Cruise ships torn apart after coronavirus sell off

(CNN) — On the beach, once-gleaming vessels lie dilapidated, their innards exposed, barely recognizable from their seafaring glory days.

These huge ships were previously the pride of cruising fleets including Carnival Cruise Line. Now they’re shells of their former selves — beached at Aliaga shipyard in Turkey, mid-demolition and ready to be sold for scrap.

When a cruise company decides a ship is no longer needed, and no one wants to buy it, that often means a one way final voyage to Aliaga, or similar ship breaking yards such as Alang, India or Gadani, near the Pakistan port of Karachi.

In Aliaga, business is up 30% this year in the wake of the pandemic, reports Reuters.

Drone photographs of of the shipyard depict zombie cruise liners — half impressive vessel, and half skeleton and debris.

Still-intact swimming pools and a bright green onboard golf course form an eerie contrast with the growing wreckage. On one ship, the famed Carnival Cruise Line red funnel is almost all that remains.

Hundreds of cruise ships that were sailing around the world earlier this year are largely now laid up at sea, with no passengers on board.

There are many more vessels mid-construction, commissioned to meet the demand that characterized years of growth pre-2020, back when the $150 billion industry was booming.

The result? An excess of ships.

Chris McGrathGetty Images Aliaga Shipyard (1)

Cruise ships that once ferryed passengers on vacations around the world, now lie ready to be sold for scrap.

Courtesy Chris McGrath/Getty Images

This — teamed with financial difficulties arising from months of disruption — mean some cruise companies are retiring ships earlier than expected.

In September 2020, Carnival Corporation announced plans to sell 18 “less efficient” cruise ships in the coming months, resulting in a 12% reduction of its overall fleet.

Many of these ships had previously published 2021 sailing itineraries.

Demolition process

Chris McGrathGetty Images Aliaga Shipyard (16)

Cruise ships pictured mid-destruction at Aliaga, in Turkey.

Courtesy Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In the past, ships could expect to sail for decades before ending up as scrap — sailing under multiple names for a succession of cruise lines.

But while some operators are still purchasing ships off one another — including UK cruise line Fred Olsen Cruises, which purchased two ships from Holland America (owned by Carnival Corporation) this summer — the pause in cruising has impacted many companies’ finances, making such purchases potentially less viable right now.

“I don’t know that many cruise lines in the world are looking to buy ships right now,” Bill Miller, a cruise ship historian, told CNN Travel in July. “I would say that would be very unlikely. The next best buyer would be the scrappers.”

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Dismantling a cruise ship in action at Aliaga.

Courtesy Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Once a cruise ship arrives at Aliaga, the vessel is torn apart. Everything inside must be removed, from the furniture to the bathrooms. Interior items may end up sold locally to business owners or collectors.

“To see such large objects on a beach being demolished in an otherwise natural setting is both fascinating and heartbreaking,” said freelance cruise journalist Peter Knego, who has visited ship breaking yards across the world, in order to photograph the process and collect furniture and interior pieces for his home.

Chris McGrathGetty Images Aliaga Shipyard (5)

Once the vessel arrives at Aliaga, it’s torn apart.

Courtesy Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Knego compared a visit to the shipbreaking yard of Alang, India, to “Armageddon or something out of a science fiction movie.”

“To see such large objects on a beach being demolished in an otherwise natural setting is both fascinating and heartbreaking,” he added.