'Saga Ruby' to miss final visit due to earlier mechanical problem

It is disappointing this port has been denied a chance to host a final visit by Saga Cruises' Saga Ruby, for this veteran would have afforded an opportunity to see one of the last graceful and classic passenger liners of a past era, one in which ships were built to look like ships.

The ship had been originally listed on Port Otago's cruise ship schedule to make its third visit tomorrow. But at the time of writing, yesterday, the ship was not even close to New Zealand waters. It was somewhere in the South Atlantic.

The ship is on its farewell world cruise, which has been shortenedfrom 109 days to 66 days because of mechanical problems. It was due to leave Southampton on January 7.

However, shortly before departure time, theship's engineers discovered a serious problem with the crankshaft of one of the main engines. After repairs were carried out, the vessel underwent sea trials andfinally sailed from Southampton on its belated and final round-the-worldvoyage on February 20.

This was the second major breakdown the ship had experienced in recentmonths. Last November, machinery problems developed when the ship called at Porto, Portugal. It then spent six weeks at Bremerhaven where the machinery was given a complete overhaul and at the same time, accommodation was refurbished.

The cruise had been originally planned for three sectors. The first was for the ship to visit places on the east coast of South America. On the middle leg, which has been cancelled, the ship was to round Cape Horn, and cross the Pacific via Easter Island and Pitcairn Island. Then it was on to New Zealand and Australia before heading to Cape Town.

It will now visit other ports on the west coast of Africa before arriving back at Southampton on April 27. This final leg is also part of the revised schedule, which will include a visit to the Falkland Islands and to remote Tristan da Cunha, where, depending on the weather, passengers might be able to go ashore.

For the remainder of the year Saga Ruby will carry out a series of cruises to the Baltic States, Canary Islands, the Mediterranean and the Norwegian fjords.

The ship will make its final cruise, a 31-day Christmas cruise to the Caribbean, from Southampton on December 7. After arriving back there on January 7, 2014, it will be withdrawn from service.

At present,the name Saga Ruby seems very appropriate. This year the ship celebrates its 40th - ruby - anniversary of service. Looking back to when it was new, it closed two important chapters in maritime history.

It was the last passenger liner to be built for the Norwegian-America Line, of Oslo, and the last passenger liner to be built at a shipyard in the United Kingdom.

The ship was ordered from the Wallsend yard of Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd and was laid down at Yard No39. It was launched as Vistafjord on May 15, 1972, completed exactly one year later, on May 15, 1973, and a week later commenced its maiden voyage from Oslo to New York.

G. Clark & N. E. M. Ltd, of Wallsend, supplied twin-screw propulsion units. They were two nine-cylinder Sulzer diesels whose combined output of 24,000bhp gave the ship a service speed of 20 knots. Vistafjord was an enlarged version of Sagafjord, built in France in 1965.

Both ships were sold without change of name to Cunard in 1983. Sagafjord called here on February 19,1991, and after it was sold to Saga Shipping in 1997, made three visits as Saga Rose between 2004 and 2006.

In 1999, Vistafjord was renamed Caronia. It has served the Saga fleet as Saga Ruby since being acquired in 2004. Not one of the larger type of cruise ships to visit Port Chalmers, this vessel of a modest 24,492gt has 661 berths.

It called here for the first time on February 26, 2010. under the British flag, four months before it was transferred to the Maltese registry. Saga Ruby made a return visit on March 9, 2011.

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