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Historic Ocean Liner That Sailed for CMV Heads to Scrapyard

historic passenger ship to be scrapped
Marco Polo in CMV colors at the end of her long career - CMV photo

Published Jan 4, 2021 5:03 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Marco Polo, a popular cruise ship that sailed for many years with the UK’s Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV), set sail over the weekend for Alang, India where it is believed she will be scrapped. Although significantly rebuilt in the early 1990s to become a cruise ship, she still featured the exterior lines of a classic ocean liner.

The ship had unusual origins as she was the second of a class of five passenger ships built in East Germany in the mid-1960s for the Soviet Union. Introduced as the Alexandr Pushkin in 1965, she was a 20,000 gross ton liner able to accommodate 750 passengers. Most of the interior designs were typical Soviet-era spartan fittings and among her accommodations were six berth cabins. Operating for the Baltic Steamship Company, she however was given the important role of earning western currency for the Soviet Union. 

In 1966, she entered the trans-Atlantic service as one of the last liners sailing the traditional passenger route. However, with tensions high with the United States, she instead was placed in service sailing between Leningrad and Montreal, Canada. Offering an economical way to cross the Atlantic, she grew in popularity calling at the European channel ports in and out-bound from the Soviet Union. Her service was seasonal during the summer months and in the winter she would either go into lay-up or operate in Europe or for the Soviets on state projects.

The Alexandr Pushkin became an anomaly continuing the summer Atlantic service after most of the shipping lines had abandoned Atlantic passenger travel. In the early 1970s, she was even joined by a newly built sister ship the Mikhail Lermontov on the Atlantic, but by the late 1970s, even the Soviets abandon Atlantic passenger travel. The Alexandr Pushkin continued to sail as a cruise ship, often on charter to western companies, and on occasional state assignments until the fall of the Soviet Union. In the late 1980s, she mostly found employment sailing for western companies.

Alexandr Pushkin operated in the 1960s and 1970s for the Soviets as an Atlantic passenger ship

 

Laid up in 1990, she was acquired by hotel entrepreneur, Gerry Herrod, who converted her into a deluxe cruise ship. It took nearly three years in the shipyards in Greece to rebuild and modernize her to western cruising standards. In addition to an extensive reconstruction of the passenger areas they also fitted her with stabilizers and updated all of the engineering systems.

Herrod launched his new cruise line, named Orient Lines, in 1993, and the ship now named Marco Polo operated a mix of cruises between Europe, long cruises, and utilizing her Soviet-era ice-strengthened hull she was a pioneer in cruising to the Antarctic. Five years later, Herrod sold Orient Lines to Norwegian Cruise Line, which continued to operate her and briefly tried to expand Orient Lines with a second cruise ship.

The Marco Polo was sold to the Global Maritime Group and starting in 2008 operated for Transocean Tours, a German company with cruises marketed in Germany and the UK. Two years later, she was used to found Cruise & Maritime Voyages, a UK-based company, where she would spend the rest of her career. Due to her smaller size and more traditional styles, she developed a loyal following. 

In 2015, she celebrated her fiftieth anniversary, but rumors persisted that as CMV grew that she was nearing the end of her life. Early in 2020, CMV had announced the acquisition of two new cruise ships, but the Marco Polo was still cruising when the pandemic struck. Like all of CMV’s cruise ships, she was laid up in the UK where she remained when CMV collapsed.

All of the CMV ships were sold at auction, but surprisingly Marco Polo was acquired by investors for approximately $2.8 million with reports that they were offering her for charter or use as an accommodation ship. She departed England bound through the Suez Canal to the Persian Gulf, where it was reported she might be used in Dubai, but rumors circulated that it was just a pause in route to the scrapyard. Over the weekend, she resumed her voyage and her AIS is showing a destination of Alang, India, the location of the well-known scrapyards where she is expected to arrive possibly as early as January 9 to bring her long career to an end.