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10 of the Oldest Ships Sailing the Seas Today

The collective naval history of the world helped shape the world we live in today, but sadly, much of this enormous piece of global heritage has been lost. Luckily, there are dedicated organizations and people around the world who do their best to preserve historically-significant vessels. In this list, you'll find ships of all different types that have one thing in common - they've spent more time on the high seas than most of us have been alive. Here are 10 of the oldest ships that are still capable of sailing on the high seas today: 
10. MV Astoria

Type: Ocean liner/cruise ship

Year Built: 1946

Claim to Fame: Oldest cruise ship still in service

This ship has a long and checkered history. Starting off life in Sweden as the Stockholm, this ship was sadly involved in one of the worst maritime disasters in history. In 1956, she collided with an Italian ocean liner, named the Andrea Doria, in heavy fog off the island of Nantucket. The incident led to the sinking of the latter vessel and the death of 46 people. Nevertheless, the Stockholm made her way back to New York City, with much of the remaining passengers from the stricken vessel on board. After that, she was sold to the East German government and used as an ocean liner, then she was a barracks ship for Norwegian asylum seekers.

The next chapter in her history saw her being rebuilt in Genoa, Italy and sailing as the Valtur Prima to Cuba. Since 2002, she has been owned by various cruise lines, and also changed names various times. Yet another scary incident involving the vessel now known as the MV Astoria occurred in 2008, when she was surrounded by no less than 29 pirate boats in the notorious Gulf of Aden. Luckily, the US Navy intervened, and the pirates never boarded. She is currently owned by Cruise & Maritime Voyages, and still services some of the company's routes. 

9. Sea Cloud

Type: Sailing cruise ship

Year Built: 1931

Claim to Fame: Oldest oceangoing passenger ship in the world

At the time she was built, Sea Cloud was the largest private yacht in history. She was built in Germany as a barque for Marjorie Merriweather Post, an American socialite who owned General Foods Inc. Following the US entering the fray in World War II in 1941, Sea Cloud was offered to the US Navy, but President Roosevelt deemed her too beautiful to enter naval service. A little over a year later, the Navy reconsidered, and she entered naval service as a weather ship. At this point in her history, her masts were removed and she was painted gray. She was the first US Navy vessel ever to have a racially-integrated crew (the US was still segregated at the time). 

Sea Cloud was retired from military service following the end of WWII, and she was painted white and received rigging once again. Her owner, Marjorie Merriweather Post, decided that it was too expensive to keep running here, so she traded her for a Vickers Viscount airplane that the ruler of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, owned. She then became the presidential yacht of the Dominican Republic, and was renamed Angelita. Following Trujillo's death, she became a school ship named Patria before being sold off to a cruise company in 1966. She was in port for a total of eight years before being renamed Sea Cloud. She has been operating as a cruise ship since 1979.

8. Kommuna 

Type:  Submarine salvage ship

Year Built: 1913

Claim to Fame: Oldest naval ship still in service anywhere in the world (excluding ships with an honorary naval commission)

Raising stricken Russian submarines from the seabed is the name of the game for this century-old ship, which makes up part of the Russian Navy's Black Sea Fleet. The Kommuna is actually a double-hulled catamaran, and was laid down in St. Petersburg all the way back in 1912. She has raised everything from submarines, to tugs, torpedo boats and even crashed aircraft during the course of two World Wars, and a further 70 years of service since.

Some of her most defining moments were her participation in the Siege of Leningrad, when she raised four tanks, two tractors and 31 vehicles from Lake Ladoga. They had fallen through the ice road, known as the Road of Life, which happened to be the only supply route to Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during the siege. Kommuna was laid up in 1984, however she was returned to naval service in 1999 following a complete refit.


7. Madizoldest-ships

Type: Twin-screw steel yacht

Year Built: 1902

Claim to Fame: Only ship in the world to receive +100A1 classification in the Lloyd’s Shipping Register

This beautiful yacht was designed in the world's first design office that was created exclusively for yachts. Her designer, G. L. Watson, designed many successful America's Cup racing yachts. She is the last surviving ship to have been designed by him personally. She's the only vessel in the world to have the classification that she does in the world-famous Lloyd's Shipping Register. 

She was built on the Firth of Clyde in Scotland. Her first owner, James Coats Junior, only enjoyed her for a decade before his passing. She served as an auxiliary patrol yacht during World War I, and as a Royal Patrol Yacht during World War II. King George VI, the Queen Mother and Queen Elizabeth II are all known to have used her on several occasions. Madiz is thought to be one of just two active ships that were involved in the Battle of the Atlantic. Since the World Wars, she has been through many different ownerships and name changes. 

