Broken Blog: ANASTASIS At Alang, PART ONE

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Also From Peter Knego/P.K. Productions:
On The Road To Alang DVD
The World’s Passenger Fleet, VOLUME NINE DVD

ANASTASIS was built for Lloyd Triestino as the VICTORIA for Italy to Asia liner service in 1953. Peter Knego collection.

September 7, 2007: I awoke at 3:00 AM, uncertain after some three days of traveling, just where I was. My deep, aching sleep had come to a sudden end, as though a neon switch had been turned on in my brain. A week prior, I was ending a ten day circuit of Aegean paradise on two classic ships, the BLUE MONARCH and AEGEAN TWO. Four days prior, I left my home near Los Angeles for this more solemn adventure, enduring two and a half days of cramped flying via the charmless and cynical hubs of Gatwick and Heathrow and the free-for-all chaos of Mumbai.

The whirring of fans above my hard bed, an itchy, hot wool blanket at war with the icy chill of the air conditioning unit and the kink in my neck from the flat, unyielding pillows would be my portals to consciousness for the next nine days. My heart raced and sank when I realized I was back in Bhavnagar, the gateway to Alang. I turned on the lights, took a deep breath, and summoned my wits for the mission that lay ahead.

My gilded confines in Bhavnagar. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

After stretching out on the polished marble floor and crawling back into bed, I resisted the temptation to turn on the television and its endless loop of CNN, Indian soap operas and Bollywood videos. I dug out a small, glossy pamplet entitled “Powers Of The Mind” by Swami Vivekananda, given to me by my friend and agent, Kaushal Trivedi, hoping to reinvigorate my dormant spirituality while a monsoonal deluge splattered in the darkness outside.

Through the windscreen to the streets of Bhavnagar. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Seven to eight hours later, following room service breakfast (a daily ritual featuring a marsala omelet, salt lassi, four bottles of water, and toast with butter) to absorb the anti-malarials and a regimen of vitamins, I was off to bustling Bhavnagar with Kaushal. First, we would stop at his office so he could conduct his regular business and then we would head out to Alang to visit the traders and possibly the beautiful ANASTASIS, whose recent arrival was the reason for my latest trek to India. It was typically hot and humid, made all the more insufferable by my long sleeved shirt (a “must” in post-monsoonal Gujarat where daytime-biting mosquitoes carry the chikungunya virus), layers of sticky sun block and dizzying DEET insect repellent, the clamor and chaos of the street traffic, and my cranky disposition.

A line-issued post card view of VICTORIA. Peter Knego collection

The ANASTASIS, until this past July, was one of the most remarkable and unaltered survivors of a now extinct era in passenger shipping. Not only was she the last Trieste-built liner, she was the last active example of the classic passenger cargo liner.

Measuring 11,696 gt with a length of 522 by 67.9 feet (159.1 by 20.7 meters), she was built as the VICTORIA for Lloyd Triestino’s Italy to Hong Kong service. She carried 286 first and 181 tourist class passengers, had five cargo holds, and was driven by CRDA Fiat diesels capable of 16,100 BHP to drive twin screws at a speed of 19.5 knots. The VICTORIA was completed by the San Marco (near Trieste) yard of Cantieri Riuniti dell’Adriatico in March of 1953. She was followed in April by the nearly identical ASIA and the two were very similar to another pair of Lloyd Triestino liners, the AFRICA and EUROPA of 1952, which served on the Trieste to Cape Town run. All four ships had typically modern, sculpted Italian lines, which included sharply raked bows, lusciously curved superstructures, tripod masts, streamlined and low funnels, terraced afterdecks with a pool and lido for both classes and graciously curved cruiser spoon sterns. Their overall profiles and size were similar to the many cargo/passenger ships of the day, which included Messageries Maritimes’ TAHITIEN and CALEDONIEN, LA BOURDONNAIS and FERDINAND DE LESSEPS, PIERRE LOTI and JEAN LABORDE, CAMBOGE, VIET-NAM and LAOS, Lloyd Triestino’s AUSTRALIA, OCEANIA and NEPTUNIA of 1951, etc. It was the “Golden Age” of the combi-liner, and the VICTORIA and ASIA were among the most beautiful of their type ever built.

