Well-Known Former Cruise Ship Sinks at Berth in Stockton

Derelict cruise ship sunk at berth

Published May 22, 2024 9:37 PM by The Maritime Executive

One of the best-known retired vessels in the San Francisco Bay area, the former cruise ship Aurora, has partially sunk at her berth. The classic "pocket" cruise ship was built by Blohm & Voss for brief trips to and from the island of Heligoland, and had a long and varied career in the Aegean, North Sea, Eastern Pacific, and the U.S. West Coast. 

On Wednesday, California's emergency services office received a report that the disused cruise ship had begun to sink and discharge pollution. Sheening has been seen near the vessel, and responders have deployed a boom around the ship to prevent it from spreading to a drinking water intake station for the city of Stockton. 

According to the Coast Guard, the vessel's potential for pollutant discharge is not known. Aurora's ownership recently changed hands, the service said. To address the immediate pollution hazard, the Coast Guard took over management of the scene and brought in spill response contractor Global Diving and Salvage. Dive surveys and pollutant recovery will begin over the next few days. In the mean time, extra mooring lines have been run out, and a no-wake zone is in effect alongside the vessel.

Aurora had been out of seagoing service since at least 1977, and the date of her last drydocking was not clear. Her previous owner acquired the vessel on the community swap site Craigslist in 2008, and had told CNN in 2020 that he intended to dock the vessel to restore the hull when funds allowed. 

The vessel started life at the West German yard of Blohm & Voss in 1955, and was christened the Wappen Von Hamburg. She conducted day trips to and from Heligoland for several years, then was sold to Nomikos Line and renamed Delos for service in the Aegean. Along the way, she made an appearance in the James Bond film "From Russia With Love." Additional changes in ownership took the vessel to Alaska, Central America and the South Atlantic, among other locales. She spent the last five years of her seagoing career as the ultra-luxury expedition cruise ship Xanadu, owned by Donald Ferguson's Cruises of Panama. 

In 1977, as skyrocketing oil prices made cruising less economical, the ship retired from passenger service and was sold for use as a floating exposition center. This venture did not go as planned, and her ownership transferred at least four more times: a California-based church used her as a shelter for the homeless; a doctor bought her to create a floating children's hospital; a Mideastern buyer sought to turn her into a luxury yacht; and finally, in 2008, she was bought by a private individual who planned to refurbish her as a museum. She had been sold yet again shortly before the sinking, according to the Coast Guard.