San Of Aliaga

Peter Knego makes his first pilgrimage to the Turkish scrapyards of Aliaga with local legend Selim San.  Among the ships spotted are the former NCL cruise ship SOUTHWARD…

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THE SANDS OF ALANG: Peter Knego’s brand new DVD about shipbreaking in Alang, India

All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2013 unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Located in a crescent-shaped bay some 60 kilometers north of Izmir, Aliaga (pronounced “Aliag”) is an incongruous fusion of holiday spot and industrial center, home to beach houses and seafood restaurants as well as huge oil refineries, steel plants, and, feeding the latter, a busy scrapyard. Shipbreaking began at Aliaga in the early 1970s and through its portals vanished classics like Turkish Maritime Line’s ANKARA (ex IROQUOIS), KARADENIZ and ISKENDERUN; Chandris Line’s REGINA PRIMA (ex ANCON); Typaldos’ ATHINAI (ex SANTA ROSA); Epirotiki’s burnt-out PALLAS ATHENA (ex FLANDRE) and PEGASUS; STEFAN (ex MAASDAM, STEFAN BATORY); ALICE (ex CITY OF EXETER, MEDITERRANEAN SEA) and even the Great Lakes streamline ferry AQUARAMA, to name just a few. Hundreds of ferries, ro/ros, tankers, bulk carriers, lakers, coasters and tugboats have also been recycled on its pebble-strewn beach.

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On the road to Aliaga.

There was no more appropriate way to make my first pilgrimage to a place I had only seen in photos than with the man who took those dramatic images. Izmir-based Selim San has visited Aliaga once a week, almost without exception, for decades. The 60-year old has a childlike fancy for ships of all shapes and size, especially classic liners, tugs and tankers.

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MSC DIVINA arriving at Aliaga on April 2, 2013. Photo and copyright Selim San.

San, who also photographs working ships (including the one that brought me to Izmir that morning, the MSC DIVINA), lives in an apartment overlooking Izmir Bay. His dramatic images are regularly posted at and on a number of European websites as well as being voraciously shared by Facebook and Twitter fans.

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Selim San.

Gesturing between turns and indicating occasional points of interest, he cautioned that our visit could get complicated as several shipbreakers were feuding. But then he laughed that others may welcome us just to spite the ones who did not want us in their realm. “We will know…when we get there!

As a soundtrack of 1980s pop and electronic music chimed on and the rolling greenery and rocky outcrops of the Turkish coastline unfolded before us, we exchanged ship-related stories. Much has transpired since our only prior meeting in 1998 while I was visiting Kusadasi aboard then-Orient Line’s MARCO POLO.

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Aliaga approach:  “Welcome to the ship recycling yards.”

We turned off the main highway (which goes as far as Canakkale in the Dardanelles) and drove past a pair of huge oil refineries. Lifeboats, skiffs and machinery carefully gathered along the road portended what lay ahead. Anticipating heavy security, I began to stow my cameras, but Selim assured me that was not necessary. We did not need permits to take photos — our mission was at the mercy of the individual shipbreakers and not a bureaucratic maritime board with a police force. If one breaker told us no, the one next door could tell us yes, so with dozens of yards to choose from, some degree of success was assured in the hours that lay ahead.

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Aliaga overview.

As soon as we reached the promontory overlooking Aliaga, I was startled to see an unexpected but very familiar vessel. The sleek, still sparkling 1971-built VENUS lay with a sharp starboard list among a motley collection of coasters, tankers, trawlers and navy ships. With previously announced plans for her return to summer cruise service on a Turkish charter, it was shocking to see that elegant Knud E. Hansen-designed form awaiting the cutting torch. VENUS was originally NCL’s pioneering SOUTHWARD, a handsome 17,000 gt Italian-built vessel that went on to second and tertiary careers as Airtours SEAWING and Louis Cruises PERLA. For me, it was especially sobering that a ship that was so much on the cutting wave of cruising when I first became interested in in the subject was now at the end of her career. I had taken her familiar profile for granted in a number of places over the years, from Los Angeles to Piraeus, Limassol and Istanbul.

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San of Aliaga.

My original intent in visiting Aliaga was to see the PACIFIC, the famed “Love Boat” PACIFIC PRINCESS, which after an unfinished and botched refit, was laying at a shipyard in Genoa and reportedly sold for scrap. Two Aliaga-based breakers had laid claim to the ship but both were unable to complete their purchase and the PACIFIC was still in Genoa tied up in red tape at the time this report was published in mid-May. Instead, her onetime competitor, the equally sleek VENUS, had taken her place.

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Selim shoots.
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Right next to VENUS were the final bits of keel of the 1969-built COSTA ALLEGRA (ex AXEL JOHNSON), which was converted from a container ship into a Costa Line cruise ship in 1992. After an otherwise successful career, the ALLEGRA made headlines for breaking down in the Indian Ocean in February 2012.  Eventually towed back to Italy, the disgraced ship was stripped and sold for scrapping in September, arriving at Aliaga on October 24 under the name SANTA CRUISE. A pile of her debris filled a nearby plot, waiting to be recycled and the battered steel and glass dome that once towered over her atrium was lying next to her tortured keel.

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Ukrainian barracks ship.