The VICTORIA had especially stylish and modern interiors, courtesy of the brilliant architect and designer, Gustavo Pulitzer-Finale. Lustrous veneers, carved panels by Marangoni depicting ancient Venice, sculptures by Mascherini, etched glass panels, midcentury modern light fixtures and furnishings, acres of linoleum and a sweeping three deck high first class stairtower with glass insets were at once Italian and cutting edge features. Both ships also boasted full air conditioning years before it became a standard feature in passenger shipping.

In 1974, with the liner service dwindling considerably, the VICTORIA was transferred to Adriatica Lines for Italy to Beirut and Mediterranean cruise service. The ASIA continued until 1975 when she was withdrawn and rebuilt as the Lebanese livestock carrier PERSIA. In 1984, she was renamed NORLEB, lasting until December of 1985, when sold for scrap at Gadani Beach, Pakistan.

ANASTASIS at Los Angeles on 20 December 1986. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1986.

The VICTORIA was laid up in late 1977 and offered for sale. It appeared as though she would join the long list of liners going for scrap at La Spezia or Kaohsiung but a remarkable reprieve was in store for her. In 1978 the VICTORIA
was purchased for her scrap value [$1 million] by Maritime Mercy Ministries, Ltd [a Maltese Corporation]. MMM Ltd is a wholly owned subsidiary of Mercy Ships, a Christian organization operating hospital ships bringing hope and healing to the worlds poorest. She was renamed ANASTASIS (which is Greek for “Rebirth Of Christ”). In 1979, the ship was moved to Elefsis (near Piraeus) for repairs that took years to complete in order to make her comply with Lloyd’s Register. Two of her five holds were converted into hospital space.

The Veranda Bar, facing forward, in December of 1986. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1986

For two and a half decades, ANASTASIS roamed the world with a volunteer staff and crew of 408, supported by charitable donations, offering medical aid, food and supplies to people in need. I had the pleasure of visiting the ship twice. On the first occasion, the Southern California Chapter of the Steamship Historical Society of America was invited on board in December of 1986 when she was undergoing a refit at Los Angeles. At that time, although she was extraordinarily beautiful, she was in need of much cosmetic repair. Her public rooms were literal time capsules of 1950s Italy and I particularly remember falling in love with the carved wood panels in her former first class Veranda Bar.

ANASTASIS at Bergen in July of 1993. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1993.

Facing aft from the starboard bridge wing, showing the original Mercy Ship’s logo on her funnel. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 1993.

While on a fjords cruise on board Costa’s ENRICO COSTA (ex PROVENCE, ENRICO C), I next encountered ANASTASIS at Bergen, Norway in the summer of 1993. My companions and I aborted an afternoon of touring to visit the ship, which was by then in absolutely pristine condition. She was hosting “open houses” to raise money for her next medical mission. While some of her original furniture had been replaced (most notably, her dining room chairs had been “switched” for metallic dining chairs from Carnival’s CARNIVALE), her Lloyd Triestino artwork and fittings were, for the most part, unaltered.

ANASTASIS was refitted to meet the SOLAS regulations of 1997 but would have been forced to retire with the forthcoming 2010 SOLAS regulations. When Mercy Ships took delivery of the ferry DRONNING INGRID for conversion to the hospital ship AFRICA MERCY in 1999, the end was in sight for ANASTASIS. She spent her final years in African service and rendezvoused with her replacement, the AFRICA MERCY in July of 2007 at Monrovia, Liberia. For weeks, the two ships shared neighboring berths as equipment and furnishings were transferred to the newest “MERCY” from ANASTASIS. A number of important artworks, furniture, silver, crockery and other artifacts were shipped in a container to Mercy Ships’ office in Texas as the ANASTASIS made preparations for her final voyage, a one-way delivery trip to Alang, India, with a 32 member skeleton crew. She took on bunkers at Cape Town in the wee hours of July 14/15, reached Indian waters in early August and was beached on August 13.

