10 January 2007

Oriana Cruise Ship:

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 China's burgeoning steel industry.

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 Australia route since 1853.

Known as "The Orient", the company had operated 53 ships between England and Australia prior to the maiden voyage of Oriana in 1960. All but a few had names with the Orient Line prefix 'Or', for example. 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 Sydney, 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.

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 Sydney in competition with Sitmar Line's Fairstar and an assorted CTC Cruises fleet.

Laid-up at 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 Taiwan.

Then came a lifeline - of sorts. A new career under a very different Orient flag.

Oriana, sadly, did not leave Sydney 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 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 China was to be much the same as during Japanese ownership.

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 China's coast.

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 Australia during the '70s and '80s, was again towed away, this time to an adjacent shipbreaking yard.

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

02 January 2007

A China Environmental Health Project Fact Sheet:

A Toxic Trade: Shipbreaking in China

In recent years, the international dialogue on pollution in the shipping industry has shifted from waste on ships to ships as waste. Industrialized countries with aging fleets of oil tankers and military vessels have found it cheaper to sell these retired ships to developing countries where they are dismantled for scrap than to do such work domestically. As recently as 2004, China dominated this dangerous business of shipbreaking. While today Bangladesh has assumed this position due primarily to price competitiveness, industrialized countries view China’s shipbreaking industry—while still highly polluting—as a more hitech and somewhat more “respectable.” The addition of shipbreaking to the Basel Convention and growing news media coverage of the hazardous waste pollution dangers of shipbreaking highlight how China is likely to continue to be a major player in this industry. The hunger for steel in China fuels demand for expanding shipbreaking operations, however, the practice of shipbreaking is posing serious danger to the health of workers and the coastal environment.

Health and Environmental Costs

Most ships that are ready to be dismantled were built in the 1970s, before many hazardous materials were banned. These older ships contain potentially health-damaging substances such as the fire retardant asbestos; the anti-corrosives lead oxide and zinc chromate; and antifouling paints that often contain mercury, arsenic, and tributyl tin (TBT). Similar to other developing countries, shipbreaking in China is often done by workers who lack proper equipment or protective gear.* Most of these workers are migrants from rural areas who are poorly paid and also do not receive any health care coverage for their work. Thus, workers injured from toxins or accidents on the shipbreaking site often must impoverish their families to receive medical treatment. After boats are dismantled, the waste is rarely appropriately disposed. Moreover toxic waste may burn in open fires and carcinogenic material is casually sold for re-use.

Where Shipbreaking is Taking Place

China has approximately 90 breaking yards dotting the deltas and lower reaches of the Pearl and Yangtze rivers. The major shipbreaking yard is Zhang Jiagang in Jiangsu Province and there are additional breaking yards in Fujian and Guangdong provinces. China is the only nation where scrap ships are not beached, which makes it easier for ship exporters to deliver them to be demolished.

Addressing the Problem

Despite impacts on health and environment, the global practice of ship breaking continues due of the lack of regulation enforcement in the countries of both ship exporters and importers. The recent introduction of stricter environmental and safety laws in China has arguably made the industry less profitable, but has in no way brought it to a halt. Unlike electronic waste, the informal sector for shipbreaking (due to the massive size of the ships) is small to nonexistent, which means all ship breaking in China is recognized as legitimate by the government.

The Basel Convention now specifically prohibits the transfer of hazardous ships, i.e., those that have not been cleaned of all hazardous waste, from developed (OECD) countries to developing countries. The Chinese government, which has ratified the Basel Convention, still uses subsidies to promote the industry. For example, in 2004, the customs duty on ships for demolition in China was only 5 percent and a capital subsidy of 14 percent was provided to shipbreaking companies.

The Basel Action Network (BAN), a global watchdog organization dedicated to halting exports of toxic waste from rich to poor countries, has successfully halted the export of some U.S. military ships to China as scrap. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency bans the export of certain toxic materials, which are often prevalent on older ships. With a focus on the growing number of deaths and illnesses of workers in this industry, BAN, Greenpeace and human rights groups are campaigning together to halt this trade.

Greenpeace China used to include shipbreaking in its toxics campaigning, but has not focused on the issue since publishing a report in 2000 on how the industry was polluting China’s coastal areas and communities. Certain private companies, such as the Dutch shipping company, P&O Nedlloyd, are working to improve the impact of shipping yards in China on environment and health.

Future CEF Coverage of Shipbreaking Issues in China

The China Environment Forum will be adding other fact sheets on this and other waste topics throughout 2007 and 2008.


“Shipbreaking: Toxic Waste in Disguise, the China Connection.” Greenpeace, Washington DC.

“Port Resources, China.” Global Marketing Systems, Inc. Cumberland, MD.

“The Ship Recycling Industry: Where It’s Done.” Global Marketing Systems, Inc. Cumberland, MD. http://www.gmsinc.net/gms/recycling_industry.php.

“Shock Waves Demolish Alang.” (March 2004). Times Shipping Journal.

“India Media Ban Over ‘toxic’ ship.” (February 13, 2006). BBC News.

McGowan, Robert. (November 14, 2003). “Asian Draw for Ship-Breaking.” BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/3266963.stm.

Secretariat of the Basel Convention, United Nations Environment Program, Switzerland. http://www.basel.int/.

“Improving Conditions in Shipbreaking.” International Metalworkers Foundation. http://www.imfmetal.org/main/index.cfm?n=47&l=2&c=8268.

Puckett, Jim. (January 23, 2007). Basel Action Network. Personal communication.

This fact sheet was produced By Samantha L. Jones as part of the China Environment Forum’s partnership with Western Kentucky University on the USAID-supported China Environmental Health Project.

Source: The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. February 01, 2007