Middle East Cruise News

Orient Queen cruise ship capsizes following Beirut blast, two crew killed

The cruise ship Orient Queen, sailing for the Lebanese cruise operator Abou Merhi Cruises, has capsized at her berth in Beirut after suffering damage following a massive explosion in the port area that has devastated much of the city.

Two crew members aboard the ship were reported to have been killed by the shockwave from the massive ammonium nitrate explosion at around 6pm local time on Tuesday evening. A further seven crew are reported to be in a critical condition.

The explosion also claimed the head office of the ship’s operator, Abou Merhi Cruises, as well as the entire Abou Merhi Group, according to Cruise Industry News.

The explosion, believed to have occured due to a fire in a warehouse containing more than 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate, destroyed much of the port area in Beirut, and did extensive damage to buildings across the city.

More than 135 people were killed by the blast, which was felt as far away as Cyprus, while a further 5,000 were injured.

The Lebanese cabinet has ordered port officials involved in storing or guarding the ammonium nitrate, in the warehouse since 2014, to be put under house arrest, according to Sky News.

A two-week state of emergency has been declared, handing control of security in the capital to the military, as the disaster is investigated. The disaster comes amid a severe economic and political crisis that has seen Lebanon default on debt obligations, caused the currency to collapse and wiped 20% off its GDP.

Orient Queen previously sailed as Vistamar

The 120m Orient Queen is a small cruise ship launched in 1989 as Vistamar. She changed hands several times throughout the 90s and 2000s, before joining Abou Merhi Cruises in 2012.

She is the cruise line’s only ship and gained a loyal following among Lebanese cruise passengers during the last eight years, sailing regular Greek Isles cruises from Beirut.

She was placed in lay-up in Beirut earlier this year when Lebanon went into lockdown in an attempt to counter the spread of coronavirus, while the entire cruise industry worldwide was shutdown.

Although Orient Queen has sunk in shallow port waters, its unlikely that Abou Merhi Cruises will attempt to salvage her, as the damage to the 30-year-old vessels interiors will be severe, requiring an expensive refit.

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