Ship sail

Veteran cruise ship scrapped after superyacht conversion project canceled

Three years after disembarking its last passengers from Saga Cruises, the 1981-built Pearl II was sold for recycling in Turkey.

Tugboats towed the veteran 18,600 GT vessel from its moorings near Piraeus on Saturday, ending an abortive project that would have seen it converted into one of the largest private yachts in the world.

Saga had sold the vessel in April 2019 to Aqua Explorer Holdings, an obscure company registered in the British Virgin Islands who immediately sent her to Greece and shortened her name from Saga Pearl II to Pearl II.

Early rumors about the ship’s future ran the gamut, from continuing to cruise under Greek ownership to the inevitable suggestions that it would be used as a floating hotel.

Whoever was behind Aqua Explorer never commented on their plans, but it quickly became known in the cruising and yachting industries that the company was controlled by wealthy Saudi interests, through Greek intermediaries, who had the intention to convert the Pearl II into an ultra-large private yacht.

While several wealthy individuals in the Middle East have purchased cruise ships in the past to convert them into yachts, these have generally been small vessels. None would match the size of the Pearl II.

The article continues below the ad

The superyacht project does not seem to have passed the drawing board stage. The ship was delivered at the height of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s anti-corruption crackdown which has seen the mass arrests of prominent Saudi princes, ministers and businessmen.

Converting a cruise ship into one of the largest private yachts in the world was not a prudent move in these tense times, yacht industry sources told TradeWinds.

The Pearl II was put back on the sales market just as Covid-19 hit. The pandemic shutdown has led to a massive purge of old cruise ships. A total of 39 have been sold for scrap since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Given the bleak outlook for the cruise industry, which has yet to fully recover, there was little chance a commercial buyer would be found for a 41-year-old ship that had long been laid up.

Pearl II was built for Hadag Cruises in Germany as Astor and has had a varied career, sailing for various cruise operators including Safmarine, Deutsche Seerederei, Seetours, Transocean Cruises and Club Cruise.

Saga acquired the ship in 2008, replacing it with a new building just over a decade later.