Queen Elizabeth's Mysterious Demise

The world's largest passenger ship, the 150,000-ton, French-built Cunard liner Queen Mary 2, is scheduled to be officially named in Southampton, England, on Jan. 8 — exactly 31 years, by uncanny coincidence, after the mysterious end of the vessel's aunt, the Queen Elizabeth.


In her time the Queen Elizabeth, at 83,000 tons, was also the largest passenger vessel afloat and the pride of the Cunard Line. Launched in 1938, she did wartime service before becoming empress of the Atlantic crossing. Her death in Hong Kong harbor in 1972 was no accident.


The ship, by then known as the Seawise University, caught fire in several places at once on Jan. 7, burned furiously and capsized and sank the following day. Who killed the queen? The murderers have never been identified, let alone brought to trial.


One person who must remember that day vividly is Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa. Then a young executive of Island Navigation, the shipping line owned by his father C.Y. Tung, he was having lunch on board the ship when the fires started.


The Queen Elizabeth, retired by Cunard in 1968, was bought by C.Y. Tung in 1970 and renamed the Seawise University — a pun on the owner's name and an indicator of its intended new use as a floating university. It had nearly completed a refit in Hong Kong when the arsonists struck.

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