hidden europe 67

The last poet: Farewell, Pushkin

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: The MS Marco Polo — formerly the MS Aleksandr Pushkin — in Helsinki in June 2015 (photo © Eugenesergeev / dreamstime.com).


The last of the Soviet Union's great ocean liners outlived the Soviet Union. The MS Aleksandr Pushkin made her first visit to Tilbury (in the lower reaches of the River Thames) in April 1966. For over half a century, this classic ship was a regular visit to Tilbury. Renamed the MS Marco Polo, she arrived in Tilbury the very last time in March 2020.

You probably haven’t lost a lot of sleep over what happened to the shipping industry during the pandemic. While the demand for freight capacity increased, passenger numbers slumped as cruises all but disappeared. That led to a number of historic ships being scrapped, among them the last surviving vessel of a class of Sovietera liners often referred to as ‘the five poets’ as each of the five ships originally bore the name of a poet associated with one of the Soviet Republics.

‘The poets’ were all built at Wismar in East Germany, with the first of the ships commencing her maiden voyage in November 1964, picking up passengers in Riga for a winter cruise to the Mediterranean. She was named after Ukrainian poet Ivan Franko, after whom the vessel class took its official name, viz. the Franko-class liners, even if colloquially the ships were known as ‘the poets’.

In the years after her launch, the MS Ivan Franko was joined by ships named after Pushkin, Shevchenko, Rustaveli and Lermontov. That one of these ships, the MS Aleksandr Pushkin, remained in service until the start of the pandemic was remarkable.

‘The poets’ became important and lucrative ambassadors for the Soviet Union. The Pushkin in particular was frequently used on the regular shipping services between Leningrad and London, with some sailings continuing across the Atlantic to Montréal. The MS Aleksandr Pushkin arrived in the Thames Estuary from Leningrad on 4 April 1966 after her very first trip with paying passengers; she docked at Tilbury (in the lower reaches of the River Thames), inaugurating an association with the Essex port which was to continue for over half a century.

Related article

An Essex backwater: Discovering Harwich

The old town of Harwich, a port in the county of Essex on England's North Sea coast, is tucked away on the end of a peninsula. Maritime connections have shaped the development of Harwich. It's a place for sea breezes, rock oysters and watching the ferries come and go.

Related article

Editorial hidden europe 67

In hidden europe 67, we go mountain hiking in Croatia's Kvarner region, ponder the relationship between mining and cultural heritage, take to the rails in Germany with a wonderful slow travel deal and discover a former Catholic seminary in the Braes of Glenlivet. We also visit both Hoek van Holland and Harwich and make tracks for an unsung delta on the Adriatic.