She was built in 1957 as the JEAN MERMOZ for Compagnie de Navigation Fraissinet et Cyprien Fabre (often referred to as Fabre Line) for service from Marseilles to West Africa via Casablanca, Dakar, Conakry, Monrovia, Abidjan, Tema, Lome, Cotonou, Lagos, Duala, Libreville, Port Gentil, and Pointe Noire.
JEAN MERMOZ was named for the well-known French aviator and was built at the now legendary Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard, to carry 144 first class, 140 second class, 110 third class, 24 fourth class and 446 steerage passengers. 196 crew served a mix of French vacationers, local interport West Africans, and military personnel. The ship also had 6138 cubic meters of holds and tween deck cargo space as well as 617 cubic meters of refrigerated cargo space. The 12,460 gt vessel was rather modern and understated when compared with some of her French contemporaries.
In late 1969, JEAN MERMOZ was sent to the Mariotti Yard at Genoa for conversion into a full-time cruise ship. Her ownership had been transferred from Nouvelle Cie des Paquebots to Croisieurs Paquet in 1970. The conversion was quite extensive and she would emerge with a one class cruising capacity of 757, crew capacity of 264, and a new 13,804 gross tonnage. In 1998, she would be remeasured at 14,173 gt.
JEAN MERMOZ would also undergo a slight name change, dropping the "JEAN" along with her outmoded ocean liner class structure, cargo holds, deck gear, and dormitory style accommodation. As the MERMOZ, she was one of the finest cruise ships of her day, taking on an all white livery and a very modern appearance. She also was fitted with bow thrusters, making her far more maneuverable than before.
Due to delays caused by strikes, the MERMOZ' rejuvenation was completed in Marseilles. Her profile was significantly altered, although some traces of the JEAN MERMOZ (such as the elegantly refined bow, slightly arched back superstructure, open promenades, and cruiser spoon stern)
remained. A new, streamlined funnel replaced the wide, traditional original fixture and new decks were added forward of the superstructure and, in a similar style to the ORIANA of 1960, atop an enclosed stern. MERMOZ quickly became a favorite on both sides of the Atlantic.
In 1984 in a ceremony at Tromso, Norway, the ship was registered in the Bahamas. That year, Paquet enlisted the renowned French designer, Marc Held, to give the ship a ten million dollar refit that would keep her among the vanguard of the world's cruising fleet.
MERMOZ continued to sail the world, gradually switching her passenger base from both American and French to almost exclusively French. In 1993, Costa purchased Paquet and took on ownership of the MERMOZ, allowing her to continue sailing largely within her French market niche. When Carnival purchased Costa in 1996, many knew that the glory days of the MERMOZ and Paquet would soon come to an end.
When Carnival-owned Costa Cruises sold the MERMOZ to Louis Cruise Lines in late 1999, the ship was renamed SERENADE, but otherwise little had changed as far as her appearance or facilities were concerned.
SERENADE first undertook Louis' well-established circuit of two night cruises from Cyprus to Israel and Egypt. Turmoil in Israel forced many Cyprus-based operators to rethink their deployments, so in 2001, SERENADE was used on short voyages from Malta to Italy. She also served as accommodation for the G-8 Summit at Genoa and was to have served in a similar capacity for the NATO Conference at Genoa, but the second charter was canceled due to the terror strikes of September 11, 2001.
In 2003, SERENADE returned to active service, offering a varied program of short voyages from Cyprus to the Greek Islands and Egypt. I was fortunate enough to enjoy one of her final Egypt cruises of the season and was duly impressed with the excellent onboard maintenance and high standards of food and entertainment. If I had any complaints, it was that during the two night cruise, there was simply not enough time to enjoy all the facilities the ship had to offer.
In 2008, with her name changed to SERENA, she sailed quietly off to Alang for scrapping, having served her various owners well during a five decade career..
EMPRESS OF CANADA ENCHANTED ISLE EUGENIO C FEDOR SHALYAPIN FESTIVALE FIESTA MARINA FRANCONIA ISLANDBREEZE IVERNIA IVORY JEAN MERMOZ LURLINE MADAGASCAR MARDI GRAS MARGARITA L MARIANNA VI MARIANNA 9 MAYAN EMPRESS MERMOZ MONARCH STAR MONTEREY MS PHILIPPINES OLYMPIA OLYMPIC PRINCIPE PERFEITO PRINCESA VICTORIA REGAL EMPRESS RENAISSANCE RHAPSODY REGENT STAR S. A. VAAL SAPPHO SERENADE SHOTA RUSTAVELI SPERO STATENDAM STELLA MARIS II STELLA OCEANIS STELLA SOLARIS TAHITIEN THE BIG RED BOAT II
JEAN MERMOZ. Peter Knego collection.
MERMOZ. Peter Knego collection.
SERENADE. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2003.
SERENA on the beach at Alang, awaiting scrapping. Photo and copyright Peter Knego 2008.