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Saga Pearl II

Saga Pearl II seen leaving the first cruiseterminal at IJmuiden at the 20th of april 2015. For most ships, the new and larger terminal on the former beach is used.

On the 16th of december 1980, the Hadag Cruise Line of Hamburg, Western Germany, launched the 18.835 ton cruiseliner Astor, named after John Jacob Astor, a member of one of the most wealthiest families ever in American history. John Jacob Astor was a respected American real estate builder, writer and millionaire businessman. One of his grandest buildings is of course the Astoria Hotel in New York, which he built in 1897. The building adjoined the hotel built by his cousin William Waldorf Astor, the Waldorf Hotel. The buildings together became known as the famous Waldorf Astoria Hotel.  A sad coinsidence happened in 1912, when the US inquiries to the sinking of the Titanic were held in this hotel, while John Jacob Astor was one of the 1503 people who perished when the ship sank in the cold Atlantic in april of that year.

Saga Pearl II at the Rotterdam cruise terminal at the 31st of may 2010.

The Hadag-ship was intended to be named Hammonia, the patron goddess of the city of Hamburg and also the latin name for Germany's biggest port city. The ship had been built at the Howaldtswerke-Deutsche werft in Hamburg as yardnumber 165. As we have seen, the ship was launched as Astor and sailed on her trials at the 24th of november 1981. She has a lenght of 164,34 meters, she is 22,89 meters wide and her draft is 6,10 meters. When she was built, she could carry 638 passengers and 220 crewmembers. Her homeport was of course Hamburg, flying the flag of Western Germany. 

Saga Pearl II at Eidfjord, Norway at the 8th of june 2015.

The maiden voyage for the new ship was planned for the 22nd of august 1981 to start, but because a small fire had broke out at the 21st of may, this had to be postponed. Not exactly becasue of the fire itself, but more because of the large amount of smoke and water damage that was the result of the fire, the ship could not be ready on time. Her first trials were held only at the 24th of november, before she was being delivered to Hadag at the following 4th of december. 

On the 14th of december 1981, almost exactly one year after she was launched, Astor sailed on her first shakedown cruise from Hamburg to Genoa, with invited guests on board. Her true maiden cruise with paying passengers was in the Mediterranean from Genoa to Tenerife, starting at the 23rd of december under the banner of Astor United Cruises, a division of Hadag Cruise Line. In wintertime, she sailed American waters. The meaning of the introduction of the ship was to try and capture a chunk of the German luxury market that was traditionally in the hands of the HAPAG-Lloyd combine. because of this, the ship was specificly designed for the German market and very comfortable, but sadly, she wasn't the succes the company had hoped for and HAPAG-Lloyd still kept the name of being the leader in German luxury cruising.

Hadag Cruise Line was formed in 1888 under the name of Hafen Dampfschifffahrt AG and the company managed the sailings of ferries across the river Elbe in Hamburg. When the Elbe tunnel was opened in 1911, the company faced bankrupcy but Hadag was bought by the city of Hamburg in 1918, later sold to the Hamburger Hochbahn, the local public transport company. From 1950 untill 1966, Hadag also operated a ferryservice between Hamburg and England and they also operated routes between Hamburg and the isles of Helgoland and Sylt in northern Germany untill the 1980's. Next to that, from 1981 to 1983, they operated Astor. In that year, the ship was sold to the South African Marine Corporation of Cape Town, South Africa. Hadag reduced itself to a company sailing harbour tours and services within the city of Hamburg.

Saga Pearl II as seen from the Erasmusbridge in Rotterdam at the 31st of may 2010.

The ship was rebuilt in the winter of 1983/ 1984, although she did not change much from the outside. She could now take on 540 passengers. She was delivered to Safmarine at february the 7th 1984 and hereafter she started a lineservice between Southampton and Durban, via Las Palmas, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. She was also used for cruising, but with her, Safmarine tried to revival this line-service between Engeland and South Africa, that was abandonned by Union Castle Line in 1977. So it is not really Queen Elizabeth 2 that was the 'last' oceanliner...(don't forget Curnow Shippings St.-Helena in this too). Just one year later, in august 1985, the ship was sold to the Deutsche West Afrika Linie and renamed Arkona. The line-voyages were of no success, mostly due to her machinery, which was not adequate enough to give her the proper speed neede for those journeys. Because Safmarine still wanted to revival the voyage, they ordered a new ship to the same specifications, but with more powerfull machinery. This ship was given the same name as the former, Astor, and was launched in 1986. 

Saga Pearl II in late afternoon light sailing towards the northsea after leaving IJmuiden in 2015.

Innitially, it was meant that the ship would be renamed Our Happy Country for workers cruises, but a more international name was chosen because she would operate in the more international market. Her name now was a rememberance tot the famous German Liner Cap Arcona that sailed for Hamburg Sud Amerika Linie during the 1920's and 1930's. She was immidiately sold  to the East-German Deutfracht/ Seereederei from Rostock by the West German company, sailing her first cruise from Warnemunde at the 15th of october of that year. The reason why was because the East-German company wanted to buy the ship from Safmarine, but for a socialist country it was impossible to do business with South Africa because of the Apartheid. Now the ship was bought from a West-German firm, the company also was subsidised so it was a win-win situation for them. The ship also sailed cruises to Cuba with western tourists, not very common at that time, but as a East-German ship this possibility was there.. In 1990 the ship was transferred to the Deutsche Seereederei of Rostock, sailing in charter for Seetours. This was the successor to the East German line, after the collapse of the communist block in Esatern Europe. On the 1st of january 1998, the ship was transferred to Liberian registry for Arkona touristik, but her charter to Seetours was still maintained. She kept sailing for Seetours untill february 2001, when the ship was renamed Astoria for Astor Shipping Company and she now was registered at the Bahamas. Astor Shipping Company also owned the Astor, a later and almost identical sistership built in 1986. This ship sailed in charter to Transocean Tours and Astoria followed, joining her younger sister. In november of 2008, the ship suffered severe mechanical problems and was laid up at Barcelona. She was later towed to Cadiz, where she was auctioned and sold to Saga Holidays in august of 2009. The ship was refitted for cruising and renamed Saga Pearl II, sailing European cruises for passengers over the age of 50. Her first cruise as such was to the Norwegian Fjords from Great Britain, starting the 15th of march 2010.

The spectacular scenery in the Norwegian Eidfjord transforms Saga Pearl II into a toyboat.

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