SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Early SE cruise ship had a long sea life

Spirit of London became the Sun Princess
Ship visited Ketchikan for 'sled dog race'


June 05, 2021
Saturday PM

(SitNews) Ketchikan, Alaska - Even in the relentlessly peripatetic world of the cruise ship industry, the ship that was once called the Spirit of London had a remarkable run.

The Spirit was one of the first large ships to begin visiting Ketchikan in the early 1970s. It would go on to have nine different names, 11 different owners and sail the seas until 2015, a very long time in an industry in which the current ship lifespan is barely 15 years.

The Spirit of London went into service in 1972 was immediately put on the growing Southeast Alaska run, but even before it went into service, it had already changed hands and names.

jpg Spirit of London in Ketchikan in the early 1970s.

Spirit of London in Ketchikan in the early 1970s.
John Shorey Photo

The 537-foot-long ship,  which had a passenger capacity of between 730 and 1,000, was originally ordered in 1970 by what was then the Norwegian Caribbean Line (later to become Norwegian Cruise Line) and was to be called the Seaward. But the Italian shipyard building the Seaward went bankrupt and the Seaward was cancelled. NCL eventually forced the shipyard to resume construction on the Seaward but then sold the partially completed vessel to P&O Lines, which renamed it the Spirit of London.

P&O then put the Spirit on the Alaska run in 1972, replacing in the Arcadia, which had been the first large cruise ship to visit Southeast Alaska in 1970 and was built in 1953. In 1974, P&O purchased Princess Cruises and moved the Spirit of London into the Princess fleet, renaming her the Sun Princess.

She would serve in the rapidly expanded Princess line until the late 1980s, gaining a certain measure of fame as one of the sister ships of "The Love Boat," the Pacific Princess. The Sun Princess would appear in three television episodes and two movies.

First, it appeared briefly a 1975 Starsky Hutch episode "Terror on the Docks."' Then it was featured in a 1975 episode of Columbo called "Troubled Waters."
A significant portion of the Columbo episode took part on board the ship and the inside of the ship was extensively filmed.

In 1981, the Sun Princess appears in the Love Boat episode "Pride of the Pacific" in which its Captain Gunnar Norquist, played by Ted Knight, competes with the Love Boat Captain Merrill Stubing (Knight's former compatriot on the Mary Tyler Moore show, Gavin McLeod) in a series of challenges during a trip to Alaska. The episode is well remembered in Ketchikan because the two captains engaged  in a "sled dog race" in the First City.

The Sun Princess also appears in the 1976 movie, The Love Boat, as well as the 1980 film Herbie Goes Bananas.

In 1979, a near tragedy was averted on the Sun Princess when a fire broke out in the laundry room on a chartered voyaged between Portland and San Francisco. Passengers were ordered to prepare to evacuate, but the fire was brought under control before evacuations were necessary.

By 1988, Princess was selling off several of its early ships and the Sun Princess went to Premier Cruises where it was originally named the Majestic and then the Starship Majestic, where it operated for a time as one of the early Disney cruise ships. In 1994, she was leased and then sold to CTC and renamed the Southern Cross. In 1998, Festival Cruises purchased the ship and named it the Flamenco. Cruise Elysia purchased the ship in 2004 and sold it to Club Cruise in 2008 which renamed it the Flamenco I. Club Cruise use the ship as a hotel ship in New Calendonia for several years before the company went bankrupt.

It appeared that the nearly 40-year-old Spirit of London was at the end of its lifespan when it was laid up for a year in Singapore and then sold for scrap. But the old vessel had one final act to play. Runfeng Ocean Deluxe Cruises bought the idled ship in 2012 and began operating cruises from Haikou, China to Halong Bay, Vietnam. The arrangement worked for three years before Runfeng apparently also went out of business. The ship was left at anchor off Laem Chabang in Thailand for more than a year.

On February 27, 2016 the ship capsized in the shallow water. An attempt was made to right the ship but it failed and the scrapping the ship began in 2017. In 2020, photos showed that most of the ship had been removed but that parts of the hull were still visible.

The Spirit of London's 44-year voyage was finally over.






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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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