Other interesting ships were the 1964-built ferry AZZURA (ex GRENAA, KALLE, OLAU WEST, CORSICA MARINA, etc), one of many similar Scandinavian ferries topped with domed funnel-like superstructures and twin uptakes that would ultimately morph into an entire generation of cruise ships, including the nearby VENUS/SOUTHWARD.  Mimicking a passenger ship of sorts, an engineless Ukrainian barracks ship that once housed submarine crews had also just arrived.

Throughout the day, workers cheerfully but curiously greeted Selim, who usually came to Aliaga on Wednesdays but who made an exception to accommodate my one and only Tuesday visit.

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Rescued panels and Selim’s scrapbook.
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Not For Sale:  CITY OF EXETER chairs and more…

As the morning progressed, we visited several offices where the breakers proudly showed off impressive collections of navigation equipment, builder’s plates and even artwork from ships they demolished. In one, I recognized chairs from the onetime Ellerman liner CITY OF EXETER, which ended her days at Aliaga under the name ALICE in 1998.

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Our attempt to get up-close footage of the AZZURRA was curtailed due to a nearby winching operation. We watched from behind a dismembered bulbous bow as giant spools of machinery puffed clouds of diesel and taut cables strained to drag a half demolished ro/ro ship closer up the embankment.

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Coaster on the coast.
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Workers delivered to VENUS.
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Straining against the chains.
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VENUS on the heap.

Our next stop yielded more success as we walked to the water’s edge under the port bow of the VENUS. Above us, a crane hoisted workers onto the ship’s fo’c’sle to begin removing fittings. Although Selim assured we’d get even closer later in the afternoon when the sunlight was on the starboard side, we both took plenty of footage, just in case…

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Mr. Ozer in his Aliaga office.

In one office, we were made to feel especially welcome. As we sipped potent Turkish coffee, I noticed Selim’s photos of the lovely old ATHINAI and HELLAS on the wall. Our host, Mr. Ozer, was one of Aliaga’s first generation of breakers and these two historic former liners were among the ships he recycled.

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TITANIC on the beach.

The ATHINAI was designed by William Francis Gibbs as the SANTA ROSA, the first in a quartet of luxurious ships commissioned for Grace Line. The 1932-built ship was the first to sport Gibbs’ trademark SAMPAN funnel (just the forward one) which were fitted to a number of liners that would follow, including the AMERICA, UNITED STATES and the SANTA ROSA of 1958. She became Typaldos Line’s ATHINAI in 1958 and was laid up near Piraeus 1968 when that company folded. ATHINAI was renamed TITANIC to serve as a set for the 1980 film Raise The Titanic before returning to layup and ultimately being sold for scrap.

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SANTA ROSA dresser.

Mr. Ozer shared that when the erstwhile TITANIC arrived at his yard in 1989, her public rooms were battered and covered in green foam to make them appear as though they were under water for decades.

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Mr. Ozer signs his book.

However, some of the former suites were still intact and he was able to salvage a number of walnut dressers, including one that was directly to my left. Before we left, Mr. Ozer presented me with an autographed copy of his book on shipbreaking.

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Bridge equipment entry.
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SOUTHWARD art panel.
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San shots.

At another office, there was a gold colored panel that had just been removed from the VENUS. Like other artifacts in the room, it was not for sale. I photographed a wall full of photos Selim took of ships that were demolished at that same plot. Moments later, Selim told me the breaker, who maintained a very calm demeanor, wanted us to stop taking photos and “get out”.

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Full Frontal VENUS.
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Lon Chaney scrap.
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Aliaga close-up.

The neighboring breaker, who lost a fortune on his deposit for PACIFIC a year before, welcomed us warmly and encouraged us to take photos of his nemesis‘ ship, the very same VENUS, now bathed in the dramatic afternoon light.

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Funnel office.
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Merchant of Aliaga.
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Telegraphs on sale.
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Maritime merchandise.
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Roro bridge rebuilt.
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Roro bridge, facing starboard.

We left the breaker’s beach and headed back to the main highway to visit several dealers of shipboard furnishing and equipment. Unlike the roadside marketplace in Alang with its hundreds of lots filled with fittings, Aliaga has just a few dealers. I didn’t find much of interest but was impressed with one friendly dealer who salvaged the wheelhouse from a ro/ro ship and reassembled it with all equipment, including a still functioning Furuno radar, intact.

It was a fascinating day and I felt privileged to have finally witnessed Aliaga with Selim. There was much to compare and contrast with the larger, far more challenging Alang, which I have visited on eight occasions.

THE SANDS OF ALANG: Peter Knego’s brand new DVD about shipbreaking in Alang, India

Aliaga Aftermath: Two days after our visit, the ANTIC, which was built as Sitmar Cruises FAIRSKY in 1984, was beached at Aliaga. Selim returned on several subsequent Wednesdays and shared some images for this report.

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SS ANTIC (ex FAIRSKY, SKY PRINCESS, PACIFIC SKY, etc.) at Aliaga on May 1, 2013.
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AZZURRA at Aliaga on May 1, 2013. Photo by and copyright Selim San.
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VENUS in the process of demolition on May 8, 2013. Photo and copyright Selim San.

Very special thanks: Martin Cox, Selim San

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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