A luxury cruise vessel which spent decades crossing the waters of the Mediterranean and the Caribbean could be en route for the chilly Baltic coast of Sweden to be converted into asylum centre.
The Migration Agency of Sweden is close to signing a deal with US Shipmanagers charter company to bring the 1,790-passenger mv Ocean Gala to Sweden, revealing plans to berth it in the small port of Harnosand, 270 miles north of Stockholm.
Willis Åberg, accommodation chief at the Migration Agency, told Aftonbladet newspaper:
“I am extremely pleased. This means that we are prepared, so that we’re not going to end up in a situation where we can’t offer a roof over people’s heads.”
The agency is in a race to find new beds before spring, when winter contracts signed with hundreds of hotels and campsites to house asylum seekers are due to expire. The agency fears that the influx of asylum seekers will pick up again in the coming months due to warm weather.
When Ocean Gala was first launched in 1982 as ms Scandinavia, it was one of the largest cruise ships in the world, cruising between New York and Bahamas. Since 2002, the renamed Island Escape ship has spent summers in the Mediterranean and winters cruising around South America.
Last December, the vessel was renamed mv Ocean Gala and taken to Brest, to be rented out as a floating hotel. According to Allehanda newspaper, the applications of the charter agency to berth the ship at Harnosand’s harbour has met resistance from local politicians.
“A ship cannot berth as an accommodation facility for one year at the dock unless a building permit has been granted and an environmental assessment done,” Fred Nilsson, chairman of the local municipal council told the newspaper. “Rarely has the municipal and county administrative authority felt as justified as in this case.”
Mr Åberg said it was up to the charter company to discover a willing municipality.
“We don’t have any opinions about where it is. It’s all about finding a suitable harbour,” he said.
If a berth cannot be secured within 2 months, the contract will be annulled.