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1972

Fire breaks out on Queen Elizabeth

On this day in 1972,, the ship Seawise University (formerly the RMS Queen Elizabeth) sinks in Hong Kong Harbor despite a massive firefighting effort over two days.

The Queen Elizabeth, named after the wife of King George VI, was launched on September 27, 1938; at the time, it was the largest passenger steamship ever constructed. When World War II began, the Queen Elizabeth was sent to New York to protect it from German bombs. There, it was docked next to the Normandie and the Queen Mary, the other two largest passenger ships of the time.

Later, the Queen Elizabeth was called into service as a troop transport ship, carrying nearly 1 million soldiers during the war. Following the war, the ship returned to commercial service and became one of the dominant transatlantic carriers, hauling thousands of people back and forth between England and the United States. In 1968, the ship’s owner, the Cunard Steamship Company, sold the Queen Elizabeth to a company that sought to turn it into a tourist attraction and hotel in Philadelphia. However, the aging ship was deemed a fire hazard and two years later it was sold to Hong Kong businessman C.Y. Tung, who wanted to use the ship as a floating college. It was renamed Seawise University and sent to Hong Kong Harbor for refitting.

On January 8, fire broke out on the ship and virtually the entire Hong Kong firefighting force turned out to try to save it. Despite heroic efforts over two days, the old ship turned on its side and sank to the bottom of the harbor. Fortunately, no one was killed. Two years later, the wreck served as the backdrop for a key scene in The Man With the Golden Gun, a 1974 film starring Roger Moore as James Bond.

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