, proving that the secret to longevity is to adapt.
Completed in 1914, Medina was only the 5th ship built by the still new Newport News Shipbuilding firm, and was their 2nd ocean-going merchant ship. Medina was delivered new to the Mallory Steamship Company, and was, at the time, one of the largest and most modern cargo ships in the US merchant fleet. Named for the river in Texas, Medina's original purpose was transporting produce between New York and Galveston, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
She was requisitioned by the Navy in 1917, and wound up sailing with supply convoys on the Atlantic. After the war, she was returned to her owners in 1919 and resumed coastal cargo services, being retrofitted from coal to oil fuel in 1922. 19 years later, America was back in another World War and Medina was requisitioned again in December, 1941 and placed on convoy duty. She became part of a rare group of merchant ships to survive both World Wars and was returned to her owners in late 1945 to resume civilian cargo service.
At this point, Medina was beyond her projected service life of 25-30 years and her machinery was starting to wear out. She served just 3 more years before being withdrawn in 1948. Ordinarily, the next stop would be the breakers' yard, but Medina wound up being sold to a new Italian-Panamanian startup company called San Miguel Navigation Company. San Miguel had the ship extensively rebuilt in Italy as an ocean liner with a capacity for 287 in private cabins and 694 in dormitories. The business plan was to run transatlantic services to Italy, marketed toward Catholics in Latin America and the United States wishing to visit Rome and Vatican City during the Jubilaeum Maximum, the Holy Year proclaimed by Pope Pius XII for Dec. 1949-Dec. 1950. The ship returned to service in the spring of 1950 as Roma, but only operated a few unprofitable Atlantic voyages before San Miguel threw in the towel and decided to move her to the Europe to Australia immigration service.
She made just one voyage from Bremerhaven, West Germany to Newcastle, Australia, breaking down en route and undergoing emergency repairs in Ceylon. Upon arrival, San Miguel declared bankruptcy and Roma spent 3 months in limbo at Newcastle before sailing to Italy, where she was arrested for nonpayment of debts. Ordinarily, the next stop would have been the scrapyard, but yet again, the ship took a different course. Genoa-based Costa Line, the predecessor to present-day Costa Cruises, bought her at auction in 1952 and invested in another major rebuilding. In the process, the worn out old steam engine was replaced with a new Fiat diesel and she returned to service in 1953 as Franca C., sailing between Italy and South America.
After a few years, Costa took delivery of the new, purpose-built Federico C. and Franca C. was pulled off the Atlantic route in 1959. Rather than sell her for scrap, Costa invested in another refitting, converting her into a luxury cruise ship, decorated with specially commissioned artwork and custom Italian Mid Century furnishing, Franca C. developed a reputation as one of the world's premiere cruise ships during the 1960s. She was also one of the first ships in the world to be dedicated to full-time cruising. In 1970, Costa spent even more money, replacing her diesel engine yet again, this time with an even more fuel-efficient model, and she remained in service through 1977, when Costa withdrew Franca C. from service and placed her up for sale.
The 64-year old ship cheated death yet again, being sold in 1978 to Good Books for All (GBA), a West German Christian charity that provides free books, medical and dental care, and educational supplies to the developing world. Renamed Doulos (Greek for servant), she was refitted again to house a medical clinic and the world's largest floating bookstore, and went on to yet another career, serving GBA for the next 31 years. After serious corrosion and electrical problems were discovered, Doulos underwent a major refit in South Africa in the early '90s to extend her service life by another 20 years. Initially, Good Books for All had hoped to keep Doulos in service at least through her centennial in 2014, but it was not to be. A survey in 2009 revealed serious corrosion in the hull below the waterline, and GBA decided it would not be a prudent use of their limited resources to invest more money in yet another major rebuilding of such an old ship. Doulos was pulled from service the final time and laid up in Singapore in December 2009, after 95 years of use.
Cheating the scrappers again (running theme), Doulos was acquired by Singapore-based BizNaz Resources International in early 2010 and renamed Doulos Phos (servant light). The current plans are for the ship to become a permanently moored boutique hotel and restaurant as the centerpiece of a new real estate development on Bintan Island, Indonesia. In the autumn of 2013, Doulos Phos was towed to a shipyard on Bantam to begin her reconstruction, but there have been no updates on the project since then.
