Three years after disembarking its last Saga Cruises passengers, the 1981-built Pearl II has been sold for recycling in Turkey.

Tugs towed the veteran 18,600-gt vessel from its lay-up moorings near Piraeus on Saturday, bringing to an end an aborted project that would have seen it converted into one of the world’s largest private yachts.

Saga had sold the ship in April 2019 to Aqua Explorer Holdings, an obscure British Virgin Islands-registered company that immediately sent it to Greece and shorted its name from Saga Pearl II to just Pearl II.

Initial rumours about the ship’s future ran the gamut from further cruising under Greek ownership to the inevitable suggestions that it would be used as a floating hotel.

Whomever was behind Aqua Explorer has never commented on their plans, but it quickly became known in the cruise and yachting sectors that the company was controlled by wealthy Saudi Arabian interests, via Greek intermediaries, who intended to convert the Pearl II into an ultra-large private yacht.

While several high-net-worth Middle Eastern individuals have purchased cruise ships in the past to convert into their yachts, these have generally been small ships. None would match the Pearl II in size.

The super-yacht project does not appear to have progressed beyond the drawing board stage. The ship was delivered at the height of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s anti-corruption crackdown that saw the mass arrests of prominent Saudi Arabian princes, government ministers, and business people.

Converting a cruise ship into one of the world’s largest private yachts was not a prudent move during this tense time, yacht industry sources told TradeWinds.

The Pearl II was put back on the sales market just when Covid-19 struck. The pandemic shutdown resulted in a mass purge of older cruise ships. A total of 39 have been sold for scrap since the virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

Given the bleak prospects faced by the cruise industry, which has yet to fully recover, there was little chance of a trading buyer being found for a 41-year-old vessel that has been laid up for a long time.

The Pearl II was built for Germany’s Hadag Cruises as the Astor and went on to have a varied career, sailing for a variety of different cruise operators including Safmarine, Deutsche Seerederei, Seetours, Transocean Cruises and Club Cruise.

Saga acquired the ship in 2008, replacing it with a newbuilding just over a decade later.