Another of the world's greatest ocean liners has made her final voyage. Scott Baty marks the end of P&O's legendary first Oriana...20 years after she left the South Pacific for the Orient.
For Sydneysiders, a glimpse of the majestic Oriana as she glided through the waters of Port Jackson, or towering over her Circular Quay berth, was as familiar a sight as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge...almost part of the waterfront panorama for more than a quarter of a century.
For many thousands of Australians, Oriana - or the "Big O", a sobriquet she was irreverently accorded by some passengers - was to provide a first experience of ocean travel to Europe and North America, and South Pacific/Orient cruising. Such was her popularity and following, that Oriana's name, and that of P&O, dominated leisure travel long before the start of the 20th century.
Then, in May 1986, she was gone, with only the memories and legends remaining. But, in 1994, her name was proudly accorded by P&O to a luxurious 70,000-ton cruise ship, upon which many Australians and New Zealanders have more recently world-cruised.
Many assumed that the original Oriana had followed many of her contemporaries to
Asia's voracious shipbreakers. That did eventually happen, but only just recently, as her post-P&O career records. Indeed, as this edition goes to press, so her remains enter the smelters of 's burgeoning steel industry. China
Although she flew the Iberian ensign of P&O for most of her years in service, Oriana was not actually built for that company. The original Oriana was launched in 1959 as the largest - and, as it transpired, last - of a fleet of Orient Steam Navigation Company liners to serve the
route since 1853. Australia
Known as "The Orient", the company had operated 53 ships between
England and prior to the maiden voyage of Oriana in 1960. All but a few had names with the Orient Line prefix 'Or', for example. Australia Orontes, Orion, Orvieto, Orama.
The advent of Oriana to the round-world service was a major event, and caused rival P&O to order the similar-sized, but vastly different, Canberra which entered service six months later. The companies would merge in 1964, and the two new ships would subsequently operate as "sisters" until 1986.
Hundreds of thousands turned out in January 1961 to greet the new Oriana wherever she called on her maiden round-world voyage. At
, her half-way, 5-day stopover port, she was the first ship to berth at the new Overseas Passenger Terminal, built expressly to accommodate her size. Sydney
Oriana made maritime history on that voyage, breaking the speed record for Southampton/Sydney, and trans-Tasman and trans-Pacific crossings...they stand unchallenged to this day.
When times changed, during the late '70s, Oriana was increasingly used by P&O for cruising; scheduled seasonally for Mediterranean voyages ex-Southampton, and Pacific and Asian voyages ex-Sydney. For the last five years of her P&O career she was based permanently at
in competition with Sitmar Line's Fairstar and an assorted CTC Cruises fleet. Sydney
's Pyrmont basin for several months in early 1986, time indeed seemed to have caught-up with the otherwise still pristine Oriana. In an increasingly cost-conscious and luxury discerning market, her thirst for costly fuel, and complex original two-class passenger configuration marked her as unsuitable for future trading, and P&O caveats precluded her for future service under another flag. It was widely predicted she would follow her former '60s Orient consorts Orcades, Orsova and Oronsay to the scrapyards of Sydney . Taiwan
Then came a lifeline - of sorts. A new career under a very different Orient flag.
Oriana, sadly, did not leave
proudly under her own steam. It was considered to be more economical to tow her away, rather than fuelling her for one last time and, after delaying extended waterfront disputes, she was towed by tugs, bound for Sydney Japan, where a new career as a convention centre/hotel/tourist attraction awaited her at a port south of . Tokyo
There she remained, patronised by thousands of visitors annually, including occasionally nostalgic admirers from her former ports-of-call. A decade later when her usefulness and novelty having declined, Oriana was again taken in tow, this time headed westward to
China's developing super-city . Shanghai
Given a much-needed cosmetic external renovation, and internal restructuring, her new career in
was to be much the same as during Japanese ownership. China
During 2004 "obituaries" were published abroad of the sinking of Oriana during a cyclonic storm which swept
North-East China. The news reports were premature, however, although the ship had broken her moorings and holed her underwater hull. Photographs showed the ship listing markedly to port, but Oriana was still afloat.
To all but her most optimistic admirers it was obvious that her supposed sinking was a prelude to a likely end for Oriana, and therefore it was with no great surprise that she was to be moved from Shanghai's redeveloped waterfront park area. It was hoped that she might again be reprieved and find suitable deployment, perhaps elsewhere on
's coast. China
The axe finally fell in March 2006, and Oriana, the last flagship for "the Orient", the last of the combined P&O-Orient liners, and the ship which arguably most established P&O Cruises in
during the '70s and '80s, was again towed away, this time to an adjacent shipbreaking yard. Australia
It is perhaps ironic to consider that perhaps a little of the steel which made Oriana the magnificent example of engineering - the largest ship ever built on England's shores - which astounded the world in on her 1960/61 maiden voyage may return to our shores in the form of a Bunnings garden spade, or a Shanghai-built Volkswagen.
Source: Scott Baty, Issue 26, Summer 2006-2007