MV Hikawa Maru (1930) – later NYK Hikawamaru
Built: 1930 by Yokohama Dock Company, Yokohama Japan
Original Operator: NYK Lines: 1930-1960, 2005-present
535 ft. long
11,622 gross tons
The only surviving Pacific liner, Hikawa Maru was completed in 1930 for NYK Line's transpacific service from Kobe to Seattle. Hikawa Maru and her two identical sister ships were essentially large combination passenger-cargo liners, carrying 331 passengers in 3 classes and a large amount of cargo. She remained in transpacific service from 1930 through the Fall of 1941, when she was requisitioned by the Imperial Japanese Navy and converted to a hospital ship, entering service in late December. Upon the end of the war in 1945, Hikawa Maru and the OSK Line's Takasago Maru were the only two ocean-going passenger ships left in the Japanese fleet, everything else having been sunk or irreparably destroyed. The American occupation forces confiscated Hikawa Maru and converted her into a troop transport to repatriate Japanese troops and civilians from Korea, China, the East Indies, and South Pacific. In early 1947, Hikawa Maru was returned to NYK. Due to the lack of demand for passenger traffic in the immediate postwar era, combined with a crippling shortage of cargo ships, NYK initially used the ship only as a freighter, with no passengers, transporting cargo between Burma, Thailand, and Japan from 1947-1953.
Finally, in 1953, Hikawa Maru's passenger accommodations were restored to their prewar standards and she was placed back on the Kobe-Seattle route as a passenger liner, remaining in service until late 1960, when she was retired after 30 years of use. In 1961, she was moved to Yokohama, where she was docked as a permanently moored hotel, museum, restaurant, and events venue. Hikawa Maru very likely provided the inspiration for much of the City of Long Beach's plans regarding the acquisition and conversion of the Queen Mary, although the adaptive reuse of Hikawa Maru was much more sensitive, preserving the vast majority of the Art Deco interiors with minimal alterations.
Unfortunately, like the Queen Mary, Hikawa Maru had trouble generating revenue in a stationary role. The hotel closed in 1973, followed by the indoor restaurant in 2002. To prevent the ship from possibly being sold for scrap, and to make funds and tax benefits available for its preservation, the City of Yokohama declared it a cultural asset in 2003. Finally, in 2006, the ship's owner, the Hikawa Maru Marine Tower Co. collapsed in bankruptcy, and the ship was completely closed. Her former owners, NYK Line, bought the ship out of bankruptcy, and invested in a through refurbishment, reopening her to the public in 2007. In 2008, the ship was renamed NYK Hikawamaru, to match the naming scheme used by NYK's contemporary fleet of container ships. She is now operated in conjunction with the land-based NYK Maritime Museum, housed in the company's neoclassical former headquarters building. The hotel component has not been reopened, so only a portion of the ship is now publicly accessible.
MS Astor (1981) – later Arkona/Astoria/Saga Pearl II/Quest for Adventure/Saga Pearl II
Built: 1981 by Howaldtswereke-Deutsche Werft, Hamburg, West Germany
Original Operator: HADAG Cruise Line: 1981-1984
539 ft. long
18,591 gross tons
Like Medina/Doulos Phos, this ship makes it onto the list under a technicality, as Astor was not originally built for ocean liner service, but was adapted later on.
Originally built in 1981 for the newly established HADAG Cruise Line (a division of the older Hamburg city-owned transit company), she was originally designed as a premium cruise ship to operate cruises out of Hamburg for the German market. HADAG soon thought better of the idea of becoming involved in the cruise industry, and sold the ship to the South African Marine Corporation (Safmarine) in 1984.
Until 1977, Safmarine had operated ocean liner services between South Africa and the United Kingdom in a joint venture with the British-based Union Castle Line, but had been forced to abandon the passenger business when Union Castle pulled out. Despite the overwhelming dominance of jet airliners in international travel, restarted ocean liner services was a priority for the South African government, so Astor was purchased and pressed into use on the Cape Town to Southampton route. Unfortunately, the ship had not been built for long distance cruising at high speed, and the service proved too taxing for her engines, which suffered mechanical problems. Safmarine decided to pull Astor from service in 1985 and order a replacement ship that would be better suited to liner services.
In 1985, she was sold to Deutsche Seereederei and returned to the West German market as the cruise ship Arkona, sailing for them for the next 16 years. In 2001, Arkona was sold the Russian shipping company Sovcomflot (formerly Soviet Commercial Fleet) and charted to the German cruise line Transocean Tours, under the name Astoria. In November 2008, the ship suffered a mechanical breakdown on an around-the-world cruise and put in at Barcelona. Shortly afterward, the ailing Transocean Tours canceled their charter agreement and Sovcomflot put the ship up for sale.
In the Summer of 2009, British-based Saga Shipping acquired the ship and refitted her as Saga Pearl II for Saga Cruises. In 2012, she was shifted to Saga Shipping's new Adventure Cruises division and renamed Quest for Adventure. The new operation was not successful, and she returned to the Saga Cruises fleet as Saga Pearl II in 2013.
