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Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the best way to get across the Atlantic Ocean was by passenger liner. Many thousands of immigrants came to America on ships like the Rotterdam and the Carpathia (the latter would become famous for rescuing survivors from the Titanic). These ships were usually utilitarian, as it was not until the late 1960's that cruising for pleasure became popular.

One of the last great transatlantic liners was the SS France, a ship that was longer, faster, and had greater capacity than any of the liners that came before it. Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (also called the French Line) commissioned her building at Penhoet, St. Nazaire, and on May 11, 1960 she was launched by the wife of then-president Charles de Gaulle. Her length was 1,035 feet, and her width (beam) was 110.5 feet. She weighed in at 66,348 tonnes, and her cruising speed was 31 knots thanks to her horsepower of 160,000. She was tested at sea in November 1961, and carried her first passengers from Le Havre to the Canary Islands in January 1962. Finally, her first major trip was from Le Havre to New York in February 1962.

Unlike other vessels of the era, the France had only two classes, First Class (500 passengers) and Tourist Class (1500 passengers), eliminating the middle class that was seen on ships such as the Queen Mary. She was not an ostentatious ship, but she nonetheless carried many passengers during the 1960's and early 1970's. Then came the era of pleasure cruising, largely stemming from the creation of Carnival Cruise Lines and from the popularity of the television show "Love Boat." The France made two round-the-world trips in the 1970's, but her crew was paid mostly through subsidies from the French government. Due to rising fuel costs the subsidies to CGT ended, and the France was to be retired in October 1974. But as she approached Le Havre, union members dropped anchor and refused to allow the ship to proceed in the hopes of saving their jobs. Passengers had to be off-loaded onto tenders, but the strike ultimately failed and France parked at Le Havre on November 9th.

She remained there for five years, simply floating at the dock, as her owners tried to figure out what to do with her. She changed hands without ever leaving where she sat, until she was bought by the Norwegian Caribbean Line in 1979 to join their cruise ship fleet. She was towed to the shipyard at Bremerhaven, Germany, where she was refitted to add more capacity (and swimming pools) and was rechristened the SS Norway. Sailing primarily from U.S. ports to the Caribbean, the Norway ushered in a new era of cruising. The "Broadway revue" shows offered as entertainment on today's cruise ships were pioneered on the Norway, and her only competition for grandeur was the Queen Elizabeth 2.

Other shipbuilders, though, were making new ships that were larger and more modern than the Norway. In 1984 her steam-powered engines were replaced with diesel engines, and in 1990 she again returned to Bremerhaven to have two entire decks added to her structure. The decks featured deluxe suites with balconies, a feature becoming popular on new ships, and so she caught up with the competition again. But even then, Norway was not the most outstanding ship around, as she had been in decades past. As the Norwegian Cruise Line grew (it was renamed in 1987), they focused their financial energies on maintaining their new ships instead the older Norway. Although she received renovations in 1997, she was still seen by NCL as being out of date, and they planned to retire her in 2001.

On September 5, 2001, the Norway sailed from New York on her last trip home to Le Havre. Tragedy struck the world a few days later, and as a result airline usage dropped sharply. NCL took advantage of this opportunity and put Norway back to work, sailing out of Miami on a regular basis. A smaller tragedy hit much closer to home in May 2003, while she was docked in Miami. A boiler room explosion onboard caused the deaths of seven crew members, and seventeen more were injured. A month later she was towed back to Bremerhaven, where NCL determined that the cost of installing a new boiler was so great that it was not worthwhile to extend the ship's life again. Despite a March 2004 announcement that the Norway would not return to cruising service, the company retained ownership as the ship's fate was once again considered.

Many vessels, when they are retired, are towed to Alang. This port on the coast of India is well known in the maritime industry as the final resting place for all types of ships, where they are torn apart and used for scrap. Although it is a source of employment for many Indian workers, it is also a health hazard. Many ships - Norway included - contain asbestos in their structure. The work of shipbreaking is quite dangerous, as heavy machinery is required to dismantle a ship, and toxic chemicals are at high concentrations throughout the area. The environmental organization Greenpeace is attempting to get ship owners to decontaminate their vessels before sending them to Alang, but even that effort is proving unsuccessful as new shipbreaking yards are being created in the Andra Pradesh region while workers at Alang and other Indian ports continue to be exposed to toxic chemicals and toil in deplorable working conditions.

The Norway's many fans organized online to encourage NCL not to sell the ship to the breakers at Alang. They were unsuccessful, though, and in December 2005 her sale to a Bangladeshi company was announced. It seemed that her fate had at last been decided, but shortly thereafter the sale was cancelled due in part to environmental concerns relating to the breakup, as well as issues with having her towed from where she sits at Bremerhaven. All she and her fans can do is wait for NCL to decide what will become of the last great transatlantic ocean liner.

Additional resources
http://www.maritimematters.com/francetour.html
http://www.ssmaritime.com/norway-france.htm
http://ocean-liners.schuminweb.com/ships/france.asp
http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/CGT_France1962_PCs.html
http://www.greenpeaceweb.org/shipbreak/

originally written for nonficwrimo 06

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