Honking on this road is a courtesy and can actually save lives. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

“…and now go home!” An ironic sign at one of the most unwelcoming places on earth. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Thonet? So What? Even though these chairs were made by Thonet, they were uninspired remnants of what was once a vast roadside treasure trove in fittings from broken cruise ships and ferries. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Neglected chairs from RITA (ex RMS WINDSOR CASTLE, MARGARITA L) have sat out for so long that they are now deemed scrap and will be broken down for their components. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007

We reached the traders at 2:00 PM, the hottest time of day. Each year since my first visit in early 2004, I have noticed a decline in vendors, but this year was the most dramatic. Lots once filled with motley assortments of furniture and ship parts were returning to their natural state, inundated with weeds and overgrowth. It used to take two to three full days to visit all of the roadside stalls but we were able to cover the majority in just a couple hours. I stopped at one place to purchase the last remnants of Sun Line, Epirotiki, New Marathon Cruise Line and Morflot crockery removed from the likes of STELLA SOLARIS, STELLA OCEANIS, ORPHEUS, QUEEN CONSTANTINA and ODESSA. A couple of chairs caught my eye but their condition or inflated prices allowed me to move guiltlessly onwards. I felt bad for a couple of the nicer traders I had dealt with in the past. Their once vast stockpiles of quality material were diminished. Now they were selling scraps or newfangled furniture made from broken down ship fittings or completely new items of dubious quality. So many others had closed shop and moved onward.

A September 2007 view of the SS BLUE LADY
(ex FRANCE, NORWAY). Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

My intolerance for the heat and humidity along with some of the less friendly traders made quick work of the afternoon.
A merciful haze had tempered the sun as we stopped in the agricultural land behind Alang for a view of the distant BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY), which arrived in August of 2006. After a year of controversial battles between environmentalists claiming the ship was full of toxic hazards (asbestos, lead, Americum, etc.) and the powerful union of shipbreakers aserting her demoliton would provide jobs and prosperity for the local economy, a decision from the Indian Supreme Court allowing or forbidding the breaking was due any day. Unfortunately, especially at this tense time, being a “westerner” made me highly suspect as locals wondered if I was there to make trouble for them. While various organizations are fighting for the health and safety of the workers as well as the environment, the locals despise outside interference that jeopardizes their perceived source of income. To them, immediate work is a matter of survival and, to a lesser extent, pride. They are from some of the poorest parts of India, where the poverty is among the most devastating in the world. It’s a very complex situation where neither side is completely right or wrong, but it does create a high degree of stress, especially if any photography, which is part of my essential historic mission, is involved. So, when we finally did stop for an unobstructed view of BLUE LADY, the photo was taken very, very quickly. It was evident the great ship had, indeed, been moved closer to shore since my visit to her in August of 2006. From the beach, she looked slightly more faded and rusty but still magnificent.

From the winch’s perspective. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Aside from a cluster of ships at Sosiya that included the beached former Greek ferry, SEA HARMONY II (which has laid untouched for more than a year), several tankers, a LASH ship and others in various states of demo, the majority of plots were unoccupied, leaving wide swaths of open beach and empty yards. In the distant reaches of Alang, there was another group of ships, including a chemical tanker, a couple of “regular” tankers, and the most exquisite of them all, the sculpted, sleek ANASTASIS. When we arrived at the yard of Jai Jagdish Shipbreaking, we were soon welcomed by the owner, Mr. Ashwin, who invited us to a terrace overlooking the beach for some very hot and aromatic chai.

Mr Ashwin is known and liked among the local population. His reputation for treating his workers well and his being more environmentally sensitive than many of his counterparts at Alang are probably the reasons why Mercy Ships delivered the ANASTASIS to him. He was polite and soft spoken and quite open to my requests to document the ship, trusting through his friendship with Kaushal that I was not there for any reason other than to purchase some fittings and artifacts and capture the final days of an important and much loved ship.

