End of an era: The world's oldest cruise ship is finally heading to the scrapper

Jan. 31, 2023
5 min read
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The Astoria was built just 36 years after the sinking of the Titantic, when ocean liners still ruled long-distance travel. And, in its early days, it crisscrossed the Atlantic on a regular schedule along with such iconic vessels as the SS United States, Cunard's Queen Elizabeth and the SS Andrea Doria.

But that was just a teaser for the improbably long and eventful career that was to come for the vessel, originally known as the Stockholm.

Sailing the world's oceans since 1948, the 556-passenger ocean liner has had a second — and a third and a fourth — life as a cruise vessel, playing a role in the development of the modern age of cruising from the 1960s to the present day. For many years, it has been the longest-serving cruise vessel at sea.

Alas, that long career is finally coming to an end, according to a shipping news outlet.

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After three-quarters of a century, the famous and at times infamous story of the Astoria will finally come to a close in the coming months at a scrapyard, shipping news publication TradeWinds reported Tuesday.

The shipping site said the 16,144-ton vessel had been sold for recycling at an as-yet-unknown scrapyard.

As TradeWinds noted, the ship was ordered way back in 1944, even as World War II still raged, by the Swedish American Line — a company that offered regular passenger service between Sweden and New York City. It was built specifically for transatlantic travel, with an ice-strengthened bow that could deflect the icebergs that used to be more common in the North Atlantic.

Notably, it was one of the first new passenger ships put into service after World War II, sailing its first voyage in February 1948.

Related: 2 more iconic cruise ships from the 1990s head to the scrappers

Still, it wasn't until eight years later, in 1956, that the vessel, then still known as the Stockholm, became a household name.

That was the year it collided with the 3-year-old Andrea Doria, the most iconic Italian ocean liner of the time. The accident took place off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, as the two vessels steamed in opposite directions in foggy conditions.

Both ships suffered significant damage. The Andrea Doria eventually rolled over and sank, and 51 passengers and crew members from both vessels were killed — one of the worst maritime disasters since the sinking of the Titanic.

The accident resulted in one of the most unusual survival stories in the history of passenger shipping.

A 14-year-old girl, Linda Morgan, who was sleeping in her bed on the Andrea Doria at the time of the accident, was somehow ejected out of her ripped-open cabin and thrown onto the deck of the Stockholm, where she was found by a crew member. A sister sleeping in an adjoining bed was killed, as was the girl's stepfather in an adjacent room. She became known as the "miracle girl."

The Stockholm enters New York Harbor after colliding with the Andrea Doria. HOWARD SOCHUREK/THE LIFE PICTURE COLLECTION/GETTY IMAGES

Soon after the accident, after repairs, the vessel began its second life as a cruise ship — and an unusual one at that. The vessel was transferred in 1960 to the East German government to serve as a cruise vessel for East Germans under the new name Volkerfreundschaft.

It was transferred several more times between various cruise companies, and renamed many times, too, over the ensuing 63 years. Along the way, its interiors were completely rebuilt to make it more suitable for modern-day cruising.

It has sailed under the name Astoria since 2016 for British line Cruise & Maritime Voyages, which shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

TradeWinds reported that cryptocurrency billionaire Brock Pierce acquired the vessel in 2021 with the intention of using it as a cruise ship but has since dropped the idea. TPG was unable to reach Pierce for confirmation.

For a cruise ship to remain in service for 75 years is extremely rare. Most modern-day cruise ships are designed for a life of 30 years, and they sometimes are retired and scrapped even earlier than that. During the COVID-19 pandemic, a large number of cruise vessels just 20 to 30 years old were permanently removed from service.

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