Salvors Decontaminate and Refloat Well-Known Cruise Ship Aurora

Aurora refloated at her berth on Little Potato Slough, June 18 (USCG)
Aurora refloated at her berth on Little Potato Slough, June 18 (USCG)

Published Jun 27, 2024 8:24 PM by The Maritime Executive


Contractors working for the U.S. Coast Guard have decontaminated and refloated the derelict former cruise ship Aurora, which sank at her berth on May 22, releasing pollutants into the San Joaquin River Delta. 

Aurora was a classic "pocket" cruise ship built after WWII by Blohm & Voss, and was originally used for brief trips out of Hamburg. She went on to a long and varied career in the Aegean, North Sea, Eastern Pacific, and the U.S. West Coast, and had a brief brush with fame with an appearance in a James Bond film. She ended her seagoing service during the energy crisis of the late 1970s and entered layup on the U.S. West Coast. As the years went by, she was passed from owner to owner, each with plans to use her as a floating venue or private vessel. She never resumed fully operational status, either as a seagoing vessel or as a permanently moored installation. Her most recent known owner intended to turn her into a museum ship, with volunteer help; she was sold yet again shortly before her sinking, according to the Coast Guard.

Aurora, seen here as the Wappen von Hamburg in 1958 (Oxfordian Kissuth / CC BY SA 3.0)

When Aurora began to go down by the stern on May 22, California's emergency services office received a report that the ship was sinking and discharging pollutants. First responders deployed a boom around the vessel as it gradually settled to rest on the bottom, and the Coast Guard set up a unified command to address the risk of further pollution. The command hired Global Diving and Salvage to carry out the cleanup and refloat the ship. Over the span of several weeks, Global Diving removed more than 21,000 gallons of oily water, 3,200 gallons of hazardous waste, and more than 100 cubic yards of debris from within the vessel. They also dewatered and successfully refloated the ship. 

Image courtesy USCG

The Coast Guard has declared the response complete, now that all petroleum products and pollutants have been removed, and it has disbanded the unified command. While agencies consider the various options for removing the ship from its current berth, the City of Stockton has hired a contractor to keep bilge pumps on the vessel running in order to prevent it from sinking again. The containment boom will remain in place as a precautionary measure.