Saga Cruises has announced that its 40-year-old Saga Ruby cruise ship, the last one to be built in Britain, will be retiring. After being built in 1973 and journeying over four million nautical miles at sea, the ship will depart for its final voyage next year.
The Saga Ruby was first launched as the MS Vistafjord, and for the first ten years of its life, it was operated by Norwegian American Line, a company that has now collapsed. It was sold to Cunard line in 1983 and then renamed in 1999 as the MS Caronia. In 2004, Saga Cruises added the vessel to its fleet and spent £17 million refurbishing it. The ship has become a favourite for traditional cruisers, while it’s seen as a stark contrast to the 4,000-passenger vessels becoming more common in ports across the globe.
The cruise ship has been deployed on several adventurous routes, which may be a surprise since most of its passengers are over the age of 50. While it has been the Saga Ruby, the vessel has visited the Maldives, Hawaii, Oman, Sierra Leone, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru and the South Pacific – like Easter Island and Pitcairn. It’s final voyage will be a 31-night cruise to the Caribbean from Southampton on December 7 next year.
Saga Cruises chief executive Robin Shaw says that the Saga Ruby has delighted cruisers for some 40 years, but it’s becoming more of a challenge to operate such an old ship to meet the standards they and passengers expect. Therefore, they have decided the vessel should gracefully retire in a year-and-a-half. The ship will visit many of the ports it warmly welcomed over the years during its ruby anniversary. They believe their cruises have a lot of potential, and they have invested well over £100 million in the last few years on their fleet. They continue to look for opportunities to expand and improve their classic cruise experience. Additionally, Shaw also announced that the Quest for Adventure, one of the line’s two remaining ships, will take its previous Saga Pearl II name from 2014 and won’t offer adventure itineraries anymore.
The announced retirement could be seen by many as a confirmation of the long decline of the British shipbuilding industry. More ships than any other nation around the world were built in Britain on the eve of World War I. There were over 50 shipbuilders throughout the country in the ’60s, while two of the most famous cruise ships in history – the RMS Queen Elizabeth 2 (QE2) and Titanic – were built in Clydebank and Belfast respectively.
However, the decline of the industry in the ’70s and ’80s meant there were only a handful of shipbuilders remaining. A majority specialise in repairs and defence contracts. The construction of cruise vessels is dominated by four companies now – French and South Korean-based STX Europe; Italian-based Fincanteri; German-based Mayer Werft; and Japanese-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Additionally, each ship owned by Royal Caribbean and Carnival Corporation – the two largest cruise lines in the world – were built by one of these shipbuilders.
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