Historic cruise ship Astoria faces uncertain future

75-year career could end

Cavernia photo of Astoria in Korsfjorden in 2018

Very little news this morning so a good opportunity to post an interesting report on the historic cruise ship Astoria, which faces an uncertain future. Thanks as usual to Jaime for the maritime input!

Although registered in Madeira, the Astoria was never really a Funchal regular even in her CMV (cruise and maritime voyages) days. Jaime recalls seeing the Astoria in Funchal possibly New Year’s Eve 2013 along with the MV Funchal when under Portuscale Cruises management.

The classic Portuguese cruise liner MV Funchal was bought by an American crypto billionaire Brock Pierce in 2020 through his company Roundtable LLC based in Puerto Rico and is presently moored in Lisbon being converted, albeit slowly, into a luxury 200-bed floating hotel as part of a marina project in the Matinha port area.

In 2021 it was reported that the same Group had purchased the Astoria with the intention of putting her back in service, as she was economically seaworthy, unlike the Funchal which had been in cold layup for many years, running cruises between Lisbon and Madeira but nothing came of that and the ship has recently been put up for sale again with rumours that she might finally be heading for recycling – denied by her owners.

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MV Funchal

However, in January of this year, The Maritime Executive reported that “one of the last historic ocean liners and oldest ocean-going cruise ship, the 1948-built Astoria, is reportedly being sold although her owners deny it is a sale for scrap”. The pending sale marks yet another twist in the career of a ship made famous by a casualty. 

The ship, which is marking 75 years since her maiden voyage, has not operated since the pandemic shut down the cruise industry nearly three years ago. Brokers, cited in a report by Tradewinds, are saying that the vessel which is currently laid up in Rotterdam is being sold for recycling and will soon be towed out to the breaker’s yard. For months, there has been a rumour that she would become the first ship broken at a new operation planned at the Inchgreen Dry Dock in Scotland. A company leased the facility from Peel Ports to start a ship recycling operation. The owners of the Astoria however are denying the sale saying they are negotiating a deal with a buyer that indicates they plan to operate the ship.

The Astoria began her long career as the first post-World War II newly built Atlantic passenger liner. In the closing days of the war, Swedish American Line had begun to plan for the resumption of its passenger operations. The company’s fleet consisted of a 1904-vintage liner that they had anticipated retiring in 1940 and a 1924 liner that was operating as a mercy ship by neutral Sweden during the war. The company had ordered a beautiful Italian-built liner but was unable to take delivery due to the start of the war and the ship was sunk in 1945 while their other 1928-built liner had been taken over by the Americans and suffered significant fire damage at the end of the war

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Near the end of her career, although heavily rebuilt, the sheer of the liner hull is still visible (Pjotr Mahhonin photo –  CC BY-SA 4.0)

Limited by post-war shortages of materials and the capabilities of Scandinavian shipyards, Swedish American ordered a 525-foot liner that at 11,700 gross tons would be a workhorse carrying cargo and mostly tourist class passengers. She was designed for year-round Atlantic service and sailing to Scandinavia she was given an ice-reinforced hull and bow which would forever seal her legacy.

What was to become the Astoria was introduced in February 1948 as Stockholm, she had a modern Scandinavian design and became the first new post-war Atlantic liner. With high demand for passenger travel, she was rebuilt in 1952 expanding her accommodations but she had a mostly unremarkable career. Swedish American added a new modern liner in 1953 meaning Stockholm could also occasionally sail cruises.

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1950s vintage post card view of the Stockholm

Her legacy came however on a fateful night July 25, 1956. Outbound from New York to Scandinavia she was near the Nantucket Lightship. Radar was in its infancy in the commercial industry and the officers misread their devices causing the Italian liner Andrea Doria to emerge out of a fogbank making a turn across the course for the Stockholm. Her ice-strengthened bow tore through the Andrea Doria causing a fatal wound. A massive sea rescue saved most of the passengers aboard the Italian ship, which sank the in the morning, while the badly damaged Stockholm limped back to New York for repairs carried out at the Bethlehem Shipyard in Brooklyn, New York at a cost of $ 1 million.

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Stockholm returned to New York badly damaged after her collision with the Italian liner Andrea Doria (USCG photo)

A total of 51 passengers and crew on the two liners were killed in the tragedy.

Swedish American retired the liner four years later selling her to an East German group that used her as the Volkerfreundschaft for cruises to trade unionists and Community Party members. In later years she became a holiday ship in a company that was a forerunner to the modern Aida Cruises. 

The Astoria’s career would likely have ended there except for the surge in the cruise industry. Retired by the Germans in 1985 she ended up in Italy where in a project reportedly heavily subsidized by the government she was rebuilt into a modern cruise ship. As most of the hull, apart from American bow section was found to be in good order,she was stripped to the steel and given a new diesel power plant as well as sponsons along the hull.

Mostly unrecognizable, she returned to service in 1994 as a cruise ship operating under various names including Italia Prima, Valtur Prima, and Caribe. Just when it appeared her career was over, she was acquired by a Portuguese company, Classic International Cruises (CIC) who further refitted her as the Athena. In 2013, she went to the successor Portuguese company Portuscale Cruises renamed Azores, and three years later was chartered to the UK’s Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) who changed her name to Astoria. She was continuing to cruise but CMV planned to retire her by 2020 when the pandemic brought her career to a close.

CMV financially collapsed in 2020 but unlike their other cruise ships, because she was under charter, the Astoria was not auctioned. She was sold by the bank that had owned her after the financial collapse of Portuscale in 2016. An investment group acquired the vessel  but later abandon plans to rebuild her due to advanced age. She had been listed for sale since 2021.

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

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All the incidental news from Madeira – up to 60 reports per day – is being continually picked up automatically, translated, and instantly posted on our sister website, madeiraislandnews, no matter

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