As It Happens

British guide offers 'ghost ship tours' of cruise vessels moored during the pandemic

Paul Derham is carrying passengers out on his ferry to see the gigantic cruise ships that haunt the English Channel.

'You get a fantastic view of these big ships,' says Paul Derham. 'It's a bit surreal, really'

Cruise ships Carnival Valor, left, and Aurora anchored in the English Channel off the Dorset coast as the industry remains at a standstill due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)


Paul Derham is carrying passengers out on his ferry to see the gigantic cruise ships that haunt the English Channel.

The once bustling and lively ships have become an eerie spectacle. With the coronavirus pandemic, there are no tourists on board, just a skeleton staff, and the ships have gone out of service.

These are some of the world's most famous cruise ships, including the Royal Caribbean's Anthem of the Seas and Jewel of the Seas, that normally carry thousands of people. Now, they are anchored near Derham's local ferry route in Mudeford, a small beachside parish in Dorset, England. 

Having worked on cruise ships for 27 years, from cadet to deputy captain, Derham recognized the ships and came up with an idea.

"One time when I went down Mudeford Quay, I could see my old ship in the distance and we had a few passengers going to the beach. I said, 'Anyone want to go and see the cruise ships?'" he told As It Happens guest host Helen Mann.

"I was amazed so many hands went up. I thought, 'Oh OK.' So we put it on Facebook and we filled up within a few hours, two trips."

Cruise ship Marella Discovery anchored in the English Channel. A local tour guide is taking people out on his boat to see the massive vessels up close. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

Derham has been running the "ghost" cruise ship tours since the U.K. moved into Stage 2 of its lockdown measures in June.

"It's a bit surreal, really," he says about his time out on the water. "You get a fantastic view of these big ships."

Passengers can book a Mudeford Ferry Ghost Ship Tour on Derham's Facebook group. He charges 20£ ($34.83 Cdn) for a ride that takes passengers up to 50 metres away from the massive vessels. 

Along with the views, passengers get full commentary from Derham during their 2 ½ hours on the ferry.

Derham starts the tour with the historic seaside residence of British King George III. Then, he talks about the land that once covered the English Channel and connected to France.

As they near the cruise ships, Derham gives a full briefing of the ships by length, weight, height and breadth.

"I find the more information I'm given, the more interesting the tourism. And that's what I try to portray on our trips out to see the ships," he said. 

Cruise ship Queen Victoria anchored in the English Channel in Weymouth, England. (Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

One of the questions Derham gets asked most is how many people are on board the "ghost" cruise ships.

At any given time, Derham says there are three to five ships anchored near Mudeford. Each ship has around 80 to 100 people on board, including the captain, security officers, watchkeepers, electricians and hotel staff.

The Royal Caribbean ship Allure of the Seas, seen here in Nassau, Bahamas in 2019, is the biggest ship you can see on the Mudeford Ferry Ghost Ship Tour. (Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images)

The biggest ship Derham has seen anchored is Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Seas. The ship itself is 70 metres tall. Before the COVID-19 lockdown, it held up to 6,000 passengers and 2,200 crew members.

Derham says it is "always fantastic" for him and his passengers to see the big ships up close from the ferry. 

"We were going around Allure of the Seas the other day and two of our passengers [said they] have been on it quite recently," he said.

"And they suddenly said, 'Oh, we can still get the Wi-Fi.'"

Written by Mehek Mazhar. Interview produced by Lisa Bryn Rundle.

Add some “good” to your morning and evening.

A variety of newsletters you'll love, delivered straight to you.

Sign up now


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.