Credit: Shutterstock

Cruise ship scrapping: What happens to ships when they die?

Author: Susan Johnson

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Cruise ships these days are getting bigger, better, and more impressive - but what happens when their lifespan draw to an end - do they undergo cruise ship scrapping?

Cruise ships can hold up to thousands of passengers and boast everything from shops, casinos, and theatres to pools, zip lines, and rollercoasters.

To satisfy the increasing customer demands, cruise ships are constantly under the pressure of embracing new tech and modern furnishings.

With cruise ships having an average lifetime of around 30 years, what happens when the ageing cruise ships turn unseaworthy, too expensive to operate or outdated? Is scrapping their only fate?

We take a look at some of the options when a cruise ship sails off into its ultimate sunset.

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Cruise ships scrapped

A cruise ship being scrapped come to pass when ships get truly worn out and they are sold to scrap, which sees their parts and metals are recycled.

Often cruise ship scrapping happens in one of the three world’s largest ship scrapyard - Alang in India, Chittagong in Bangladesh, or Gadani in Pakistan.

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Cruise ships for scrap are grounded on the beach or at a cruise ship scrap yard, where an army of workers break the ship, stripping everything useful, cutting up the steel plates, and discarding hazardous materials.

One of the notable cruise ships that has been scrapped is Pacific Princess. The cruise ship had appeared in the TV series “Love Boat” in the late 1970s.

The ship deteriorated under subsequent owners, and numerous fatal crew accidents happened onboard. Eventually, it was seized by a Genoan shipyard due to unpaid bills. In 2014, it was sold to the Turkish scrapyard for a mere €2.5million.

Ships for scrap are grounded on the beach or at a cruise ship scrap yard. Credit: Shutterstock

Passed Along

Another alternative to cruise ship scrapping is selling older ships to cruise lines with more budget that would give it a makeover and a fresh start under a new brand name.

Often, refurbished ships are used for small-scale cruise operations in countries such as South Korea and Russia. Sometimes, they are also used as overnight car ferries.

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For instance, P&O Australia’s Pacific Sun operated as Carnival’s Jubilee and went on to become the Chinese-owned Henna cruise ship before it was scrapped in 2017. Similarly, Marella Celebration, built for Holland America Line in 1984, was later sold to TUI and its Marella Cruises venture.

A more recent example would be Fred. Olsen’s newest ships, Bolette and Borealis which were bought from Holland America Line.

Abandoned At Sea

Sometimes, a few vessels don’t even make it to the cruise ships scrap yard.

In 1993, Oceanliner America, later known as American Star, was being towed across the Atlantic to be converted into a luxury hotel when it broke in two near the Canary Islands in a storm.

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For some time, it acted as a backdrop for spectacular photos.

However, the ship soon disintegrated, with its parts collapsing into the sea. What remains can still be seen at low tide.

American Star acted as a backdrop for spectacular photos. Credit: Shutterstock


Instead of being sold for scrap, naval ships are often sunk to create artificial reefs for recreational diving.

Nevertheless, there are a few exceptions. For example, Salamanda, a small cruise ship in Fiji, is now encrusted with coral and anemones to offer a visual delight to scuba divers.

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Cruise ships are often scrapped because they seldom sink by accident. But once they do, like in the case of Vista Sun that caught fire in 1999 and Gap Adventure’s Explorer that hit an iceberg and sank in 2007, they serve as an abode for sharks, eels, and eagle rays.

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