All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2013 unless otherwise noted. Please do not use or post anywhere without express permission!
When I booked this trip in late July, the former PACIFIC PRINCESS had just departed Genoa under tow to the Turkish shipbreaking yards of Aliaga. I was in a rush to get to Turkey as soon as possible since their breakers are known to work very swiftly — state-of-the-art demolition equipment and a lack of tides enable them to tear ships apart in half the time of their Indian counterparts at Alang. The Turks also are not so keen on carefully removing artwork and fittings and focus primarily on the steel and scrap materials, another reason why it was imperative to get there before much demolition had commenced.
Fate had its own plan when the structurally compromised ship, renamed ACIF for her final one way journey, began to take on water off Andros Island. The former Love Boat developed a pronounced starboard list by the time she neared the Aliaga anchorage. Her beaching had to be done quickly but due to it being a holiday, most of the yard’s experienced workers were off-site. The local officials hired a team of untrained men to pump out the engine room, with tragic results: two workers died and another eight were hospitalized but later released after suffering carbon dioxide poisoning. The international press jumped on this story and a local furor soon erupted. Meanwhile, the severely listing ship was ordered abandoned and left to settle at her plot.
For what it is worth, please note that this information supersedes prior reports that the gases came from a punctured sewage line and errant claims the ship took on water only after she reached the anchorage.
Currently, a team of specialists are on board pumping out the ACIF. Her list is lessened but she has a way to go before the scrapping can commence. In the interim, the government is conducting an investigation and has imposed a moratorium on the scrapping of any new ships at Aliaga, although those already in progress will continue to be cut apart. The situation at the yard is particularly tense and of course, journalists and visitors of any kind are not welcome.
Add to that the grim news that most of the items I had seen on the ship in Genoa had since been pillaged and plundered. Anything of value was either taken off or destroyed by vandals or the ingress of water.
My hoped-for rescue mission had now evolved into one of reconnaissance. The airfare had been purchased and non-refundable hotels were booked. I was already in over my head.
Fortunately, a trusted friend in the region was able to help with getting me past the security to document ACIF and her dying companions. For that, I am forever grateful.
Wednesday, September 4, 2013
The great Selim San (who for decades has shared his brilliant photos of ships under demolition at Aliaga) recommended I stay at the Izmir Palas Hotel for views of the sea. Somehow, I managed to book the slightly less opulent but friendly Ege Palas, which also has spectacular views. After my commute from Moorpark (20 hours of flights and airports plus four hours queuing for the airport bus, the final bus ride and a kilometer’s walk with luggage), I couldn’t have been happier to get to my air conditioned room.
But a marvelous sunset on the seaside promenade below and hunger pangs soon had me right back out the door.
The Ege Palas is in Alsancak, a wonderful area that really comes to life in the evening. Outdoor cafes and shops teem with locals who appreciate the seaside surrounds and delicious Turkish cuisine.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
When I parted the curtains, I was especially happy to see the Gulf Of Izmir on a gorgeous sunny morning. Handsome ferries cross back and forth from various depots to Karisiyaka on the other side.
Two specks on the horizon morphed into Pullmantur’s 1992-built, 47,413 gt ZENITH (which made headlines in June after suffering a disabling fire off Venice) and Costa’s 2010-built, 92,700 gt COSTA DELIZIOSA.
After a marvelous Turkish breakfast in the hotel, I had a day at my disposal to wander Izmir. I would only scratch the surface of the 3,500 year old city, once known as Smyrna. Lydians, Persians, Alexander the Great, Romans, Ottomans and other entities and civilizations have ruled this place. In the 20th Century, it was torn by war but in recent times, Izmir has settled into a new role as one of Turkey’s most cosmopolitan and beautiful cities.
I decided to walk over to the Kultur Park, an expansive place of moderate beauty but with an ongoing trade fair where I got to sample some delicious olive oil before heading on to Konak Square.
On the way, I stopped to admire the old passenger terminal, built in 1890 by Gustav Eiffel and sporting a weathered but still-very-intact CGT on its facade.
Konak Square is the main city plaza, home to City Hall, a bus depot and museums. It’s key attractions are the 1755-built Yalı Mosque, which is right next to the Governor’s Mansion. The little place of worship is noted for its blue Kutahya tiles and a chandelier by Umran Baradan.
