How did these British cruise ships end up on the scrap heap in India?

Gary Buchanan
·5-min read
Cruise ship Marco Polo off the coast of Falmouth last year before it made its final voyage - HUGH R HASTINGS/GETTY
Cruise ship Marco Polo off the coast of Falmouth last year before it made its final voyage - HUGH R HASTINGS/GETTY

Last summer the cruise industry began downsizing on an unprecedented scale in an attempt to stem declining revenues from fleets languishing in ports and anchorages around the world.

Telegraph Travel has previously reported on how the Grim Reaper was wielding his scythe on an armada of cruise ships for which the hourglass has emptied prematurely.

A recent investigation by the BBC’s File on 4 programme has revealed that when it comes to scrapping a cruise ship, codes of conduct and protocols lie deep in murky waters. With opportunities to enhance their value, virtually overnight, the routes the ships take on their way to the scrapyard are worthy of an episode of Only Fools and Horses.

Most cruise ships take their final bow at the killing beaches of Pakistan and Bangladesh. In recent months Aliaga near Izmir in Turkey has been the knackers’ yard of choice for many cruise ships still in their prime. For a variety of reasons, the chart-topper when it comes to ship-breaking is Alang on the Gulf of Cambay in India.

The untimely demise of Cruise & Maritime Voyages in July sent a shockwave through the industry. Creditors of the line, popular with Britons, petitioned the High Court, which ordered the sale of five of CMV’s vessels by sealed-bid auction to settle debts. Few ships were more popular for lovers of cut-price cruises than CMV’s Marco Polo and Magellan which were sold in November.

Many cruise ships meet their demise in Turkey - CHRIS MCGRATH/GETTY
Many cruise ships meet their demise in Turkey - CHRIS MCGRATH/GETTY

And it has now emerged that this popular duo of comfy cruise ships have been scrapped in Alang, despite assurances they would continue to be operated in some form of seaborne hospitality role.

The venerable Marco Polo was sold to the offshore company High Seas Ltd for the knockdown price of US$2.77 million (£1.98 million) amid reports that the investors were offering her for charter or use as an accommodation ship in Dubai. The vessel was released from UK waters on the condition it would be used for ‘further trading’.

Two months after taking ownership of Marco Polo, it was sold as scrap for around £4m.

High Seas Ltd director Rishi Arggawal said it was always their intention that Marco Polo would be sold to new owners, "but regrettably, the intended buyers in Dubai refused to take delivery". Mr Arggawal said they tried to find new work for Marco Polo as a cruise ship or a hotel without success, before selling to "Indian interests".

It’s a similar story for Magellan, which was touted to become a floating hotel in Liverpool for the 2021 Grand National. It was bought at the auction by Greek ship owners Seajets for US$3.43 million (£2.46 million). Brokers say its fate was flipped and it was sold on for scrap after no new buyer was found.

Marco Polo in 1965, when it was known as Aleksandr Pushkin - TERRY DISNEY/GETTY
Marco Polo in 1965, when it was known as Aleksandr Pushkin - TERRY DISNEY/GETTY

Old ships are often scrapped safely at EU-approved yards, but when sold at auction (which often happens when a company goes into administration) this decision is taken out of the previous owner's hands. There are serious concerns about the environmental impact and working conditions in the ship-breaking industry across south Asia. Each year around 800 ships come to the end of their lives and need to be broken apart and recycled.

The NGO Shipbreaking Platform is a global coalition of organisations working to reverse the environmental harm and human rights abuses caused by current ship-breaking practices and to ensure the safe and environmentally sound dismantling of end-of-life ships worldwide.

Shipbreaking Platform's director, Ingvild Jenssen, said despite laws in place making it illegal for developed countries like the UK to send hazardous waste such as old ships to developing countries, they continue to arrive. "There is a lot of value in these vessels because they contain large amounts of steel," she said. "But they also contain large amounts of hazardous materials: asbestos; heavy metals; lead, and many materials you need to take large precautions when you're dealing with them."

The former Cunard liner Sylvania stripped out and awaiting the cutting process in Alang, India - PETER KNEGO
The former Cunard liner Sylvania stripped out and awaiting the cutting process in Alang, India - PETER KNEGO

Most modern cruise ships have a life expectancy of 30 to 40 years. When major cruise companies no longer see worthy returns from vessels that have sailed around the nautical block a few times, these ships are often sold to small-scale, fledgling or budget operators who are adept at turning a profit due to lower overheads.

However there’s never been a roll-call at the scrappers’ yard like that posted in 2020. The roster of vessels listed for sale on ship-broker sites includes Carnival Fantasy; Carnival Elation; Carnival Inspiration; Celestyal Olympia; Oceana; Costa NeoRomantica; Costa Mediterranea; Pacific Explorer; Sun Princess; Sea Princess; Pacific Princess; Maasdam; Veendam; Marella Celebration; Sovereign; and Monarch. Maritime obituaries will be writ large in the coming months and there’ll be a lot less bustle in the world’s ports for the next few years.

How to travel in 2021

Join Telegraph Travel's panel of experts on Wednesday March 10 for the last of our series of live 'How to Travel' events. We'll be focusing on cruise, and answering your questions on when we are likely to be able to cruise again, how to beat the restrictions and what your cruise trip might look like.