18 September 2012

Athena in Helsinki, 6 July 2012

For once - admittedly by accident - my entry for the day will have some relevance with current events, as we will be looking at Classic International Cruises' Athena which was arrested in Marseille last Saturday together with her fleetmate Princess Danae due to unpaid crew wages and fuel bills. I sincerely hope this is just a false alarm, as CIC operate some of the most interesting old ships around... such as the Athena. Be warned that this is a text-heavy entry for a change.


IMO 5383304
Name history: Stockholm, Völkerfreundschaft, Volker, Fridtjof Nansen, Italia I, Italia Prima, Valtur Prima, Caribe, Athena
Built 1948, Götaverken Gothenburg,Sweden
Tonnage 16 144 GT
Length 160,08 m
Width 21,04 m
Draught 7,90 m
650 passengers
2 Wärtsilä diesels, combined 10 664 kW
2 propellers
1 bow thruster
Speed 16,5 knots

The Athena was built way back in 1948 for Svenska Amerika Linjen (Swedish American Line, SAL) for their Gothenburg-New York -service as the Stockholm. The ship took her name from a previous Stockholm, completed in 1941 by an Italian shipyard but never entered service for SAL due to the war. Whereas the 1941 Stockholm was luxurious to the entreme, the post-war Stockholm was originally a rather austere people-carrier not at all in keeping with SAL's pre-war luxury image. It was not the SAL's intention to turn into a second-rate operator however, as during the same year the Stockholm entered service, plans for a new ship, larger and more luxurious from the Stockholm were being put in motion.

After the new, much more luxurious Kungsholm entered service in 1953, the Stockholm was given a large-scale refit in order to get her to match the quality of her newer fleetmate. In 1956 she was given another refit, when Dennt Brown -type stabilisers were installed to help the combat the ship's pronounced rolling. Soon afterwards the ship was involved in an collision that would make her famous forever. Due to a navigational error, the Stockholm rammed the larger Italian Line liner Andrea Doria in fog outside of Nantucket. The Stockholm's bow was demolished but she stayed afloat. The Andrea Doria was not so lucky and sunk 11 hours later. Fortunately, only 46 people onboard the Andrea Doria and five people onboard the Stockholm perished in the accident.

The Stockholm's bow was later repaired and she resumed sailings. Her SAL career was already coming to an end however. The company's new flagship Gripsholm, an improved version of the Kungsholm, was already under construction in Italy. SAL wanted to sell the Stockholm immediately but could not find a buyer. Evnetually it was only 1959 that a buyer was found, in the form of the state-owned East German operator VEB Deutsche Seereederei, with delivery in 1960.

Under the East German flag the ship was renamed Völkerfreundschaft for further cruising. From 1966 onwards the Völkerfreundschaft spent several winters under chater to Stena Line, who used on cruises out of Gothenburg as far as the Caribbean. She remained in service for the East Germans until 1985, when she was sold to Neptunus Rex Enterprises, Panama, following the delivery of the newer Arkona (later known as the Saga Pearl II and currently as the Quest for Adventure). The Völkerfreundschaft was renamed Volker and laid up. In 1986 she was renamed Fridtjof Nansen for use as an accommodation ship in Oslo.

Three years later the aged Fridtjof Nansen got a new lease of life when sold to StarLauro (the future MSC Cruises) to be radically rebuilt into a cruise ship in Genoa, potentially to be renamed Surriento after a previous Lauro liner. However, it was not until 1992 that the rebuilding actually started. A year later the ship was renamed Italia I, later amended into Italia Prima. In 1994 the ship was delivered to Nina Cia. di Navigazione (StarLauro having resold her) and entered service on Mediterranean cruises. In 1995 the Italia Prima was chartered for five years to Neckermann Seereisen of Germany and used for Caribbean cruising. Neckermann got into financial difficulties in early 1998 and the ship was laid up.

In late 1998 the Italia Prima was chartered to another German tour operator, Valtur Tourist, as the Valtur Prima for further Caribbean cruising. In 2001 the Valtur Prima war laid up in Havana, Cuba. The next year the ship was sold to Festival Cruises and renamed Caribe for planned Caribbean cruising out of Havana, but this never took place and the ship remained laid up for three more years.

In 2005 the Caribe was finally reactivated. She was sold to the Portugal-based Classic International Cruises, specilising in the operation of older tonnage. CIC renamed the ship Athena and used her for around-the-world cruising. Interestingly, she cruised winter seasons for the Australian market. In 2009 the ship was briefly chartered to Phoenix Reisen after they had trouble taking the delivery of their new Alexander von Humboldt.

In September 2012 the Athena was arrested in Marseille alongside her fleetmate Princess Danae, due to alledged unpaid crew wages and fuel bills. This news followed swift on the heels of reports of fnancial difficulties for the company and troubles refitting their first ship Funchal to correspond with SOLAS 2010 rules. At the time of writing the future of CIC and the Athena remains a mystery.

The photographs below, however, show the Athena still in full swing, departing Helsinki three months ago, photographed from Suomenlinna and the ferry to the island (not sure which one). Click on the images to see them in larger size.

At the Katajanokka cruise quay. In the original full-size image you could see the riveted hull, a farly notable difference from the welded 90s-built superstructure.
It doesn't really look 64 years old, but that's radical rebuilds for you...
Peeking behind Lonna.
Foreground crap inspired my then-recent trip with Bruce Peter.
More foreground crap.
Entering the Kustaanmiekka strait, now minus the foreground crap.
Next time (probably): Queen Victoria