A rusting heap that once signified the immense power of one of the world’s darkest dictators, Saddam Hussein’s yacht is now scrap.
The 396-foot al-Mansur was an ode to the second Abbasid caliph who reigned from 754-75 AD and founded the city of Baghdad. The term loosely translates to ‘Conqueror.’
Now little more than a rust pile, al-Mansur has been sitting, capsized and half submerged, in a river outside Basra, Iraq since 2003. It’s only real use has been as a place for local fisherman to cast some lines or occasionally stash their extra gear and nets.
So, how did something as valuable as a superyacht become a tourist attraction?
Surprisingly, the yacht was never targeted during the Iran-Iraq war from 1980-1988, nor was it damaged during the Gulf War from 1990-1991.
But in the days before the U.S invasion of Iraq on March 20th, 2003, Saddam ordered the yacht moved from its mooring at Umm Qasr, a port city in southern Iraq that connects to the Persian Gulf, to the inland city of Basra where it would be closer to Iraqi strongholds led by the Republican Guard.
Once the invasion gained steam and coalition troops began moving deeper into the country, the yacht became a target for U.S. forces. According to The Aviationist, the US/UK Combined Air Operations Command Centre intercepted military radio traffic coming from al-Mansur. She was subsequently targeted by two U.S. Air Force F-14A Tomcat warplanes who released 500 lb Mk 82 ‘slick bombs’ that detonated near the waterline. The destruction left her capsized and burning.
Her current resting spot is the Shatt al-Arab waterway, where the Tigris and Euphrates rivers that bisect Iraq come together north of Basra. In the aftermath of the attack, the yacht was looted by locals and stripped of anything valuable. Everything in the interior was ripped out and re-purposed or sold. Even parts of her exterior metal structure were torn off to be sold as scrap.
Now it’s become something of a tourist attraction as local fishermen hop aboard for picnics or some R&R with friends and family.
In an interview with Inside Edition, fisherman Hussein Sabahi said Saddam’s yacht was once a showpiece for his power and influence, but now it’s little more than an obstruction on the waterway.
“We use it as a place to rest, hook our things to it and we sometimes submerge our fishing cages and some people fish from atop the ship. Other people come to take photos. It would be better if they could turn it into a museum,” Sabahi said.
“I can’t believe that this belonged to Saddam and now I’m the one moving around it,” he said.
Before the superyacht became a solemn reminder of the Hussein regime, al-Mansur was considered an advanced ship for its time.
The yacht was designed by the renowned Knud E. Hansen and was built in Finland at the former Wärtsila Shipyard. It was delivered under the guise of being for the government of The Republic of Iraq – State Enterprise for Water Transportation in 1983. Despite the ruse, the true owner’s extravagant taste was evident thanks to the use of solid gold throughout both the interior and exterior, not to mention fine marble countertops, exotic woods, and fittings made from precious metals.
One of her most devious details was the inclusion of an escape route from the master cabin to a submersible pool built into the bottom of the hull. In the event of a boarding by hostile forces, whoever slept in the master cabin would be able to escape inside a tiny submarine kept beneath the boat.
The yacht was also a showpiece to the Middle East’s influential and powerful, with room for up to 200 guests and intended as a venue for exclusive Baath Party events. She was even one of the first superyachts to feature a helipad. But despite having arrived in 1983, Saddam never set foot on al-Mansur.
There have been various efforts to salvage and remove al-Mansur from its current plot, but so far no Iraqi government has seen it through to completion.
“This yacht is like a precious jewel, like a rare masterpiece you keep at home,” said Zahi Moussa, a naval captain at the Iraqi ministry of transport, in an interview with CNN.
“We feel sad that it looks like this.”
You can check out the current state of al-Mansur in the video below: