In the early 1960's, Black Sea Shipping Company (BLASCO) ordered a class of five 20.000-ton ships, intended for the Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to Montreal service. The first of these ships to set sail was the 1963-built Ivan Franko. In 1964, the second one Aleksandr Pushkin followed and then Taras Chevchenko came into service in 1965. In 1966, Shota Rustaveli was launched. The fifth ship, Mikhail Lermontov, followed a few years later in 1971.
The Aleksandr Pushkin was launched on the 26th of march 1964 from the Mathias Thesen Werft in Wismar, East Germany. She sailed her first crossing to Montreal at the 13th of april 1966 from Leningrad. For North Atlantic travel she could carry 130 first class pasengers and 620 passengers in tourist class. These crossings were only made during summer, in winter she sailed on cruises for 750 passengers in one class. Because of the decline in trasatlantic passenger travel, the ship was rebuilt in 1975 and from this year on she only sailed cruises for BLASCO. From 1981 and 1985 she was chartered to Transocean Tours and after 1985 she was transferred to the Far Eastern Shipping Company (FESCO), another of the three main Sovjet fleets. Occasionally, the ship was chartered to CTC cruises,based in the United Kingdom.
In 1990, Aleksandr Pushkin was laid up in Singapore, before being bought one year later by Gerry Harrod, the former owner of Ocean Cruise Lines, that was sold to Paquet Cruises of France a little earlier. Harrod had the ship rebuilt in Greece at the Neorion-wharf in Syros. This work was done between 1991 and 1993 and the ship emerged as the renamed Marco Polo for the Orient Lines. In exteriour, she differs not much from her former Sovjet-service looks, only her superstructure below the bridge was slightly extended and rebuilt. Inside, the ship was modernized and updated, although she was still recognizable as a former ocean liner.
Besides Aleksandr Pushkin, Orient Line was intending to buy Aleksandr Pushkin's sistership Ivan Franko about the same time as they bought Aleksandr Pushkin, but due to the long and costly rebuilding of the first ship, this eventually did not happen. The Marco Polo sailed on her first cruise in november 1993 and she would sail worldwide varried cruises.The company was bought in 1998 by Norwegian Cruise Line but the name of the company and the name of the ship stayed unchanged. In a rebranding strategy in march 2008, the Orient Lines brand was discontinued and Marco Polo was sold to the Greece-based company Global Maritime, that chartered the ship out to Transocean Tours, the company where she had already been sailing for during the middle of the 1980's. Her name was not changed and she kept sailing worldwide cruises, sometimes in charters. In 2003, her sister Shota Rustaveli at that time sailing as Assedo, was sold to the breakers in Alang, India. From that moment on, Marco Polo is the only survivor of the class and the only survivor of the transatlantic service of BLASCO. In recent years, Marco Polo sails for the British-based Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV).
Picture 1 is Marco Polo near Spaarnwoude in the Northsea Channel in 2006 in Orient Line colours.
Pictures 2 and 3 show her leaving Amsterdam in march 2010.