Queen Elizabeth returns

50 years after fire sank predecessor

Queen Elizabeth
Present QE arriving for New Years Eve celebrations 2019

Resident nautical expert Jaime is another reader getting tired of never-ending Coronavirus stories, He noted that this Friday (14th) the present cruise ship Queen Elizabeth is due to make another visit to Funchal and he put together a history of the name. The Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to arrive at 6:00 am and depart at 19:00. The contribution is very handy for me, as I am travelling once again with an unreliable internet connection!

50 years ago this month (9th Jan) also marks the sad end of her predecessor which was renamed Seawise University after being bought at auction by HK millionaire and shipping magnate CY Tung caught fire (cause undetermined but arson suspected) and sank in HK harbour during refitting, pictured below.

Chinese millionaire C.Y. Tung got wind of the RMS Queen Elizabeth‘s auction and purchased the ship for just over $3 million. His plan was to convert the ship into a floating university. Upon purchasing the ship, Tung renamed her the Seawise University and began making preparations to sail her to Hong Kong.

Intended to be both a floating university and luxury cruise ship, the RMS Queen Elizabeth was completely stripped down. The ship’s interiors were modernized, equipment and safety systems updated. The ship was scheduled to sail to Japan for final outfitting and her maiden voyage as Seawise University but this would never happen.

The cause of which has been never been officially determined but in the afternoon of January 9, 1972, five separate fires broke out onboard the former RMS Queen Elizabeth. The fire protection system had not yet been completed so there was nothing to fight the blaze with until fireboats arrived. The flames quickly spread and within hours, the entire ship was engulfed. The water the fireboats sprayed on the ship to fight the blaze sent her listing to the bottom of the shallow Hong Kong harbour, ending her career forever.

Once the flames died away, all that remained of the RMS Queen Elizabeth was a half-sunken hulk of twisted, melted steel. Within the next several months, the ship would sit, rusting while the insurance company sought scrapped bids.

Over 40% of the ship, containing the keel and boilers was left to rot on the bottom of the harbour. They would remain there until the 1990s when land reclamation efforts forever buried the wreckage in millions of tons of rock and concrete.

RMS Queen Elizabeth would remain the world’s largest passenger shipwreck for more than 30 years until the 2012 sinking of the Costa Concordia in Tuscany.

The name Queen Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth 2. © Keir Davis/Shutterstock.com

The current Queen Elizabeth is one of three ships belonging to the British Cunard Line that successfully crossed over from the age of the transatlantic ocean liner to the age of the global cruise ship.

The first Queen Elizabeth was one of the largest passenger liners ever built. Launched in 1938 and used as a troopship during World War II, it entered the regular transatlantic service of the Cunard Line in 1946. The ship was 1,031 feet (314 metres) long and 118.5 feet (36 metres) wide and had a draft of 38 feet (11.6 metres) and an original gross tonnage of 83,673. The Queen Elizabeth was retired in 1968 and sold for conversion to a seagoing university, but it burned and sank in January 1972 during refitting at Hong Kong, as described above.

Its successor, the Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2), was launched in 1967 and made its maiden voyage from SouthamptonEngland, to New York in 1969. The ship, 963 feet (294 metres) long and displacing 70,327 tons, was slightly smaller than its predecessor so that it could pass through the Panama Canal and operate as a cruise ship in addition to being a transatlantic liner. Its steam turbine engines gave it a top speed of 32.5 knots (though its service speed was 28.5 knots). In 1982 the QE2 was briefly requisitioned as a troop carrier in the Falkland Islands War. In 1986–87 the turbines were replaced with diesel engines. The QE2 made its final voyage between New York and England in 2008, after having become the longest-serving ship in Cunard’s history. Later that year the ship sailed to Dubai, where it was handed over to new owners for refitting as a floating hotel.

Cunard took delivery of a new Queen Elizabeth in 2010. Known variously as the QE and the QE3, that cruise ship was approximately the same length as the QE2 but with a slightly greater displacement, of more than 90,000 tons. Designed in Art Deco style to evoke memories of its predecessors and the great passenger liners of the pre-World War II era, the luxury ship could accommodate 2,000 passengers and 1,000 crew members on cruises to the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and other destinations around the world.

The Queen Elizabeth entering New York City’s harbour, c. 1945–47. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

COVID-19 in Madeira: daily updates can be found in an earlier post

Travel latest: requirements for entering and leaving Madeira: is kept up-to-date on a previous post

New restrictions: a detailed updated explanation of the latest regulations can be found here

1 thought on “Queen Elizabeth returns”

  1. I remember seeing the QE2 in Funchal harbour a couple of times. She had such lovely lines and looked like a liner should compared to the huge floating apartment blocks you so often see. 🚢


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