Home » Past Ships » MV MINGHUA Lives On


Posted on Saturday, August 28, 2010 by

by Martin Cox

(first appeared on MaritimeMatters in 2000. Updated in 2004, 2007, 2010)

Compagnie de Navigation Paquet's postcard of ANCERVILLE. Author's collection.


Compagnie de Navigation Paquet, Marseilles
Built by Chantiers de l’Atlantique, St. Nazaire
14,224 gt
551 x 72 ft
2 12-cyl diesels, Burmeister & Wain from builders
Twin Screw, 22 1/2 knots
Passengers: Four class: 22 de luxe, 149 comfort, 342 tourist, 243 standard

Paquet Postcard of ANCERVILLE

Launched on April 5, 1962 by the French president Charles de Gaulle, she entered service September 5, with a cruise to the Canary Islands, prior to her maiden voyage from Marseilles to Dakar. ANCERVILLE was noted for her decor and appointments, twin funnel and unusual layout with most public rooms aft and cabins forward. She sported three pools: Comfort Class pool and lido on Boat Deck; Tourist Class pool aft on A Deck, and Standard Class (4 – 10 berth cabins) with a pool on the foredeck. She operated liner service from Marseilles to Casablanca, the Canaries and on to Dakar. Compagnie de Navigation Paquet put her in service with S.S. LYAUTEY and the two vessels maintained an approximately weekly service, while ANCERVILLE also operated as a one-class cruise ship. In 1970, ANCERVILLE was transferred to Novelle Compagnie de Paquebots, Marseilles.

In April 1973, ANCERVILLE was purchased by The People’s Republic of China, renamed MINGHUA and placed in China to East Africa service. In June 1978, MIGHUA sailed to Viet-Nam’s Chinese colony on behalf of  the State Council of the Peoples Republic of China. The following year, she sailed on a goodwill mission to Japan.  In 1979, she appears to have been leased to an Australian group, then after 1981, under the management of Burns, Philip & Co Ltd., she commenced cruising from Australia with accommodation for 380 passengers in one class.

SEA WORLD opens at Shekou 1983

On August 17, 1983 MINGHUA arrived at Shekou in Shenzhen, to be berthed at Liuwan Bay, in southern China’s Guangdong province, part of its “special economic zone”. Plans were made for static use with 253 hotel rooms, Chinese and Western restaurants, an English Bar, Bamboo Grove Bar, Music Dance Hall, swimming pool, health center, childrens recreation center and the China Folk Customs Exhibition Center. MINGHUA was renamed SHEKOU SEA WORLD by the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.  The ship became part of a plaza of shops, hotels and restaurants in the town center of Shekou, a radical first of its kind for China.

In 1984, MINGHUA was registered under Guangzhou Ocean Shipping and by 1986 the vessel had appeared in registers as an hotel ship.  Finally, by 1991 the name MINGHUA was erased from Lloyd’s Register. During her time at “Sea World Plaza”, the surrounding seaward area was filled in to construct a large golf course. This left the ship entirely landlocked with soil bulldozed right up against her hull. Shrubs were planted along the waterline, while the coastline had been moved a quarter of a mile away and the ship appeared to sitting in a lawn.

MINGHUA, at Shekou, China in November 1999. Photo copyright Martin Cox

Rumours of management difficulties, topped off by a serious fire in the engine room, saw the ship closed to the public in 1998. The exterior of the vessel was maintained but the interior was shuttered and left neglected with a lone watchman living aboard. Despite the name change to SEA WORLD, the letters depicting MINGHUA remained in gold painted letters in both English and in Chinese characters on the bow and stern.

Sea World Plaza, Shekou in 2001. Photo by James Yin.

In November 2001, investigative borings were taken in the soil surrounding the ship, and in a report from the Shenzhen Daily, dated November 19, 2001, it was indicated that the “Shekou Industrial Zone” has begun reconstructing the vessel once again into a recreation center. Plans called for seawater to once again be channeled around the hull, the construction of a 1,000 square metre lobby, a 2,000 square metre cafe-lounge and a large swimming pool. The design called for a 3-D cinema, Western style bars, and a nightclub. The 70 million Yuan investment was intended to be completed by the end of 2002.

Reconstruction surrounded the landlocked MIGHUA, photo 2001 by James Yin

In December 2001, it was announced that Shekou Industrial District would cooperate with LiFengTong Investment Company to develop MINGHUA for the second time. A release noted that after reconstruction, MINGHUA will house a coffee lounge, a movie theater and a bar as well as gymnasium with a pool pool called Sea World Club.

