The MV Astoria is the world's oldest serving cruise ship.

In her 72 years since sailing out of the Swedish dockyards in Gothenburg, she has survived some remarkable things. Originally called the MS Stockholm, she has changed names no fewer than eleven times. The Astoria's long service record might dispel the maritime myth that it is bad luck to rename a ship. Although, during her twelve lives, she has been less auspicious than those sailing on and around her.

In 1956 she ploughed into and sank the SS Andrea Doria. The impressive icebreaking prow of the ship sent the Italian luxury liner to the bottom of the north Atlantic, killing 51.

Ship of Death: The MS Stockholm arrives in New York after its fatal collision with the Andrea Doria. Photo / Supplied
Ship of Death: The MS Stockholm arrives in New York after its fatal collision with the Andrea Doria. Photo / Supplied

Four years later she was rebuilt and sold to the East German government to become a leisure ship for cruising communists.

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Renamed the Völkerfreundschaft or "Friendship of Peoples", she would take East Germans across seas for holidays around Cuba and the Baltic states.

Reinhard Brand, a crewmember for the ship, said although the entertainment wasn't up to much by modern standards he recalled the Spartan sailings fondly:

"It was the one real possibility to legally leave the country," he told NDR radio about his Cold War cruise work. "Though it was hard work from sun up to sun set."

Not everyone was a fan. Several passengers would use the cover of a cruise to defect and swim to shore in the West. Eventually the cruise had to cancel sailings in the Mediterranean Sea due the number of passengers who were jumping ship.

Eventually the cruise had to station a state police officer on deck for sailings into the Black sea via Turkey. Brand recounted how the crew would have to "keep watch over the passengers while we made our sailing through the Bosporus, in case anyone jumped."

Völkerfreundschaft: crew had to watch for East German defectors jumping from the communist cruise ship. Photo / Supplied
Völkerfreundschaft: crew had to watch for East German defectors jumping from the communist cruise ship. Photo / Supplied

The Völkerfreundschaft was eventually sold to a Panamanian company in 1985 and in the time since has been used as a floating barracks, a Norwegian asylum ship in Oslo and changed hands countless times. However many times she changed her name the ship never did shake the reputation for sinking the Andrea Doria.

At the end of the Cold War she was towed to Genoa and renamed the Italia I, although she was unofficially dubbed la Nave Della Morte or the "Ship of Death" by the Italian tabloids.
More recent history involves fending off pirates in the Gulf of Aiden on a 2008 repositioning to Australia while named the MS Athena.

Her final European sailing, and possibly her last voyage, is scheduled for October from the United Kingdom to Norway. It will be the last chance to sail on the storied ship.

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More information can be found at https://cmvaustralia.com/

The many lives of the MS Stockholm

1946-1960: "Stockholm"

1960-1985 "Völkerfreundschaft" (DDR)

1985-1986 "Volker"

1986-1989 "Fridtjof Nansen"

1989-1992 "Surriento"

1993 "Italia I"

1993-2000 "Italia Prima"

2000-2003 "Valtur Prima"

2003-2005 "Caribe"

2005-2012 "Athena"

2013-2015 "Azores"

From 2016: "Astoria"