It looks very much like the end of the line for the Louis Aura.
The 16,400 ton ship has been towed from Piraeus to the outer port of Salamina and placed in what is described as a ‘state of permanent lay up’.
For several years now, the Louis Aura– the only ship in the fleet not to be rebranded with the Celestyal livery- has survived on a series of French charters, as well as making short summer cruises from Limassol for the Louis group itself.
Though the decision to lay up the still elegant, 1968 built twin stacked ship is sad, it has been somewhat inevitable for a few years now. Louis Aura has grown increasingly more expensive to operate, and that, combined with her advanced age, was bound to accelerate her ultimate demise.
She was originally built in Germany in 1968 as the Starward, the first year round, purpose built Caribbean cruise ship, for Norwegian Cruise Line. As such, she was nothing less than the pioneer of the modern Caribbean cruise ship. Starward sailed for NCL until as late as 1995 and remained an immensely popular ship to the end.
She then went to Festival Cruises and sailed for nine years as the Bolero on mainly seven night long Mediterranean routes. In this role, she was often chartered out during the summer to the British holiday operator, First Choice.
Then, in July 2006, sailing under the name of Orient Queen, she gained world wide media attention when used to evacuate refugees fleeing the conflict in war torn Lebanon.
After a $15 million dollar renovation, the ship was sold in August of 2006 to the then Louis Cruises, who operated her on a series of three, four, and seven days cruises from both Piraeus and Limassol, to the Greek Islands and Turkey. Her relatively small size and large amount of open deck space made her the perfect ship for these itineraries. I enjoyed a memorable weekend aboard her in September, 2012, on just one such cruise. For the following season, she received her final name of Louis Aura.
Even then, there was a sense that the still pretty ship was very much on borrowed time. She managed a couple of seasons on European charters before the decision to lay her up in Salamina was finally taken.
Sadly, it seems almost certain that her last voyage to the scrapyard beckons. She was one of the true, pioneering cruise ships, and many people retain fond memories of their time aboard what was one of the most forward thinking and evolutionary cruise ships of all time.
She will be sadly missed, but few ships have served so well, for so long. Her dignity remains intact to the end.