Overview of MINGHUA and Sea World Plaza, Shekou in 2002. Photo by James Yin.

Guangdong News reported in December 2003 that the first phase of the “Sea World Park” renovation was finished and a fireworks display on Christmas Eve marked the occasion as well as the 20th anniversary of the naming of Sea World by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. The developer of the project, China Merchants Real Estate Co., which undertook the large scale renovation around the ship, also constructed a 12,000 square meter bar street called Sea World Cafe Bars. The Sea World Cafe Bars consist of brand-name bars, cafes and Western eateries, including Kosmo Coffee, SPR Coffee, Nutaste Coffee, Chinabeach Bar, McCawleys Irish Bar, Italian Bar, Sun Bar, Amigos Restaurant and TCBY, and many more. Further bars, restaurants and shops are planned in the second phase of the renovation project. These were expected to open in the middle of 2004 when the interior hotel renovations inside MINGHUA would also be completed.

MINGHUA and Sea World Plaza, Shekou in 2005. Note the enlarged windows. Photo by David Brandt, courtesy of Tim Brandt.

In November 2005, the Shenzen Daily reported that “Minghua… will return to glory Dec. 16. With millions spent on its new identity, the Minghua now harbors a four-star hotel, a Brazilian BBQ restaurant, a Western restaurant, a wine bar and cigar house, a coffee shop and boutique.”

“Following the two-year transformation project, the Shenzhen tourism authority and investors hope the ship and its surrounding area will become a destination akin to Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong. The area already is already known for its 20 international restaurants, including French, Russian, Indian, Brazilian, German, Southeast Asian and American cuisines.”

Google location image by William Long showing the artificial lake under MINGHUA's stern

Disaster struck the busy plaza on June 11, 2007. A storm brought heavy rain and flooded the more than 20 restaurants on the Sea World square, causing serious economic losses worth tens of millions of Yuan. Xinhua News Agency reported that at least 66 people were  killed in flooding and landslides triggered by heavy rains in the southern part of China and millions were left homeless.

Flood damage in Sea World Plaza, Shekou, June 11 2007. Photo courtesy shenzhenparty.com

Between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Sea World square became a vast lake of water, sand and soil from nearby Mt. Nanshan, as it filled the square as high as four meters, inundating shops and local businesses. Rescuers used boats to locate those stranded in the square. Estimated losses were put between 20 million to 25 million Yuan (US$2.6 million to US$3.2 million).

By 2009, the area appeared to have totally recovered, with bars, restaurants and night clubs once again drawing an international crowd.  The one area less affected by the flood was the old MINGHUA herself, who, for a short time, had returned to her element.

Martin Cox (c) 2010

Special thanks to Peter Knego, James Yin and Tim and David Brandt.

20 Responses to MV MINGHUA Lives On

  1. Kalle Id

    August 29, 2010 at 2:09 am

    An interesting article on an equally interesting ship. I hadn’t actually realised before that the Ancerville had been built with the cabins forward/public spaces aft arangement (even if it’s evident from the photographs… now, at least). I guess she was one of the earliest ships to be built with such an arrangement, then?

  2. Glenn L.

    August 29, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Wow this ship is strikingly similar to the Shalom/Doric which I think was built at the same yard.

  3. Corey palm desert

    August 29, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    Great article. I wish she was closer. Hopefully she will do great. Glad they put water around her. They are going to put battleship texas out of water for her own good. Peter or Martin do u have any interior shots?

  4. Martin Cox

    August 30, 2010 at 12:44 am

    Thanks Corey, I do not have any interior shots at this time, when I do, I will be sure to add them, Cheers

  5. Heinu Schütte

    August 30, 2010 at 2:52 am

    Great article! That is how ships should be preserved, they set a great example!

  6. David Lee

    August 30, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    I was Chief Purser on Minghua out of Sydney for a brief period under Five Star Cruises – a joint venture between COSCO and Burns Philp of Australia.
    She was wonderfully popular with Australian passengers during her period downunder. Great to see her preserved, albeit, very altered.

  7. Peter Bowcher

    August 31, 2010 at 5:41 am

    What a great article, the Minghua was my first ever cruise holiday as a young child around 10 years old departing Sydney on New Years Eve. I still remember relatives coming onboard to wish us farewell and sitting in one of the aft lounges all having a beer.
    My love of cruising started then, years later to become a cruise director and spend many years at sea.
    Minghua, always fond memories ! would love to visit her one day.

