Caronia was launched on 30th October 1947 by HRH Princess Elizabeth, undertaking her last public engagement before her marriage to Phillip. Caronia could probably be described as the world's first real cruise ship, being purpose built for cruising.
The ship later became nicknamed the 'Green Goddess' because it was painted in a unique livery of four shades of green. Caronia became famous, particularly in the United States, for its world cruises. Caronia was one of the largest ships built during the early years after World War 2.
With her cruising role in mind she was built with a yacht like appearance and also had an open air lido, swimming pool and terraced decks, all of which are design features that survive on modern cruise vessels to this day. Caronia had one mast above her bridge, and the widest funnel ever to go to sea. She had an appealing appearance and was instantly recognizable.
The ship was completed a year after her launch, and then spent some time in dry-dock at Liverpool before returning to the Clyde for speed and engine trials. Although the Caronia was designed as a cruise ship Cunard intended to employ it on the North Atlantic service during the busy summer months, although she rarely took part on this service.
The Caronia made her maiden voyage on January 4th, 1949 from Southampton to New York, via Cherbourg. During the winter the ship made a series of cruises to the West Indies and South America. It was not until January 1951 that the ship made its first world cruise. The voyage called at over 30 ports and terminated at Southampton in the spring. During the ship's transit, however, of the Suez Canal she went aground near the El Ferdan bridge for nearly an hour. Although this delayed traffic through the Canal, luckily Caronia was undamaged. In the summer of 1951 a further cruise, from New York to Europe, was made.
In December 1952, during the ship's annual refit at a Liverpool shipyard, there was a fire but it was easily controlled by the Liverpool fire brigade. Queen Elizabeth the Second's coronation ceremony, during the summer of 1953, led the Caronia to be deployed in bringing American visitors over to see the spectacle. In June 1956 the ship was again temporarily grounded, this time on a sandbank outside the port of Messina. During the annual refit, at the end of 1956, the ship was fitted with air-conditioning throughout.
After this the Caronia began to cruise from New York across the Atlantic to Cape Town and then return via Japan and the Pacific. It was on the ships second cruise on this route that it struck and demolished a light tower at the entrance to Yokohama port, whilst leaving Tokyo Bay. This occurred on April 14th, 1958. Immediate repairs were necessary and the US Navy allowed the ship to use Yokosuka dockyard. Subsequently Cunard were also involved in a lengthy legal action which resulted in them paying a large amount of compensation for the damage.
In 1959 the Caronia visited the Soviet Union calling at Yalta on the Black Sea. In October 1965, in an effort to compete better with the Scandinavian and Dutch cruise ships, such as Oslofjord and Sagafjord, Caronia was redecorated and refurbished at Belfast. In addition a large lido deck and new open air swimming pool were built. Caronia also had the aft decks enclosed with screens that would be extensively used on Queen Elizabeth 2's aft decks. The decline in the cruise market, however, meant that this was not enough passenger support and Cunard announced that the Caronia would be withdrawn from service in early 1968. The Caronia's last voyage was from New York to Southampton, leaving on November 17th, 1957.
After remaining in Southampton for some time the ship was sold to a Yugoslavian company, Domus Turist. Their intention was to use the ship as a floating hotel at Dubrovnik. Due to technical problems, however, this transaction was never completed and on 24th May 1968 it was resold to the Panamanian company, Star Shipping. It was renamed Columbia and sailed to the Piraeus in July to be refitted. Whilst undergoing this overhaul in Greece it was again renamed, Caribia.
The new owners promised to use the ship for cruising and despite several delays, the ship left New York on February 11th, 1969 on an inaugural 14 day cruise. Despite complaints from most of the passengers the ship left on a second cruise on February 28th. During this cruise a steam pipe split, killing one crew member, and cutting the ships power, leaving her drifting. After 20 hours temporary repairs were made and the ship returned to New York. The rest of the ships cruise itinerary was cancelled and it remained docked at New York.
A Turkish national eventually bought the ship but was never able to raise the finances to refit her. For the next 5 years the Caribia remained at New York. In spring 1974 she was sold to Taiwanese ship breakers and left New York on 27th April for Kaohsiung, towed by the ocean tug Hamburg. Problems began when the ship took on a list near Honolulu but, after temporary repairs, she continued the journey. On 12th August the ships were off Guam battling a tropical storm. The Hamburg's generator failed 3 miles from Apra Harbour and the Captain decided to cut the towline. The Caribia drifted towards the breakwater and looked as though it may make a normal entry to the harbour when it suddenly altered course and crashed into the tip of the breakwater. The ship broke up on 14th August, after being pounded by stormy seas.