Made in the Seventies

The decommissioning of two sister Fred. Olsen cruise ships marks the end of an era

Photo caption: Black Watch in 2016. Credit: Nicksmith156, Shutterstock

Two elegant cruise ships that together had sailed under Fred. Olsen Lines for 39 years combined were decommissioned from service in September 2020. It was a year when Turkish shipbreaking yards saw a boom as cruise companies hemorrhaged millions of dollars keeping vessels in hot or cold layups as the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic closed down the industry.

It’s unclear whether Covid-19 hastened the demise of the Wärtsilä Helsinki Shipyard-built Boudicca and Black Watch, but owner investment in recent years suggests that their cruising careers would have continued if it had not been for the pandemic. World of Cruising reported in 2016 that Black Watch entered dry dock for a multi-million pound refurbishment. And as recently as 2018, Cruise Industry News said that Boudicca was scheduled for 12 days of maintenance and refurbishment, including engineering works and “the stripping out and rejuvenation of the 462 rooms across the ship”.

Nonetheless both vessels made their final voyage last year from the UK’s Port of Rosyth on the North Sea – where at the time Fred. Olsen’s entire fleet was laid up – to the Port of Pendik, on the Sea of Marmara, and around 35 km from the Turkish capital of Istanbul. MarineTraffic data shows that Boudicca left on 28 September 2020, and arrived on 4 November the same year – a journey of 37 days. She was followed shortly afterwards by Black Watch who left on 21 October and arrived on 11 November, after a journey of 22 days. There has been no further AIS data received from the ships since their arrival at Pendik.

Black Watch started operations in 1972
Boudicca was one of the first cruise ships to be extended

It was originally reported that both ships were being sold as accommodation vessels, and reports suggest that Black Watch is still at Pendik. However, in May this year Cruise Industry News announced that Boudicca had been beached for scrap at Turkey’s shipbreaking site at Aliağa – 278 nm south of Port of Pendik.

It’s easy to be nostalgic about the scrapping of ships, but these two vessels had been in service for longer than the average 30 years. Black Watch was built in 1972 and Boudicca a year later, making them 48 and 47 respectively when they left Fred. Olsen. Although at least 50% older than the average cruise ship retirement age, during their day Black Watch and Boudicca were by no means the oldest cruise ships afloat.

The Hebridean Princess is around 57 years old and still has a schedule for 2022 mainly sailing out of her home port in Oban, Scotland. Older still is the 1948-built Astoria, which TradeWinds announced in February was up for sale and for the past year has been moored at Rotterdam, MarineTraffic shows.

Early life

Built at the same yard for Royal Viking Line, the two sisters originally sailed as Royal Viking Star (Black Watch) and Royal Viking Star (Boudicca). A third similar vessel, the Royal Viking Sea, was also built around the same time, and was finally sent to Alang in India for breaking this year. 

Black Watch and Boudicca may have started and ended their operational lives together but the intervening years saw them change hands through different owners and operators.

Boudicca had nine other names before joining Fred. Olsen in 2005. The vessel sailed with Royal Viking Line for the first 18 years of service, during which time it was lengthened from 177.70 m to 205.47 m. Hong Kong-based Star Cruises also operated the vessel between 1997 and 2004, sailing under the name SuperStar Capricorn.

Black Watch, meanwhile, changed hands fewer times. It stayed with Royal Viking Line for the first 19 years and was then bought by Norwegian Cruise Line and renamed Westward between 1991 until 1994. After that, the ship spent two years as Star Odyssey with Royal Cruise Line before joining Fred. Olsen in 1996 –  a career with the Norwegian-owned company that lasted 24 years.

It may be the end of the line for these two, but around the time Fred. Olsen announced the retirement of the sisters, it also announced their replacements. Bolette and Borealis joined its fleet in late 2020 from Holland America Line and with them came around 30% more capacity, as Fred. Olsen plans for a rejuvenated cruise industry following a difficult two years.


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