Built at Penhoet, St. Nazaire as FRANCE
1,035 x 110.5 feet
Quadruple Screw, geared CEM-Parsons geared turbines from builders
31, max 35.21 knots
160,000 shaft horsepower
407 First Class, 1,637 Tourist Class passengers
When the SS FRANCE was launched by Madame Charles De Gaulle on May 11 1960, the great era of transatlantic steamship travel was in its twilight years. Replacing two legendary prewar veterans, the stylish ILE DE FRANCE and the much loved LIBERTE, the FRANCE had the distinction of being the longest liner in the world. Her graceful hull was a modified version of the NORMANDIE’s, with a similarly arced “whale back” bow (but with an updated stern), however the FRANCE was perhaps most distinguished by her two unusual funnels, which dispensed exhaust through wings on either side (This feature was quite revolutionary for the day, inspiring a line of much-sought-after ashtrays that incorporated the same principal!). Indeed, in the early 1980’s Carnival Cruise Lines “discovered” this concept, incorporating it with their first newbuild, TROPCALE, and ultimately making it their architectural trademark with their fleet of “mega” and “super” liners that followed.
This last great French ship of state and final purpose-built vessel for French Line (Compagnie Generale Transatlantique or “CGT”) undertook her trials in November of 1961. The $80 million liner embarked on a shakedown cruise on January 18, 1962 from Le Havre to the Canary Islands, before commencing with a heralded maiden crossing on February 3, 1962 from Le Havre to New York.
The FRANCE joined the Queens ELIZABETH and MARY and the UNITED STATES, all struggling in the wake of jet fuel that now dominated the Atlantic. Despite the odds, FRANCE consistently sailed with a high capacity of passengers (unlike the struggling Cunarders, which were likened to creaking ghost ships). FRANCE was a two class vessel, eschewing the middle category, Cabin Class, in favor of a larger and more spacious First and Tourist (later dubbed “Left Bank”) accommodation. Her interiors were almost spartan, certainly sterile in comparison to the gilded and plush LIBERTE and ILE, but the FRANCE was the product of a late 1950’s/early 1960’s vision. Spindly chandeliers and linoleum vied with formica and chrome, while daring modern art, bold murals, and stark furnishings filled her public spaces.
Toward the mid 1960s, the FRANCE was teamed on Atlantic crossings with the even more spartan UNITED STATES, as both French and US Lines consolidated efforts to keep their ships employed. After the UNITED STATES was withdrawn, the FRANCE would later alternate with arch-rival QE2 in the “struggling” seventies. Kept afloat not so much by her following, but by French government subsidies, the FRANCE was often sent cruising in the winter season, undertaking two much-publicized world circumnavigations in 1973 and 1974.
Responding to soaring fuel prices, the French Goverment announced an end to financial assistance to CGT in July of 1974. After a mere twelve years of service, the FRANCE was to be retired on October 25, 1974, but in September, as the ship was arriving at Le Havre, French trade Unionists seized the liner and anchored her in the channel to protest the loss of their jobs. Disgruntled passengers were finally off-loaded by tender. The strike ultimately failed, ironically bringing a close to the FRANCE’s career even earlier than planned, and inciting negative press before the ship was docked on October 9.
FRANCE was laid up south of Le Havre, next to a power station. Sealed up and fading with the elements, she was the subject of many rumors, ranging from her use as a hospital ship, floating casino, or hotel, to the most feared option of a premature dispatch to the shipbreakers. In October 1977, she was bought by Akkram Ojjeh, an Arab billionaire, but remained laid up.
