Built in 1967 and after serving Costa Line for many years the former Italia is seen here at the Naafsi Shipyard in Perama.
She was completely refitted as Ocean Princess and later went on to become Sea Prince. Then as Princessa Oceanica, she was written off as a c.t.loss following a grounding inciden
This little ship has faced considerable difficulties in her long career. She was laid down in the Falszegi shipyard near Trieste on 23 June 1963. Her owner was a new company, Sunsarda S.p.A, part of the Giacomelli group, which also controlled Falszegi. She was a very modern design for 1963, but this advantage was lost by delays caused by the financial difficulties of the Giacomelli group. She was eventually launched as Italia on 20 April 1965, but whilst still fitting out both the shipyard and the ship-owning company went bankrupt. The creditor bank, BNL, took over Italia and arranged to complete the ship for a new company, Crociere dOltremare. Italia finally ran sea trials in September 1967.
The ship was then placed on bare-boat charter with Costa, who ran Italia on three Mediterranean cruises before sub-chartering her to Stanley McDonalds Princess Cruises, who initially employed her on their year round California to Mexico operations. Although advertised as Princess Italia, she was never renamed. After the first year she did however, carry the Princess woman with her hair blowing in the wind logo. In 1969 she initiated the Princess summer itinerary from San Francisco to Alaska, which she operated until October 1973, when the charter was terminated. In 1974 Princess was bought by P&O.
After a partial modernisation of her interior, Italia joined the Costa fleet and was employed on a wide range of itineraries until 1983 when she was sold to Ocean Cruise Lines, who renamed her Ocean Princess and refitted her in Piraeus as an expedition cruise ship, for use in areas not accessible to large cruise ships. In 1990 Ocean Cruise Lines was sold to the French owners of Paquet Cruises, who continued her world-wide exploration cruises.
On 1 March 1993, while sailing near Belem, she collided with a sunken wreck, tearing a large hole in her hull. Ocean Princess settled on the seabed with her engine room and three lower decks completely flooded, fortunately without casualty to the passengers and crew.
Ocean Princess was refloated on 20 March 1993 and after inspection declared a constructive total loss. Insurers sold the ship to Ellice Marine of Athens, who had her towed to Greece for repair. She was registered as Sea Prince, with Equinox Enterprises S A as owners. At the beginning of May 1995 she began Aegean operations for Sunshine Cruises, but on the 26th of that month suffered a serious fire and she was again withdrawn for sale.
In September 1995 Louis Cruise Lines bought the ship and renamed her Princesa Oceana, and after agreement with the British tour operators Thomson, she was given a $5 million refit before entering service on 3 April 1996 as Sapphire. Unfortunately on her second cruise Sapphire suffered complete engine failure and was withdrawn for further repairs, before settling down to a programme of Thomson Mediterranean cruises.
With the introduction of larger and slightly newer ships into the Thomson operations, Sapphire is now sailing on Louis own summer Mediterranean cruises and appears to spend most winters laid-up. This ship has been a remarkable survivor, but her days must be numbered as it is unlikely she will be able to comply with the SOLAS 2010 passenger ship regulations.