Izmir Clock Tower was designed by Raymond Charles Pere and built in 1901. The clock was a gift from Kaiser Wilhelm II and the columns are rendered in Moorish style.
A gorgeous vintage ferry at the Konak terminal drew me into taking a ride across the bay to Karisiyaka but by the time I was able to get a ticket, a newer one had taken her place. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful use of 3.5 Turkish Lira to sit in a refreshing sea breeze as the boat hummed its way across.
I bought two fresh-squeezed orange juices to savor as the waterfront unfolded.
On the way back, tantalizingly, we passed the old ferry, which is named GOLCUN.
By the late afternoon, jet lag settled in and with a long, important day lay ahead. I made a quick retreat to the hotel for a short workout and some rest.
Thursday, September 5, 2013
After breakfast, I walked over to the Alsancak Train Station. For a mere 3.5 TL, my ticket to Aliaga was in the bag.
The train ride is about an hour, with some 19 stops en route.
The farther west we went, the more pastoral the setting grew.
Once at the train station, I hailed a cab for Gemi Sokum, the shipbreaking area, which is located at the end of a line of oil refineries.
There are a number of security posts at the entrance. Fortunately, I had the necessary clearance.
Although I had seen numerous images of ACIF, it was still shocking when I caught my first glance of her.
I slowly walked down to the beach where a trio of once-handsome ships awaited.
Nearby, the remains of the British aircraft carrier HMS ARK ROYAL fumed.
I began at the port side of the ROCHDALE ONE, last used as an accommodation ship in Libya and Holland but originally the 7,600 gt, 1977-built Soviet cruise ship AYVAZOVSKY, later known as CARINA. She is the ship ACIF bumped into during her tumultuous arrival earlier this month.
Behind her in the sparkling blue Aegean, a dozen or so ships awaited clearance to beach.
ACIF’s bow was projecting into the space that was once occupied by ROCHDALE ONE’s starboard bridge wing. A section of ACIF’s bulwarks had been cut away, presumably to allow workers to be lowered down safely by cages suspended from a nearby crane.
I worked my way back around for another view of the three ships.
ACIF appears to have been stabilized but she is afloat and still moving with the currents. Her starboard hull was bathed in withering green reflections.
Next door, her former fleetmate SKY PRINCESS, now called ANTIC, was built in 1984 as Sitmar’s FAIRSKY, later to sail as PACIFIC SKY, SKY WONDER and ATLANTIC STAR. Still in pristine cosmetic condition, she was doomed by her costly steam turbines. When the ship arrived, she looked as though ready to depart on her next cruise with towel animals proudly displayed in each cabin’s bedding.
As workers cleared the area for lunch, I wandered into the next yard.
The keel of ANTIC stretches all the way to her bow thrusters but her superstructure and hull have been cut down in a stepped fashion from her still shining funnel.
The ACIF’s drooping davits were improperly reinstalled in a refit that went awry at Genoa’s San Giorgio del Porto shipyard. They played an integral role in her demise.
All of ANTIC’s relatively modern furnishings are going to a Turkish hotel owned by the family of the shipbreaker’s.
As I stood under a massive crane, above me, a worker took a power nap, resting his stocking feet on the windshield.
Before my efforts to photograph in the opposite direction were stopped by a local official, I again captured the remains of the no-longer ARK ROYAL.
Off in the distance the the 1980-built ferry BILADI and the 1979 built BEAU (ex ILE DE BEAUTE) were still quite recognizable.
I worked my way back up top for some more views of the carnage.
Off in a nearby plot, there were the final bits of keel of the 1971-built VENUS, originally NCL’s SOUTHWARD and later SEAWING, PERLA, AEGEAN PEARL and RIO. Another pioneering first-generation cruise ship that will soon cease to exist.
After some two hours, and countless studies in changing lighting conditions, it was “mission accomplished”. I was off in a cab to the train station and could finally reflect upon the sad but fascinating sights I had just witnessed.
End Of Aliaga Saga: August 2013
With very special thanks: Jonathan Boonzaier, Can Cesur, Martin Cox, Selim San, Adem Simsek
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 www.midshipcentury.com 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."