Perhaps in part due to the renewed interest in cruising inspired by television’s LOVE BOAT series, Norwegian shipping magnate Lauritz Kloster bought her for a cool $18 million. As the shipping world cynically looked on, Kloster spent some $80 million to convert the “cold weather” SS FRANCE into the “warm weather” SS NORWAY. His fleet of 1960’s/70’s-built cruise ships (the 17,000 gross ton SOUTHWARD, the 16,000 gross ton STARWARD, and SKYWARD) were sailing at or beyond capacity under the moniker of Norwegian Caribbean Lines (later Norwegian Cruise Lines), and Kloster intended to more than double his share of the market with the NORWAY. She was towed to Bremerhaven in August of 1979 and completely rebuilt with a huge new lido deck at her stern, and two outdoor pools. Two huge tenders, the “little NORWAY I and II”, were hoisted on her bow and special cranes were built to offload them at ports where NORWAY’s deep draft prevented her from docking. Her capacity was increased from 2044 to 2181 and her crew complement was decreased from 1100 to 800. Her once chic French interiors were largely restyled and/or replaced with more comfortable and “tropical” fittings. More economic diesels replaced her Turbo generators and in the summer of 1980 she sailed for the US to begin her new role – cruising.
The NORWAY was an absolute smash, sending the competition reeling. Aside from the QE2, she was half again as large as any vessel sailing, offering an onboard experience the smaller ships simply could not emulate. NCL’s Vegas and Broadway-style shows ushered in a new era of glitz at sea, and special celebrity “theme” cruises allowed eager passengers an opportunity to mingle with and see their favorite stars perform or lecture in the ship’s cavernous theater. With the NORWAY, the ship became a resort destination in itself, and her success inspired the competition into a building frenzy that resulted in a fleet of mega passenger ships many thought had ended with the QE2 in 1968.
In 1984, she was sent to Hamburg, where all steam powered auxiliary machinery was replaced with diesel installations. In September 1990 she arrived in Bremerhaven for the addition of two prefabricated passenger decks to increase capacity to 2,565 and her GRT to 76,049.
While her good looks and maneuverability were somewhat compromised by these additions, there is no doubt they were instrumental in keeping the NORWAY in profitable service. The ship has been continually upgraded in recent years, often to the chagrin of ship purists who bemoan the conversion of her original First Class Library into a perfume shop and the removal or redistribution of many of her signature FRANCE brass panels. Recently, her funnel wings were “shut off”, although they remain structurally intact. In keeping with the NCL newbuilds, her Checkers Cabaret was replaced in 1998 with a fancy new Sports Bar.
The NORWAY’s itineraries have ranged from her regular seven day Miami-based Caribbean schedule to summertime cruises from Europe. A small fire in her aft turbo charger room while entering Barcelona, Spain, on May 28 1999 resulted in the termination of her cruise and the cancellation of the following cruise. She was scheduled to return to service, following repairs at Barcelona, on June 12, 1999.
Star Cruises the parent company for Norwegian Cruise Line announced in October 2000 that NORWAY will be retired from her present role. After a series of farewell cruises including a transatlantic from Miami to Southampton, she will be reclocated to the Asian market. Her departure is set for September 2, 2001.
Norwegian Cruise Line surprised the passengers on board the “farewell transatlantic crossing” that the ship would in fact be returning to resume its Eastern Caribbean itinerary. Following a refit in Germany the liner would begin sailing from her home port of Miami on December 23, 2001.
February 14, 2002: Speculation that NORWAY would sail its last Caribbean cruise under NCL December 29, 2002, then go to sister company Orient Lines was strongly denied by Susan Robison, Director of Public Relations for Norwegian Cruise Line and Orient Lines. NORWAY will be deployed in the Caribbean through April 2003.
December 25, 2002: In an article on Star Cruises, parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, published in Cruise Business Review, it was revealed in an interview of Star Executive VP of Marine Operations & Newbuilding, Nils G. Nordh that Star has prepared a study on the viability of extending the life of the SS NORWAY beyond the post-2010 SOLAS limit. Nordh was reported as saying that he believed it is not only technically possible, but was commercial viable.
