On a small remote beach (Playa de Garcey) on the west coast of Fuerteventura lies the wreck of a ship. The American Star. (You can see the ship just offshore on the left of the satellite photo on the right.)
It takes a fair amount of time to get there but once you catch your first glimpse of the wreck, you are somehow inexorably drawn to the beach where she lies.
There isn't much left at all now - a visit there is more of a homage than anything but even seeing the remaining vestiges emotes powerful feelings and stirs the imagination.
Just before her final voyage in 1994, the American Star, a ship that was once the pride of the United States maritime industry, was sold to the Chaophraya Development Transport Company who planned to tow the vessel to Thailand to be converted into a floating hotel.
Their chosen route was via Gibraltar, along the west coast of Africa and around the southern tip of the African continent.
There have been numerous rumours insinuating that the last chapter in the life of the American Star was nothing more than an attempt to gain profit from disaster, as it would have been far easier and quicker to take the shorter route via the Suez Canal. While this is true, it is in fact illegal to tow ships along the Suez.
At the end of 1993 the ship's propellers were removed and stored on the deck to prevent drag and the Ukrainian tug the 'Neftegaz 67It' began towing the American Star on what was to be its final journey.
During January 1994 while passing within a hundred miles of the Moroccan coast the convoy entered a violent storm that began to put the towing operation in jeopardy. On several occasions during the storm, the American Star broke free of the tow-lines and eventually it was decided that it would be safer for the towing vessel if the ocean liner was to float free until the storm subsided. Four crewmen stayed on board.
On January 17th the storm finally calmed down and the four crewmen were winched by helicopter to safety from the ship.
From then on the vessel was simply left to drift alone.
Though it was known she was heading for the Canary Islands through major shipping lanes, no successful attempt was made to take the hulk under tow again. After drifting for two days, the ship finally beached at the Playa de Garcey, on the west coast of Fuerteventura.
No effort was made to re-float the ship (some say because of arguments between insurance, ownership and salvage companies) and after 48 hours the ship split in two.
Profit was still to be made and on the first few days after the ship ran aground locals salvaged as much as they could, such as brass fittings and furniture (there is even a Cafeteria in the capital Puerto del Rosario 'Cafeteria el Naufragio', which is completely fitted out with windows, doors, panelling and furniture from the ship)
Two years later after a constant battering from the ocean the stern section finally gave in and rolled into the ocean.
In the first few days whilst the vessel was still intact it was quite easy to gain access to the ship, and ladders were even welded to her sides by the Spanish Army.
But since she broke in two it is definitely unadvisable to try and board the ship.
Although she looks temptingly close, the currents in this area are extremely strong and sharp debris still lurks beneath the surface. Tragically at least eight people have died swimming to and exploring the wreck.
Today only the bow section remains of the American Star, but the sheer size and beauty of the ship still make it a worthwhile day trip.
During its life the American Star has undergone many name changes. Here's a brief history..
Built in 1936 the ship was first known as SS America and was operated by United States Lines until 1964.
During that era she was also called USS Westpoint (it was at this time the ship made her movie debut in the film GI Blues starring Elvis Presley)
In 1964 she was taken over by 'Chandris Lines' and became known as the SS Australis
In 1978 'Venture Cruises' took over the ownership and changed
her name back to SS America
After 2 years it was back to Chandris Lines and SS Italis was painted on the sides
During 1980-1993 the ship stood years of waste and neglect but still had two more name changes, SS Noga and SS Alferdoss
In 1994 she was finally named the SS American Star.
Many thanks to DG and his excellent web site Cabin 111 devoted to the American Star
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