6. Elissaoldest-ships

Type: Three-masted barque

Year Built: 1877

Claim to Fame: One of four 19th Century three-masted barques in the world that still sail

Elissa was built in Aberdeen, Scotland at the end of the steamship era. She has sailed under British, Norwegian and Swedish maritime flags during her history. By 1970, she was languishing in a salvage yard in the Greek port of Piraeus, waiting to be broken up. Luckily, she was bought on behalf of the San Francisco Maritime Museum, before being sold on to her current owners, the Galveston Historical Foundation, in 1975. 

In subsequent years, she was restored and prepared for an ocean tow. The big day finally arrived in 1979, and Elissa was towed to the US. A further six years down the line, she made her first voyage as a restored ship, and sailed continuously until 2011 before she needed repair work for a corroded hull. She still sails occasionally to this very day. 

5. James Craig

Type: Three-masted barque

Year Built: 1874

Claim to Fame: Oldest extant three-masted barque in the world

One of the mightiest 19th-Century cargo ships managed to sail around Cape Horn no less than 23 times in 26 years before being sold to an Australian by the name of James Craig. From 1905 to 1911, the James Craig sailed carrying cargo from Australia to New Zealand. Sadly, due to competition from steam ships at the time, she ended up as a collier, then a hulk, before being abandoned altogether. 

She was sunk by fishermen in 1932 before being raised in 1972 and towed to Hobart for initial repairs. Her next stop was Sydney in 1981, where she remained for a full 25 years being meticulously restored. Although she is still based in Sydney, she has been sailing regularly ever since the completion of her restoration back in 2001, and has even sailed all the way back to Hobart no less than four times since then! 

4. El Mahrousa

Type: Superyacht

Year Built: 1865

Claim to Fame: Oldest active yacht in the world

Having been featured in our list of the world's largest superyachts a while back, El Mahrousa makes a second appearance on BabaMail. She is the Egyptian presidential yacht, and took no less than three Egyptian political leaders into exile during her incredibly rich history. What's more is that she was the world's largest yacht for an incredible 119 years before being eclipsed by the Prince Abdulaziz in 1984. 

In the present day, she only goes to sea about three times per year, and it's usually only for a day at a time. She is still used as a presidential yacht, and a highlight of her recent history was her participation in the inauguration of the New Suez Canal back in August 2015. 

3. Star of India

Type: Windjammer

Year Built: 1863

Claim to Fame: Oldest ship in the world still sailing regularly

This ship is the world's oldest iron-hulled merchant ship that's still afloat. She started off life on the Isle of Man, being launched under the name Euterpe. She had a full career sailing the high seas between the United Kingdom, India and New Zealand, but not before a couple of severe mishaps rattled the nerve of her crew. 

On her maiden voyage, she collided with an unlit Spanish brig off the coast of Wales, causing the crew to mutiny. On her second voyage, the crew was forced to cut away her masts due to a vicious gale while sailing in the Bay of Bengal. She became the Star of India in 1901 after being sold on to the Alaska Packers' Association, and was used to ferry workers and canned salmon between Oakland, California and Nushagak in the Bering Sea. She was restored in the 1960s and can often be seen sailing off the coast of her home port of San Diego.

2. Charles W. Morgan  

Type: Whaling ship

Year Built: 1841

Claim to Fame: World’s oldest surviving merchant vessel

Although this ship does tend to spend much of her time moored, she can actually sail, and this is because she went through a full restoration that lasted from 2010 through to 2014. During the latter year, she embarked on a successful tour of the port of New England. 

During her active life, the Charles W. Morgan was a whaling ship that made 37 voyages ranging in length from 9 months to five years. One of her crews actually survived a cannibal attack in the South Pacific on one voyage. Although it's a gruesome thing to consider, she brought home more than 150,000 pounds of whalebone and over 54,000 barrels of whale oil to her home port of New Bedford, Massachusetts.

1. USS Constitution

Type: Three-masted heavy frigate

Year Built: 1797

Claim to Fame: World’s oldest commissioned naval vessel, world’s oldest seaworthy ship

The USS Constitution is nothing less than a symbol of huge national pride for Americans, harking back to the days of the Founding Fathers. In fact, it was President George Washington himself who named her. She fought during the War of 1812 against the British, before serving in the Mediterranean and Pacific Squadrons. 

She was in active service for more than 100 years of her more than bicentennial history, and was more recently returned to a seaworthy condition following Naval Commander David Cashman's proposal to ensure that she was able to travel under her own power to mark her 200th anniversary in 1997. She is an endearing icon of US military might, and today can be found moored at Pier One of the former Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. 

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