May 25, 2003: A boiler room explosion aboard S/S NORWAY killed four crew and injured up to 17 crew members while the ship was docked in Miami. The NORWAY arrived at the Port of Miami around 5 AM, the blast which occurred around 6:48 AM and appears to be an accident. None of the ship’s 3,400 passengers was injured. Miami-Dade Fire Rescue workers responded and the fire was put out in less than an hour.
May 30, 2003: Norwegian Cruise Line reported the death of a seventh crew member from the accident involving a boiler on board the NORWAY. Nine more crew members remain hospitalized and two were discharged while one was removed from the critical list and is now listed in serious but stable condition. One crew member remains on the critical list. NCL has cancelled NORWAY’s June 15 and June 22 sailings.
June 27, 2003: S/S NORWAY departed Miami under tow though no destination was announced. After last-minute wrestling in court, Norwegian Cruise Line moved the crippled ship from the Port of Miami-Dade. NCL said that to meet the repair schedule, the ship had to leave, even though no yard has finalized a repair contract. According to reports, she is headed to Europe. The ship has been at the port since the boiler expolsion May 25 and has run up a nearly $284,000 bill in dock fees. The National Transportation Safety Board finished its investigative work last week and turned the ship back over to the cruise line. The NTSB has not reached any conclusions about what caused the blast. The seagoing tug SMITWIJS ROTTERDAM is towing NORWAY with 85 of her crew onboard. The transatlantic crossing will take approximately three weeks. NCL state that the ship is on schedule to begin cruising again on October 5th, 2003.
July 21, 2003: Norwegian Cruise Line announced laying up the S/S NORWAY at Lloyd Werft in Bremerhaven, Germany, until the process of evaluating bids from shipyards has been completed. The delivery timeframe for the new replacement boiler is now estimated to be between seven and twelve months (significantly longer than first indicated to NCL). Marine boilers are manufactured by specialized companies and then delivered to a shipyard for installation. The detailed specification and bidding process has revealed that no boiler maker is able to meet the ambitious repair deadline initially indicated to NCL by the shipyards. NCL now estimates that the earliest the ship could return to service is in the spring of 2004.
September 25, 2003: S/S NORWAY remains laid up at Bremerhaven. NCL have not indicted any further schedule for service. In mid-September rumours of an agreemant to use her as an hotel and attraction in Amsterdam were circulated in the Dutch press.
September 26, 2003: Final death toll reaches 8 crew killed on S/S NORWAY.
March 17, 2004: Norwegian Cruise Line’s announced via its website: “(Colin) Veitch announced that regretfully the S/S NORWAY would not return to the North American cruise market. The company continues to evaluate appropriate options for the vessel”. It was decided not to re-engine the ship due to the expense. It is reported that plans for her use as a static hotel ship are being examined but that she will not be docked in the US.
January 9, 2004: Laid up S/S NORWAY remains laid up at Lloyd Werft in Bremerhaven and will be used as temporary housing for workers aboard NCL’s PRIDE OF AMERICA (currently under construction and due this spring) and NORWEGIAN SKY (due to be reflagged to American registry and renamed PRIDE OF ALOHA).
June 28, 2005: SS NORWAY was observed in Cape Town today as her tug DE DA refueled for the continuing voyage from Bremerhaven to Port Klang, Malaysia. Maritime Matters thanks Jan-Olav Storli, Chief Officer Safety & SSO of CRYSTAL SYMPHONY, for the update.
August 10, 2005: SS NORWAY arrived under tow at Port Klang, Malaysia at noon today.
August 13, 2005: As the NORWAY (ex FRANCE) sits anchored in the haze off Pt. Klang, Malaysia, rumors have begun to rumble once again about the 44 year old ship. Apparently, her turbines are still dismantled, making her imminent use as an active, albeit slowed-down cruise or casino ship in the region unlikely. Further, contacts in the region have reported inspections by 14 Indian scrap merchants had been undertaken and that there was a possibility the ship could be towed to Goa, India in the next few weeks.
