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 Azores

Azores as Athena as seen leaving IJmuiden at the 6th of august 2011, one year before the collapse of Classic International Cruises.

This ship is the oldest large passengership still sailing. She was launched at the 9th of september 1946 at the Gotaverken Arendal in Göteborg, Sweden. Her yardnumber was 611. The ship had a tonnage of 11.700 when she was built and there was room for 113 passengers in first class and 282 passengers in tourist class. She was launched for the Svenska Amerika Linje, the Swedish American Line, for the route between Göteborg and New York under the name of Stockholm. This was the fourth time this name was used in a company that just exsisted from the 1930's onwards.  She had her trials in october of 1947 and her first crossing to New York took place at the 21st of february 1948. Stockholm was the first Swedish liner built after the second worldwar. This ship was also used for cruising, but this was just in the wintermonths, when North Atlantic crossings were not popular because of weather conditions.

In 1953 the ship was rebuilt at the AG Weser Seebeckwerft in Bremerhaven, Germany. The first class was reduced to 86 passengers only and the tourist class was extended to 584 passengers. Also her tonnage grew to 12.644. In the 1950's, sailings to America were popular, and the company made good profits. At this time, the ship looked very different from now, her superstructure was much shorter and she had two large masts.

Athena near Spaarnwoude at the Northsea Canal at the 20th of may, 2005.

A rather small ship like this would not have been noticed by the general public if her carreer would have gone on without incident. But Stockholm was part of the biggest maritime tragedy in peacetime since the sinking of Titanic when she collided with the Italian flagship Andrea Doria at the North Atlantic in 1956. The Italian ship, build in 1953, was the pride of the Italian merchant fleet and her popularity was spread throughout Europe. In thick fog the two ships collided, and Stockholm sliced through the bow of the Italian liner killing two persons instantly. She bounced of and disappeared in the mist again. The Italian captain called for help and Stockholm, although badly damaged herself, rushed back to the place of impact. On the Swedish liner, five people had died also. But the tragedy was much worse on Andrea Doria where 47 people had been killed. One strange thing happened also onboard Stockholm when a thirteen year old girl was found on the bow, alive. She spoke Italian. The bow of Stockholm sliced under her bed when she was sleeping together in a room with her sister, who had been killed. Stockholm rescued the surviving Italian people and went to New York, under her own power. Her bow, although damaged, was provisionally repaired. The Andrea Doria sank a few hours after the collission.

Athena in a very busy setting arriving in Amsterdam, berthing behind Hapag-Lloyd's Europa. This picture was made on the 22th of june, 2005.

Stockholm was repaired by Bethlehem Steel Company in Baltimore where her bow was totally replaced. She resumed service at the 5th of november of 1956. In 1960 the ship, less succesful after this tragic incident, was sold to the Freie Deutsche Gewerkschaftsbund (VEB Deutsche Seerederei) and renamend Völkerfreundschaft.  She was rebuilt as a fulltime cruiseship and had accomodation for 568 passengers. Mostly, those passengers would be members of the Communist party, as well as workers and their families who were awarded with cruises in the Baltic and the Black Sea. Also, occational cruises to Cuba were undertaken. In 1985 her sailings ended and she was renamed Völker and laid up in the Oslofjord in Sweden. Her she remained between august and december, when she was brought over to Southampton. The next year she was again transferred back to Oslo under her new name of Fridtjof Nansen. There, she took on a new role as accomodationship for refugees.

Athena again, sailing towards IJmuiden at the 20th of may, 2005.

 In 1989 she was bought by Starlauro Cruises of Italy. This company became known especially in 1985 when their ship Achille Lauro was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists who murdered one of her American passengers. The company planned a total rebuilding of the now 43 year old ship and a re-introduction of her for Mediterranean cruising. Her intended name would be Surriento at first, but later the plan was changed and she was to be named Positano. But nothing came of this also and she remained laid-up at Genua untill 1992 when rebuilding started. In 1994, she was finally completed as the Italia Prima for the Italian company Nina Compania di Navigazione. She was also chartered out to the German Neckermann Seereisen but this charter ended in 1998 when she was used as an accommodationship for the Expo 98 World Exhibition in Lisbon. After this, she was used by Valtur Tourist for cruises from Montego Bay, Jamica to Mexico and around Cuba as Valtur Prima. The old ship was laid up again in 2001 in Havana, Cuba before she was bought by Festival Cruises, known as First Choice for Americans. Her new name was Caribe I. When this company went into liquidation in 2004, the ship was bought by Arcalia Shipping, a company that traded as Classic International Cruises. She was renamed again, now she sailed as Athena, the new flagship of Arcalia. She sailed mostly European cruises for over one year, before she was chartered out to several companies.

At the end of 2012, Classic International Cruises was declared bankrupt, a few months after the owner of the line died. The ships of the company were arrested in port, including Athena. At that time, it was 68 years after she was launched and nobody expected that she would be picked up by another line. The only option seemed to be the beaches of India. Great was the surprise, when a Portugese named Rui Alegre seemed to have bought the former Classic International ships, with the exception of Princess Daphne. He was going to form a new venture from the beginning of 2013 onwards under the name of Portuscale Cruises, based at Lisbon, Portugal. There was some sceptism, but the rebuilding of the ships took up very well and new names were given to all exept the FunchalHer name and history had been always close to Portugal, of course. For Portuscale, Athena recieved the new name of Azores and she was totally refreshed for her new owner and now she looks almost smarter then ever. Azores was chartered by her new owners to Ambiente, a German tour operator who earlier chartered ships from Classic International. For them, it was planned to sail northern European cruises from march 10th 2014 onwards untill november of that same year. Her first cruise was be a re-positioning cruise from Lisbon to Bremerhaven. Sadly, due to low bookings, two of her first cruises had to be cancelled and from the 6th of june onwards, the charter was ended totally because of low bookings. The ship was delivered back to Portuscale, and was afterwards chartered to the British-based CMV Cruises from the beginning of 2015 onwards. Sadly, the Portuscale venture seemed to be a short one as the company ended its operations in 2015. In service for CMV, Azores lost her Portuscale colours at her funnel, as it was repainted with the new CMV logo on a white background. CMV used the ship for European cruises throughout 2015, but at the end of the 2015 season, it seemed that she was now more or less controlled by CMV as Portuscale was in severe financial trouble. The ship was renamed Astoria, in line with the Transocean Tours ship Astor, also owned by CMV, and sub-chartered out to Rivages au Monde. This French company is going to use the ship for sixteen European cruises throughout 2016, from may 11th onwards. The name Astoria was of course earlier used for the sistership of Astor, now sailing for Saga Cruises as Saga Pearl II.

Azores is shown above when she departed IJmuiden during her first voyage under her new name. Although she sailed under charter for the German company Ambiente, she sports the colours of the fleet of Portuscale Cruises, her new owner and the successor of Classic Internatonal Cruises. The picture was taken on the 2nd of april 2014.  

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