  8. Peter H

    August 31, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    I moved to Shekou about 3 months ago and, of course, the main attraction to the centre of town or Sea World is the Minghua (translates to “Spirit of China”). It is indeed a very elegant and beautifully designed ship and would probably would have been the height of design and construction in 1962. She is a very popular locale for the expatriates and locals and, I’m told, that the hotel facilities are much improved after the most recent refit. Of course the Captain’s cabin must rate as one of the places to stay in Shekou! Internally it shows the beauty that I’m sure was part of the original ship and is a credit to the Chinese companies that were involved with the restoration project. Overall something that the people of Shekou-Shenzhen can and should be proud of.

  9. George W.

    September 1, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Amazing that the Chinese have been able to overcome the “disasters” which have hit this ship. In the western world we would have sent her off to Alang after the first incident. Each time she was hit with a fire or flood they picked up the pieces and they reconstructed and made improvements to the ship which made it a better static attraction then it had been. This is something that could have been done to the SS Norway and oh so many other classic liners that went to the scrappers. May the SS United States and the QE2 be saved in a similar manner.

  10. Trece Lambatan

    September 7, 2010 at 8:11 am

    Wow!!! Glad to be a part of the Minghua from 1982-1983(when finished). As a member of the band in the main lounge, met a lot of nice people. What a memory. My first cruise ship to work with. I missed her a lot.

  11. Frenchie

    September 13, 2010 at 10:49 am

    In my young days I sailed on board this ship, then called M/S Ancerville, for several months. That’s my best memory of my time at sea. A wonderful ship with and excellent atmosphere between the officers… it was in early 70s.

  12. Mage Bailey

    September 30, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    Amazing….thanks for the updates. What amazing changes since I read this last.

  13. Heinz Albers

    February 6, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Hi Martin,
    I have a picture from Ancerville made December 1964 in Canary Islands:

    Thanks for the good story!

    Best regards

  14. Alan & Christine Cope

    March 3, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    How fabulous. We have the fondest memories of ‘Minghua’- it was our first introduction to the wonders of cruising. In May 1980 our family travelling with Cousins and Friends enjoyed a 17night cruise of the South Pacific Islands. It was the best holiday – great crew and staff – made life long friendships. We will be in China in October 2012 on our thirteenth cruise – hopefully we get the opportunity to see ‘her’ again.

  15. Carla de Veer

    September 11, 2012 at 8:24 pm

    What a great history to read. I worked on the Minghua when it was sailing out of Sydney. I was the Assistant Purser. Fantastic job and fantastic experience. This is where I met my husband, he was working as a DJ. I know there were quite a few matches made on this ship. She was very special. I think because she was a relatively small ship in the amount of passengers she carried, it created a very lovely and intimate atmosphere. Thanks for the memories Minghua. You will always be the Minghua to me and have a very special place in my heart.

  16. Karen Jenkinson

    November 2, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    HI Carla and David. I remember the Minghua will and the three cruises taken. Often in my thoughts and very sad to see the ship stop cruising around and become landbound. The year the ship stop was the year I applied to work on it. I recall Carla the Rapids in Philipines where we shared a canoe. Glad to see that the lovely ship is still being used.

  17. Dave R

    November 26, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    I was a Australian Customs Officer in the Boarding Branch in the early eighties and I have fond memories of spending time on the Minghua in Sydney on several occasions. Once one got into the bowels of the ship it was obvious that it was getting a little run down and nearing the end of its days but it was always the friendliest of the cruise ships to go on and the fact that it was not too big was probably the main reason for that. I’m very glad to see that it still lives on albeit in a slightly different setting.

  18. Sandra Robinson

    February 13, 2013 at 7:49 pm

    I remember going for 6 week. cruise at the age of 16 years. It was awesome, the staff, band were genuinely sooooo friendly. I compare all. cruiseliners by the Minghua.

  19. Francis Snyder

    November 19, 2013 at 10:53 pm

    A wonderful article, brought back so many memories. I first went on the Ancerville from Marseille to Dakar when I was a 20 year old student. Standard class, 70 people to a room, from Marseille to Dakar. A real experience, preparation for research in West Africa, during which later I travelled on other CNP ships also. On the way back the first time, I washed dishes in the first-class kitchen: much better food. Now, so many years later, I find myself teaching at a new law school in Shenzhen, the city of almost 20 million people of which Shekou, today home of the Minghua, is a part. Unfortunately there seems to be no good current picture on the web of the Minghua today, though there are some photos showing changes around the ship since it arrived here. We saw the Minghua again last week, now surrounded by luxury hotels, restaurants, shops, and being restored inside. For me, seeing that boat periodically makes sense of a lot of things ….

  20. Martin Neuberger

    December 15, 2013 at 11:39 am

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