Built 1981, Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft Hamburg, West Germany
Tonnage 18 591 GT
Length 164,834 m
Width 22,89 m
Draugth 6,11 m
4 MAN diesels, combined 9 400 kW
1 bow thruster
Speed 18 knots
Although she is externally a somewhat unimposing small cruise ship, the Saga Pearl II has a fascinating past. She was built in 1981 for West Germany's HADAG Cruise Line as the Astor, the company's first and last deep-sea cruise ship. According to William H. Miller's book The Last Blue Water Liners HADAG (which was owned by the city of Hamburg) ordered the ship mainly in order to ensure employment for the HDW shipyard in Hamburg. Originally HADAG planned on pairing the Astor (which was originally to be named Hammonia) with Hapag-Lloyd's then-new Europa (now the Bleu de France), completed some months later than the Astor, but nothing came of this. In service the Astor usually sailed half-empty (despite being one the stars in Das Traumschiff, the German version of The Love Boat) and HADAG were soon looking to rid themselves of the ship.
In January 1984 the Astor was sold to the South Africa -based Safmarine. Safmarine had previously operated passenger liners on a route connecting South Africa to the UK, but this has been closed down in 1977. Now the company were looking to re-establish this link with the Astor, that was planned to spend part of the year cruising and a part making crossings, much like Cunard's QE2 at the time. However, in practice the Astor was found to be underpowered for long-haul service between Southampton and Durban. Resultingly Safmarine ordered a new ship, of a similar but larger (and more powerful) design from HDW Kiel in 1985. In preparation for the delivery of the new ship (also to be named Astor) and in part in order to pay for the construction of the new ship, the old Astor was sold to East Germany's VEB Deutsche Seereederei in 1985 (via a West German intermediary) and she was renamed Arkona. (The new Astor was completed in 1987, but by this time Safmarine had decided to again abandon passenger services and the ship was instead completed for the Marlan Corporation).
The Arkona sailed for her East German (and soon of course, unified German) owners until 2002, when Deutsche Seereederei gave up their cruise operations (their better-known AIDA Cruises brand having been sold to P&O the previous year). The Arkona was sold to the Russian Sovcomflot, but she was chartered to another German company, Transocean Tours, who were already operating her near-sister, the second Astor. Paired with her near-sister the Arkona was renamed Astoria. In 2007 the Astoria's ownership paased to Club Cruise, but she remained in service with Transocean Tours. In 2008 Club Cruise were experiencing financial difficulties and resulting agreed to sell the Astoria to Saga Cruises after the end of her Transocean charter in April 2009.
Before the Astoria's sale could be affected however, Club Cruise went bankrupt. She was laid up at Barcelona, awaiting auction. In the end she found a buyer in Saga Cruises, who took delivery of the ship August 2009. Originally Saga had planned to rename the ship Quest for Adventure and place her in service under their Spirit of Adventure -brand. However, this was never realised and instead the Astoria was placed under Saga Cruises' own brand as the Saga Pearl II, replacing the Saga Rose that had to be withdrawn from service due to the new SOLAS regulations. Saga Pearl II finally entered service with Saga Cruises in March 2010.
Photographs below are of the Saga Pearl II in Helsinki on 13 September 2010. Click on the image(s) to view full size.
|At Katajanokka cruise quay, photographed from onboard MS Suomenlinna II.|
|Entering Kustaanmiekka strait, with beautiful examples of 1970s Finnish brutalist architecture visible over the trees in the background. This one and the photos below are taken from the ramparts at Kustaanmiekka.|
|At Kustaamiekka strait, with the top of the King's gate at visible at the bottom of the picture.|
|Clearing the strait...|
|...and onwards to the busy waters of the Bay of Finland.|