RIJEKA, Croatia (LOG News Service) — Decades of rust are covering its hull, the furniture is broken in its once luxurious salons and its powerful engines are permanently idle. But against all odds, the iconic yacht that once belonged to the late Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito has been given a new lease on life.
The once-imposing ship that hosted Hollywood celebrities, some 70 world leaders and took Tito up the River Thames for a historic meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill will be turned into a floating museum.
The ship, called Galeb, or Seagull, is moored at the northern Croatian Adriatic port of Rijeka. After its turbulent history, including two sinkings since it was launched in 1938 and a failed purchase by a Greek tycoon, it was destined for a junkyard.
But authorities in Rijeka decided to completely refurbish it in a $6.4 million project that will start in 2019.
“Galeb is a ship with very interesting and turbulent history,” Rijeka Mayor Vojko Obersnel said. “Of course the most interesting part of that history is when it was a ship belonging to President Josip Broz Tito.”
Built in Genoa, Italy, the 5,100-ton, 350-foot ship was intended for transport of tropical fruit from Africa. During World War II, the Nazis used it as an auxiliary naval ship to lay mines. The ship was eventually sunk in Allied bombings of Rijeka’s port toward the end of the war.
After the war, it was completely reconstructed and turned into a Yugoslav naval academy training ship. A VIP bloc was added so that it could serve as Tito’s luxury yacht on his frequent sea voyages. The crew typically included 200 sailors and some 20 VIP guests, including an orchestra that entertained them during parties.
The late president preferred it to airplane travel and used it extensively on tours to Africa, Asia, South America and Europe. It became famous in 1953 when Tito sailed into London to meet Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II as the first Communist leader to visit Britain after World War II.