December 28, 2005: Various industry sources in the U.S. and India have indicated that a firm sale of SS NORWAY (ex FRANCE) to either Indian or Bangladeshi breakers has occurred this week. The vessel has reportedly been withdrawn from the sales lists following this development. In the interim, the ship is still at anchor off Port Klang, Malaysia.
January 6, 2006: Word from India is that SS NORWAY (ex FRANCE) may be headed for Alang and not Chittagong, Bangladesh. It is common practice for scrap merchants to trade ships among themselves, so nothing is firm until the venerable ship has been beached.
May 5, 2006: BLUE LADY is towed away from Port Klang, Malaysia, destination appears to be Alang, India. Notes on tugs: 1976-built INTERSURF (ex BOA PRINCE) and SEAWAYS 5 (ex DEYMOS) are towing BLUE LADY. (SEAWAYS 5 towed the 1953-built laker OAKGLEN and the 1959-built laker SEAWAY QUEEN together to Alang in 2004).
May 14, 2006: Gujarat Maritime Pollution Control Board bars the entry of BLUE LADY to Indian waters.
May 17, 2006: Technical Experts Committee on Ship breaking invites the buyer of the ship, Haryana Ship Demolitions Pvt Ltd, to submit his report.
May 31, 2006: The Interim Report on BLUE LADY is formerly filed with India’s Supreme Court.
May 24, 2006: While on board NCLA’s new PRIDE OF HAWAI’I, Maritime Matters was able to ask chairman Colin Veitch about the fate of NCL’s former classic two stacked liner. Before the former SS FRANCE was sold for scrap, the art from her two dining rooms, children’s playroom, stairtower, and library were removed. These important works are currently in storage and may be utilized on board a revitalized SS UNITED STATES or another ship in the NCL fleet.
June 5, 2006: India’s Supreme Court lifts the ban on BLUE LADY, allowing her to enter Indian waters, and clearing the way for the iconic ship to be scrapped. The ship will be brought to Alang in Gujarat. The temporary ban on her delivery over issues raised by Greenpeace relating to the significant quantities of asbestos on board has been lifted. The Alang Shipbreakers Association celebrated the decision. The Gujarat Maritime Board will be working with a private company that will monitor potential pollution hazards and a plot of land adjacent to the yard will be used for containing asbestos and the disposal of hazardous materials from BLUE LADY. All arrangements are to be inspected by two regulatory bodies before the ship is beached. Currently, the ship remains outside India’s territorial waters, under tow by the tugs INTERSURF and SEAWAYS 5. Citing humanitarian grounds, Supreme Court of India allowed the to anchor in indian waters. The crew of 22 are on board a vessel with no engine in monsoon season. Court states that Legal arguments will be heard in July. Additional affidavits filed over possible illegal traffic of the ship regarding the obligation of the Malaysian Government to recall BLUE LADY.
June 13, 2006: BLUE LADY is towed toward Fujairah, UAE arriving June 14, anchored shore, one of her tugs, SEAWAYS 5, put in for repair and supplies.
June 16, 2006: Accoring to several international sources, BLUE LADY expected at Alang by end of June.
June 17, 2006: BLUE LADY leaves Fujairah, UAE, possibly headed towards Alang. Meanwhile, rumours over a variety of last minute plans to save the ship from being scraped are hurtling across the internet.
June 24, 2006: Press reports put BLUE LADY as arriving off Alang in a few days time.
June 26, 2006: BLUE LADY was due at Alang this week, but the latest indicators from India are that the tug is stalled again and that she will now arrive at the anchorage in two weeks time.
June 28, 2006: Gulf newspaper Khaleeji Times front page headline today, reads “Dubai bid to save historic cruise liner”. The story concerns a group of investors reportedly in a bid to save purchase BLUE LADY( ex FRANCE, NORWAY), from her Indian breakers and spend US$100-120 million refitting the ship as a luxury floating hotel and conference center moored in Dubai’s harbour. The newspaper reports “Project Dubai” to be offering the breakers approximately US$3 million profit for not scrapping the vessel. Meanwhile, the ship moves slowly towards the beach of doom.
