At a sea dock in western Turkey, five hulking cruise ships are being dismantled for scrap metal after the COVID-19 pandemic all but destroyed the industry. Cruise ships were home to the some of the earliest clusters of COVID-19 as the pandemic spread globally early this year.

In March, US authorities issued a no-sail order for all cruise ships that remains in place.

Dozens of workers stripped walls, windows, floors and railings from several vessels in the dock in Aliaga, a town 45 km north of Izmir on Turkey’s west coast. More ships are set to join those already being dismantled.

Before the pandemic, Turkey’s ship-breaking yards typically handled cargo and container ships, said Kamil Onal, chairman of a ship recycling industrialists’ association.

“But after the pandemic, cruise ships changed course toward Aliaga in a very significant way,” he said of the town. “There was growth in the sector due to the crisis. When the ships couldn’t find work, they turned to dismantling.”

Onal said that some 2,500 people worked at the yard in teams that take about six months to dismantle a full passenger ship. The vessels arrived from Britain, Italy and the US.

The shipyard aims to increase the volume of dismantled steel to 1.1 million tons by the end of the year, from 700,000 tons in January, he said. “We are trying to change the crisis into an opportunity,” he said.

Even the ships’ non-metal fittings do not go to waste as hotel operators have come to the yard to buy useful materials.