MS Astor (1987) - later Feodor Dostoevskiy/Astor
Built: 1987 by Howaldtswereke-Deutsche Werft, Hamburg, West Germany
Original Operator: Marlan Cruises: 1987-1988 (ordered by Safmarine Lines)
578 ft. long
20,704 gross tons
Ordered by Safmarine as a replacement for the previous Astor, this was the first new ship built specifically for ocean liner service in over a decade. Largely based on the design of the original Astor, modifications were made to make the ship more suitable for Cape Town-Southampton service, including a strengthened hull and more powerful engines.
During construction, Safmarine had a totally logical change of heart. Realizing that the economics of opening a new, long-distance ocean liner route in the 1980s were not encouraging, the nearly complete ship was sold to the Marlan Corporation of Mauritius. She entered service for Marlan Cruises in 1987, being used for cruises in South America and the Caribbean through 1988. In late 1988, the ship was sold to Soviet-based Black Sea Shipping Company, renamed Feodor Dostoevskiy, and chartered to Transocean Tours of West Germany. In 1990, she was chartered to Neckermann Seereisen, also for the German market, then to German-based Aquamarin in 1995, under who's operation she reverted back to Astor. In 1996, she was sold to the German-based Astor Shipping Company and chartered back to Transocean Tours. In 2008, ownership passed to Premicon. In 2013, she joined the fleet of British-based Cruise & Maritime Voyages, operating Pacific cruises for the Australian market. During 2015, CMV bought the ship outright when Premicon declared bankruptcy. She is now scheduled to return to Transocean Tours for the summer of 2016, and will then shift back to the Cruise & Maritime Voyages fleet in late 2016.
RMS St. Helena (1989)
Built: 1989 by A&P Appledore International Ltd., Aberdeen, Scotland, UK
Owned by the British Government, via St. Helena Line Ltd.
Original Operator: Curnow Shipping Co., 1990-2001
344 ft. long
6,767 gross tons
1,800 tons of cargo
St. Helena is a rather interesting historical curiosity. When Union Castle Line shut down passenger services and pulled out of the Union Castle-Safmarine joint venture in 1977, it left the island of Saint Helena, a British territory in the South Atlantic, off the coast of Africa, stranded without any real connection to the outside world. Lacking an airfield, the Union Castle liners had been the only regular transportation to and from the island. To fill the gap, the British government purchased the combination passenger-cargo liner Northland Prince from the Northland Navigation Company of British Columbia, renamed her St. Helena, and placed her in service between Cape Town, South Africa and Jamestown, Saint Helena, with occasional voyages from Jamestown to Portsmouth, UK. The old ship soon proved too small for the route, so in the late 1980s, the UK government ordered a replacement.
Completed in 1989 and commissioned in 1990, the St. Helena ranks as the last ocean-going passenger ship ever built in the United Kingdom, and, along with the Cunard Line's transatlantic flagship Queen Mary 2, is one of only two ships authorized by Royal Mail to carry the designation "RMS." Unlike Queen Mary 2, St. Helen's designation as a Royal Mail Ship is for functional, rather than ceremonial purposes. St. Helena is still the only regular connection between Saint Helena and the outside world, carrying passengers, mail, and all manner of cargo – fuel, vehicles, machine parts, food, clothing, building materials, etc.
Maritime enthusiasts and adventure tourists from around the world also flock to South Africa for the purpose of sailing aboard Britain's last remaining true Royal Mail Ship on one of the world's two remaining ocean liner routes; and for a chance to visit one of the world's more remote territories.
In 1999, St. Helena suffered a mechanical failure and had to undergo repairs in France. This started a movement on the island pressing for the construction of an airport, so as to reduce the dependency on a single vessel for essential supplies. In 2005, the British government finally announced plans for the construction of an airport, but the global financial crisis in the late '00s postponed construction. Work on the new airport finally started in 2012, and it is now expected to be operational in 2016.
Originally, it was expected that St. Helena would be decommissioned following the opening of the airport, however, plans that may not be the case. Due to the need to transport larger and hazardous cargos that cannot easily go by plane, combined with the ship's popularity with tourists, there is some chance that St. Helena will remain in service beyond 2016, as long as it is commercially viable. In late 2014, Andrew Weir & Company Ltd. the private shipping company that operated St. Helena under contract to the government, collapsed in bankruptcy. St. Helena's operations have since been assumed by AW Ship Management Ltd., a joint venture between Hadley Shipping Ltd. and a group of former Andrew Weir managers.