Sunday, 8 August 2010

The last operational Clyde-built liner in Rosyth for the last time

On Thursday, 5th of July, the MS Mona Lisa, made her final call at a Scottish port. Built by John Brown & Co at Clydebank and completed in 1966 as the Kungsholm for the Swedish American Line she was regarded as being among the world's finest passenger ships (as shown above left). She was also unexpectedly costly to built and, having tendered at cost price to maintain continuity of employment pending an expected Q4 order, John Brown & Co made a £3 million loss on the contract. This notwithstanding, Swedish American received a superb vessel and the Kungsholm quickly gained a formidable reputation as a trans-Atlantic liner and cruise ship. Come the mid-1970s, competition was increasing at the luxury end of the cruise market and Swedish American's costs were also going up due to increases in fuel and Swedish labour rates. Consequently, they sold the Kungsholm to Oivind Lorentzen's subsidiary, Flagship Cruises, who after a few years re-sold her to P&O. She was given a substantial reconstruction at the Bremer Vulkan shipyard in West Germany in 1979, emerging as the Sea Princess. Her forward dummy funnel was removed and her aft funnel heightened, while more cabins were added to the rear half of her superstructure (see above right). In 2002, she was withdrawn by P&O and handed over to Greek owners, Kyma Shipping, becoming the Mona Lisa for charter to German operators.

Due to new SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea) regulations being enforced in autumn 2010, she will no longer be able to continue in service, largely because her interiors are almost entirely lined in hardwood veneer - all crafted by Clydebank's excellent shipyard joiners. Generally, the Mona Lisa remains in superb condition for a vessel of her age and her inboard spaces are a fascinating reminder of liner travel as it once was. Indeed, she is now the last of her kind.

I first sailed on Mona Lisa in August 2009. One day, a very strong Westerly was encountered in the Channel and, being a deep-drafted trans-Atlantic liner, the Mona Lisa handled the big waves remarkably well. The wind on her starboard side gave her a list to port, which she maintained all day until we reached the shelter of the Cherbourg Pensinsula. It was a wonderful experience.

Leaving Rosyth in late-August 2009, during her previous visit.

You get a superior reception on the Mona Lisa - a symphony of polished teak

The cocktail lounge and the forward observation lounge on the Mona Lisa (the latter was designed by the noted Swedish designer, Count Sigvard Bernadotte)

The two side lounges, located port and starboard, give panoramic views.

The library and the cinema-theatre (note the balustrade separating the first and second classes)

The stairwells are outstanding with their neat balustrades and marquetry inlays on the bulkheads.

The dining saloons are also remarkably intact - and boast outstanding joinery.


                                       The builders' plate, mounted on the forward superstructure


A delightful Greek detail on the bridge and, finally, a cabin corridor: there is so much sheer that, when viewed from one end, the floor disappears into the deckhead.

Leaving Rosyth and heading under the Forth Bridges

The story of the Kungsholm and her long career for various owners will shortly be told in a splendid new book, being written by my good friend in Munich, Hr Burkhard Schutt. Not only is Burkhard an excellent maritime historian, but also a very talented model-maker. His website features his highly detailed 1:1250 waterline ship models - every one a hand-crafted masterpiece.

My good friend, Ann Haynes, has also been Kungsholming of late. Ann and colleagues once chartered the ship to make a round-Africa voyage to commemorate the centenary of the Union-Castle Line (she's indefatigable). Now, she has written an article about the liner's history for the Ferry and Cruise Annual 2011. This will be published in the autumn by Ferry Publications. See As if that was not enough, Ann also has an entertaining blog about passenger shipping matters: 


  1. Thank you very much for this interesting article!

  2. Amazing!!!! I've worked on this ship!!! Brings back so many memories!!! One of my fav ships!!! Loved it!!!