Have you wondered what happens to cruise ships after they retire?
It seems like every year there are new ships that are bigger and better than the previous ones. Cruise lines are always looking to add the latest and greatest technology, leaving older ships in the background and serving specific markets.
Older and smaller ships tend to attract older cruisers as they lack the on-board feel and amenities that appeal to families and younger cruisers. Older ships can normally navigate to more distant and obscure places due to their smaller size. Today, companies are more likely to build large ships that carry 3-4 times more passengers than in previous decades.
Eventually, most cruise ships reach a point of retirement as they are no longer needed by the cruise line. With the pressure to keep building new ships that keep pace with the changing market, old cruise ships are becoming unnecessary.
Older ships may also require more maintenance, which becomes costly for the cruise line to continue to operate. These older ships also lack newer technology and may be less efficient overall than newer ships.
Cruise ships tend to sail for a business between 10 and 20 years. During this time, a vessel is continuously maintained and probably refurbished several times. These renovations send a cruise ship to a dry dock where it receives improved technology and equipment, as well as general inspections, paints and cosmetic upgrades.
Most ships will be completely retired after 30 to 40 years of navigation. During the last years of a ship’s life, it is likely to be resold or reused before being sent for scrapping.
The best scenario for an old cruise ship is to be sold to a smaller company and start a new life. Ships can also be bought by other companies, which are renamed and refurbished to fit the new cruise line. This is commonly referred to in the industry as “used tonnage”.
Prior to the sale of the Empress of the Seas by Royal Caribbean, this vessel was originally purchased by the cruise line from Admiral Cruises. Under her old company, the ship sailed under the name Nordic Empress. The ship has been sold to investors where it will continue to sail as a cruise ship for a new Indian cruise liner.
Ships can also be transferred to other ocean roles; for example, Greek investors are interested in purchasing older cruise ships for use as island ferries. the
From personal experience, I sailed Semester at Sea in 2015 on the MV World Odyssey. The ship was used as a “floating campus” for a study abroad program; however, the ship was once a German cruise ship named MS Deutschland before it was sold and reused.
The impact of the Covid
2020 has had an unexpected impact on the future state of cruise ships. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the sale and withdrawal of ships due to the cruise stop for more than a year. Some ships were sent to retire perhaps even earlier than originally planned.
Given the financial burden of the pandemic, cruise lines were looking to sell their old ships to generate a profit. Shifting to a smaller fleet is helping the business operate more efficiently, as the pandemic has reshaped the current cruise landscape for the foreseeable future.
2020 has been a big year for cruise lines to sell their old ships. For example, Royal Caribbean has sold two of its oldest ships, the Empress of the Seas and the Majesty of the Seas. This will make room for his new ships, including the Odyssey of the Seas and the Wonder of the Seas.
Carnival has also announced the retirement of Carnival Fantasy, Carnival Fascination and Carnival Imagination in 2020. These ships were built between 1990 and 1995, making them between 25 and 30 years old.
Many other companies have taken the opportunity to reassess their fleets and withdraw older ships, making room for new ships.
When cruise ships finally retire, they will most likely end up being scrapped in a shipbreaking yard. It’s hard to imagine these giant floating cities crumbling to pieces, but that’s exactly what is happening.
Most of the cruise ship dismantling yards are in Turkey, India and Pakistan. Alang, India, is the largest shipbreaking yard for cruise ships. The shoreline stretches for 10 miles and has a tidal wave variation of 25 feet, allowing ships to be brought in at high tide and scrapped at low tide.
Before the ship is demolished, the company is able to salvage and sell anything it wishes to salvage from the ship. Anything that is not collected by the company is then removed from the ship and sold locally. Everything from toilets to chandeliers and chairs can be sold locally before the ship itself is scrapped.
Cruise ships actually run aground on the beach during the demolition process. The workers take on the perilous task of breaking down the structure of the ship and cutting the steel sheet of the hull. The ship is meticulously broken down, starting at the bow of the ship and working its way up to its stern.
The ship’s parts and materials are then scrapped and recycled. Steel can be reused for use in many different construction projects; as such, the shipyard sells 1.1 million tonnes of steel in a given year.
The process can take up to 8 months to dismantle the vessel piece by piece. Ultimately, a last piece of floating metal can be considered the last vestige of a ship.
In rare cases, ships can be reused as tourist attractions. Although the Titanic met an unfortunate fate, other ships built during this period of history now serve as tourist attractions.
The Queen Elizabeth 2 is now in use as a floating hotel in Dubai after serving as an ocean liner for Cunard. Likewise, the Queen Mary has a permanent location in Long Beach, California. The ship has a restaurant and a museum to attract tourists while it floats on a permanent dock.
When the cruise was put on hold for over a year, people were mesmerized by the concept of seeing huge “ghost” ships floating together in the ocean. Since the ships could not navigate during the closure, most were floating and anchored offshore.
The sight of seeing these huge empty ships floating in the sea has become an attraction off the south coast of England in the English Channel. One company even started tours that brought tourists near ships!
In a sad turn of events, some ships never get the chance to retire peacefully. Two famous examples include the American Star and the World Discover in which both ships were abandoned at sea.
The American Star accidentally ran aground in the Canary Islands during a severe storm while being towed to a dry dock for refurbishment. The ship was to be transformed into a 5-star resort hotel off the coast of Phuket, Thailand. The American Star snapped in half as a result of this unfortunate incident, which created an unusual sight for locals and tourists alike.
The World Discover is another cruise ship with an unhappy ending. The German ship struck a reef off the Solomon Islands in 2000 while on an adventure trip with Society Expedition. After the passengers were evacuated, the vessel slowly drifted towards Roderick Bay and has rested there ever since. The wreck has become a tourist attraction for many.
The worst case scenario for retirement from a cruise ship is the unfortunate sinking of the ship. The Titanic is the most famous story of the sinking of a cruise ship, which has captivated historians and cruise enthusiasts for years. The event was even made into a blockbuster movie in 1997 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet.
More recently, the Gap’s Adventure Explorer sank off the South Shetland Islands after hitting an iceberg in 2007. The ship was on an expedition to Antarctica when a small hole in the ship finally sank the ship in icy waters.
Some ships are also intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs for recreational diving. Most often, these are warships strategically placed on the ocean floor to create artificial reefs for divers to explore.
Other ships have sunk and accidentally created excellent diving conditions, such as the sinking of the ship Bianca C off the coast of Granada. The wreck is now one of the best dive sites in the world, as it has been inhabited by sharks, eels and many other marine life.