June 29, 2006: BLUE LADY, ex FRANCE, NORWAY nears Gujarat Coastline. The owner of Haryana ship demolition company is reported to have said that, “she is expected to reach Pipavav Port tonight or by early morning tomorrow.” The ex FRANCE has yet to receive permission to be beached at Alang and will be anchored at Pipavav port of Amreli district. The BLUE LADY will be allowed into Alang only after the local authorities are given the green light by the Supreme Court. The Court had previously permitted “safe anchorage” to the vessel but had directed that the ship cannot be beached or dismantled until it is properly inspected by cout appointed experts.
June 30, 2006: BLUE LADY, ex FRANCE, NORWAY has arrived at Pipavav Port, some 65 km south west of Alang. She will remain at anchor while inspected by court appointed experts, who will report back to the court on their findings.
July 4, 2006: BLUE LADY, ex FRANCE, NORWAY remains at the brink of destruction. The liner sits at anchor off the coast near Pipavav Port, near Alang, while inspected for an inventory of asbestos and any other hazardous materials is carried out, as required by India’s Supreme Court. Ship breakers are rejoicing at her arrival and look forward to beaching her as soon as possible. The court has determined that it will not allow the ship to dismantled in India until the technical report has been filled and it has been determined that the materials can be safely handled. Filling is expected possibly by July 7. Meanwhile, the Khaleej Times continues to report that a consortium of UAE and US companies is making an effort to buy the liner from the ship breakers and take her to Dubai for use as a floating attraction renamed SS FRANCE. “Project Dubai” claims that the ship will undergo a US$80-$100 million refit and re-emerge with as luxury hotel, with restaurants, conference facilities, and French-style stores.
BLUE LADY Inspected
July 11, 2006: Reports from Ahmedabad, India, say that the court ordered inspection of potential hazardous materials on BLUE LADY has been completed. The four day inspection is said to have begun Friday July 8th, while the ship remains at anchor in the huge swells off the coast of Gujarat. No findings have yet been released. The Supreme court ruled that the ship could not be scrapped at Alang until it was declared safe by experts which included members of the Gujarat Pollution Control Board, Central Pollution,Control Board and National Institute of Occupational Hazards.
Report submitted on BLUE LADY
July 14, 2006: The anxiously waited inspection report, on hazardous materials, demanded by India’s Supreme Court before BLUE LADY, ex FRANCE, NORWAY could be cleared for demolition, has now been submitted by the court-appointed committee. The inspection team consisted of a 15-member team from Central Pollution Control Board, Gujarat Pollution Control Board (GPCB) and National Institute of Occupational Health and GMB. It took five days to compile while the ship remained at anchor off Pipavav Port and was completed July 12. News of the reports contents remains sealed. It is reported that if the ship gets the go-ahead from the court, BLUE LADY will be beached at Yard No V-4, owned by Rajiv Renival of Haryana Ship Demolitions Pvt Ltd, at Alang to be dismantled.
BLUE LADY Gets Green Light
August 1, 2006: Press from India states that BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY) will be broken at Alang after the Supreme Court Technical Committee granted Gujarat Maritime Board (GMB) permission to beach the ship tomorrow.
BLUE LADY Set To Beach
August 7, 2006: Sourses in Alang sugest the BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY) will be beached on August 9.
August 14, 2006: From our contact: “I saw the lady and waited for her beaching today in Alang. At last minute it was postponed to tomorrow morning (August 15) and she will be at Alang beach at 7:30 AM.
“From a distance she is quite a sight: graceful and marvelous are the words that come to me. Sadly, also tied up with two monstrous tugs for her last voyage, though.”
Former FRANCE Beached
August 15, 2006: The Times of India confirms the BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY) has been beached today at Alang.