By the time the incoming tide would have enabled us to take a boat out to ANA, it would have been dark, so I settled for taking various shots of her from the safety and sanctuary of Mr. Ashwin’s yard. Her proud bow stood especially high, revealing the greater portion of her 23 foot draft, which left the ship stranded rather far from the shore. The plan was to open her up to inspection by the local traders within the week and wait for the next full moon and high tide at the end of September to winch her in closer to shore. Removal of fittings would commence in early October, with cutting to begin toward the end of the month.

Seeing such a beautiful creation and knowing that it will soon vanish forever stirs up a strange elixir of emotions. Here was this magnificent and proud ship completely exposed in the most natural of settings. On her port side lay the remains of an oil platform that was slowly being broken down. As the gentle surges lapped at the ship’s keel a couple of skeletal dogs were playing in the muddy surf. On either side, tankers were being cut down in huge sections as workers scrambled to get the last productive minutes out of a long day. A month earlier, this object was animated, moving toward her grave with a loyal crew under a plume of black diesel smoke. Months before that, she was a symbol of hope and help for many and decades prior to that, a sea-going Ferrari of comfort and style that was ushering people off to new lives and adventures across the world.

The whole scenario was so very sad and beautiful, it was tempting to just lay the cameras down and weep but unfettered access at Alang cannot be taken for granted. I took photos from every corner of Mr. Ashwin’s plots before we bade him good night. He instructed us to return the following morning at 8:00 AM (when the tide would be at its lowest) so that we could walk out to the ship and spend the day on board. I tried not to think about the pilot ladder dangling down from starboard B Deck: 23 feet of draft plus two decks equals how many feet? Once again, thanks to Alang, acrophobia would challenge my determination. The time I spent reading “Powers Of The Mind” on that lonely morning would pay off handsomely in about twelve hours.

Worthy of worship, the ANASTASIS rests like a giant Buddha on the beach. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

September 8, 2007: It was already around 90 degrees when we arrived at 8:40, well past our appointed time. I raced to get my boots on and hurriedly joined Kaushal and his assistant Bhagwan as they head down the muddy bank. ANASTASIS was an absolute marvel, towering over the beach with her starboard side brightly lit in the morning sunshine. I stopped briefly to lay the camcorder on a rock to get a steady shot and snapped away with the digital camera.

Kaushal gets the worst of our muddy endeavor at Alang. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The mud was thick and slippery, so we all tried as well as we could to find outcrops of rocky reef to navigate. Unfortunately, Kaushal stepped into a sinkhole and got stuck up to his knees. Two workers and I pulled him out but not before the mud ripped off the bottom of his right shoe. Poor Kaushal has gone through some awful obstacles to work with me and this day would certainly give us a lot to talk (and maybe even laugh) about in the future.

Beached bow. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

As we got closer to the ship, I could hear the heavy thud of metal. Steel ballast was being removed from ANASTASIS’ tanks through a small opening in her keel. The overall vision before me was so astonishing, I could have spent hours taking photos but the tide was rolling back in. Once agile Bhagwan completed his climb, I grabbed the ladder, trying to keep it steady until I cleared the concave underbelly and reached the ship’s side. Step by miserable step upwards, focusing on the barnacles and peeling paint and not daring to look down, I continued. Past a row of portholes and, finally, to outstretched hands on B Deck. Kaushal followed quickly as the sea gradually washed our muddy tracks off the beach.

Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

The former tourist class foyer facing port. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

A Hindi “Jesus Loves You”, posted in the former tourist class foyer. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2007.

Once past the portal, I caught my breath as Kaushal completed his climb. The breaker’s foreman and one of the young workers assisted Bhagwan with our supplies of food and water and distributed hard hats. A “Safety First” sign hung over the narrow entryway. We head aft along the port side passageway, past rows of tourist class cabins. I was surprised to see most still had original wooden cabinets and bed frames. The former tourist class vestibule was completely dark but came to life for a split second in my camera’s flash. Beautiful mahogany paneling made a nice contrast with the original gray linoleum flooring.

To be continued……

NEW From Peter Knego/P.K. Productions:
2008 Faces Of Luzzati Desk Calendar
2008 Passenger Ships Desk Calendar
Also From Peter Knego/P.K. Productions:
On The Road To Alang DVD
The World’s Passenger Fleet, VOLUME NINE DVD

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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