By James Donahue
When launched by the
wife of the late French President Charles De Gaulle on May 11, 1960, the 1,027-foot-long France
was the longest and considered among the finest liners in the world.
She held that title until
the Queen Mary 2 only recently came on the scene. The Queen Mary 2 now holds the record at 1,132 feet. But her fate was not
to be as glamorous as many of the other great liners of the world.
While she remained on
the high seas, first as the France and later as the Norway, after purchased in 1979 by the Norwegian Cruise Line, the ship was unexpectedly taken
out of service when an explosion ripped through the engine room while it was moored in Miami
Eight crew members were
The Liner has not been
back in service since. Instead, it now lies anchored and rusting in open waters off the coast of Malaysia, not far from a Malaysian scrap yard. Her name has been crudely painted
over and above this is stenciled the name “Blue Lady.”
But nobody is fooled.
The graceful lines of the France, known
by fans all over the world, easily give away her identity. And there is a movement afoot to save this historic vessel from
the breakup yard.
The rusting hulk is still
owned by Norwegian Cruise Line. That line’s parent company, however, is Star Cruises based in Malaysia, which may account for anchoring the ship in Malaysian territorial waters.
The owners said as late as one year ago that it intended to “utilize the ship in a new venture” but did not elaborate.
The company also said
that the Norway does not fit in the company’s
fleet modernization program at this time, however.
Thus we are left guessing
as to just what the fate of this ship is going to be. In the meantime, it is manned by a skeleton crew that is apparently
living on its decks. Small service vessels are seen from time to time carrying supplies, and smoke is seen coming from one
of the stacks, indicating that power is being generated for some services.
Destroying the France may not be a simple act, however, as the French Navy
is discovering in its efforts to scrap the aircraft carrier Clemenceau. The vessel was sent to a scrap yard in India, but
then returned to France following protests and even court action regarding tons of toxic materials including asbestos, PCBs,
lead and mercury used in its construction.
The argument is that
this toxic material is a deadly exposure to workers involved in the already dangerous job of ship breakup. Groups like Greenpeace
argued that it involved illegal toxic dumping to simply send the carrier to the scrap yard without having this material carefully
removed and properly disposed of.
The France is not going to escape the wrath of Greenpeace if its
owners try to send the vessel off for ship-breaking. The vessel is included on a watch list of some 50 vessels it fears will
not be decontaminated before being scrapped.
French workers who built
the ship claim it contains an estimated 1,250 tons of asbestos-containing material. Those workers, who were exposed to this
material when the vessel was built, are now developing asbestos-related illnesses.
And there is the dilemma.
The fate of this great
old luxury liner may soon rest in the courts.