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The Wreck of RMS Queen Elizabeth – Hong Kong Harbor

Nick Knight

The RMS Queen Elizabeth, was one of the two superliners built by John Brown & Company in Clydebank, Scotland, in the 1930s and definitely one of the most elegant ever built. During construction, she was known as Hull 552 and was later named in honor of Queen Elizabeth.

Launched, on 27 September 1938, the RMS Queen Elizabeth (1,031 feet long and 118.5 feet wide) was the largest passenger liner ever constructed. With the beginning of World War II, she was sent to New York and docked alongside her older sister, RMS Queen Mary as the British were afraid that she might be destroyed by German bombs.

RMS Queen Elizabeth in Cherbourg (Normandy, France) in 1966. Photo Credit

RMS Queen Elizabeth in Cherbourg (Normandy, France) in 1966. Photo Credit

 

Hull 552 (Queen Elizabeth), growing on the stocks.

Hull 552 (Queen Elizabeth), growing on the stocks.

 

Queen Elizabeth in King George V dock The Cunard flagship and World’s largest liner RMS Queen Elizabeth, afloat and apparently with auxiliary power, in the King George V dry dock. There is little room to spare. Photo Credit

Queen Elizabeth in King George V dock The Cunard flagship and World’s largest liner RMS Queen Elizabeth, afloat and apparently with auxiliary power, in the King George V dry dock. There is little room to spare. Photo Credit

Although she was originally constructed as an ocean liner, in February 1940, the RMS Queen Elizabeth entered service as troop transport ship and was released from war duty about six years later.

It carried up to 15,000 soldiers and during this period it is said that she carried nearly 1 million soldiers and sailed over 500,000 miles. When World War II ended, the RMS Queen Elizabeth was finally able to return to commercial service.

Queen Elizabeth approaching New York

Queen Elizabeth approaching New York

 

British troops arrive in the Middle East having been transported by the liner QUEEN ELIZABETH, 22 July 1942.

British troops arrive in the Middle East having been transported by the liner QUEEN ELIZABETH, 22 July 1942.

 

Canadian troops leaving Europe, December 1945, Sailing home on board the RMS Queen Elizabeth

Canadian troops leaving Europe, December 1945, Sailing home on board the RMS Queen Elizabeth

In October 1946 the RMS Queen Elizabeth left on her maiden passenger voyage and for the next 20 years, she was one of the dominant transatlantic carriers.

The RMS Queen Elizabeth crossed the Atlantic for the last time on 5 November 1968 before it was sold to a group of Philadelphia businessmen whose plan was to turn it into a tourist attraction in Port Everglades, Florida.

Digitally altered depiction of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, based on a free-use photo of the RMS Queen Mary.

Digitally altered depiction of the RMS Queen Elizabeth, based on a free-use photo of the RMS Queen Mary.

 

RMS Queen Elizabeth at Southampton, about 1968 (exact date unknown). Photo Credit

RMS Queen Elizabeth at Southampton, about 1968 (exact date unknown). Photo Credit

Only two years later, the ship was deemed a fire hazard and was closed down by the local authorities. Hong Kong businessman Tung Chao Yung, who wanted to convert her into a floating university purchased the RMS Queen Elizabeth at auction in 1970.

The new owner renamed the ship to Seawise University and sent it to Hong Kong Harbor to be repaired. The original interiors were removed and new machinery was added but just before it was completed a fire broke out. It quickly spread everywhere and although many fireboats did eventually arrive and worked hard for 24 hours in order to extinguish the flames but there was nothing they could do and the ship was completely destroyed.

RMS Queen Elizabeth entering New York harbor in 1965, taken from the boat deck, early morning. Photo Credit

RMS Queen Elizabeth entering New York harbor in 1965, taken from the boat deck, early morning. Photo Credit

No one knows for sure what caused the fire and some say that the fires were set deliberately as part of insurance fraud. What led to this rumors is the fact that Tung Chao Yung bought the ship for $3.5 mil, and had insured it for $8 million. However, he was never charged.

1972: The wreck of Seawise University, the former Queen Elizabeth, in Hong Kong Victoria Harbour. Photo Credit

1972: The wreck of Seawise University, the former Queen Elizabeth, in Hong Kong Victoria Harbour. Photo Credit

It was the largest passenger shipwreck and remained like that until the Costa Concordia disaster on 13 January 2012. Two years later, the wreck of what was once the RMS Queen Elizabeth featured as the MI6 Headquarters in the James Bond film, “The Man with the Golden Gun”.

Read another story from us: Shipwreck hunters seek their “Holy Grails” off America’s Northwestern Pacific coast

It remained in Hong Kong Harbor for a number of years before it finally received a proper burial in the late 1990s.