New Year, No Change
January 6, 2007: BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY) continues to sit at her plot bearing witness to all the dying ships around her. All environmental reports are due shortly from the shipbreaking company that purchased her for the Indian Supreme Court to review. The court’s decision on her fate is to be made on 7 March. By then, the famed ship will have been lying on the beach for six months.
February 7, 2007: It is exactly one month before the Indian Supreme Court makes its decision as to whether it will grant the BLUE LADY’s shipbreakers permission to demolish the beloved ship or send her away. Meanwhile, the Gujarat Maritime Board has released a report saying that the former FRANCE/NORWAY cannot be removed without costly dredging and repairs to her hull from the beaching and subsequent winching closer to shore. There have been contemptuous arguments on either side of the issue, so this period of inertia and uncertainty is basically the calm before the storm. In the interim, there are further reports of parties interested in saving the ship for stationary or fully operational purposes, but thus far, no one has come to the plate with the necessary funds to do so.
March 12, 2007: The Indian Supreme Court has given the Gujarat Maritime Board, the Technical Experts Committee, and the Gujarat Pollution Control Board three months to advise if certain environmental stipulations can be met for the dismantling of BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY). This is the latest in delays for a decision on the fate of the famed ship, which was beached on August 15, 2006. Although the court has determined that BLUE LADY cannot now be removed from the embankment, the newest concern seems to be over whether 80 percent of the ten metric tons of asbestos on board can be reused as claimed, how asbestos dust will be contained during its removal, and which agency will be entrusted to oversee the work.
BLUE LADY’s Black Gold
May 16, 2007: The Indian Supreme Court has granted Priya Blue, the Alang-based shipbreaking company that purchased the BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY) permission to remove the remaining oil from the ship’s tanks. No firm word on demolition has been granted, however. That decision may arrive within the next ten days
Court Decides NORWAY’s Fate
September 14, 2007: After months of delays and speculation the Indian Supreme Court, in New Delhi ruled that the 1961-built BLUE LADY (ex SS FRANCE, NORWAY) can be scrapped. The high court rejected claims by environmental groups over asbestos and other hazardous substances within the ship.
October 30, 2007: BLUE LADY (ex NORWAY) continues to be stripped of her removable furnishings only. The actual breaking process has not begun.
December 4, 2007: BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY) confirming the first cut has been made, leaving the tip of her nose dangling. This is a ceremony performed on nearly every ship to go to Alang and is done just prior to the actual full-scale breaking. As she is not yet in her proper plot (she’s actually blocking another plot or two), it remains to be seen when the comprehensive structural dismantling will begin.
June 19, 2008: BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY) continues to succumb to the cutters’ torch with large sections of her outer hull plating removed.
December 24, 2008: SS BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY) has been cut down to the keel and will likely be finished within weeks.
Le Nez Du NORWAY
February 4, 2009: The “nose” or very tip of the bow of BLUE LADY (ex FRANCE, NORWAY) has returned to France as part of an auction that will be held on the Champs-Elysees Sunday and Monday, February 8 and 9, 2009 along with many other items from and dedicated to the ship. This will be the second public auction of materials rescued from the ship. A prior sale at Christie’s New York in 2008 failed to bring in high reserve prices on many items, such as chandeliers, chairs, tables and artwork set by a previous dealer. Some of these items are now part of this second auction. “Le Nez”, has an estimate of 80,000 to 100,000 Euros.
MARTIN COX - Founder and publisher of MaritimeMatters, inspired by maritime culture and technology growing up in the port of Southampton. He works as a photographer in Los Angeles, and his works has been exhibited in LA, San Francisco, New York, London and Iceland. Martin is the co-writer of the book “Hollywood to Honolulu; the story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company” published by the Steam Ship Historical Society of America. The Los Angeles Maritime Museum has commissioned artworks and collected his photographs.