Basrah Breeze, the last of Saddam Hussein’s superyachts, has been given a new lease of life – as a hotel and recreational facility for pilots in the southern port city of Basra, Iraq.
Pilots, who guide ships in and out of the bustling port and tend to live in more remote towns and cities, will be able to enjoy the luxury vessel during their downtime. As well as Hussein’s own decadent presidential suite (complete with his own private room, dining areas and other accommodation), there are 17 cabins designed for guests and another 18 for crew – it is thought she can accommodate up to 63 in total.
Danish yard Helsingør Værft built the 82-metre (270-foot) motor yacht, which features a displacement steel hull and steel superstructure with teak decking, in 1981 while Iraq was at war with Iran. She was previously named Qadissiyat Saddam, and she has a unique array of facilities, including swimming pools, a theatre, a helipad, a clinic with operating theatre, rocket launchers and a secret escape tunnel with getaway submarine. It is currently unknown whether all of these extras are still functional.
The Basrah Breeze is decorated luxuriously in an ‘Arabesque’ style with gold, mahogany, and brightly coloured fabrics, but despite all its overt opulence, it is not thought the dictator ever set foot on her decks. Reportedly fearing political instability in Iraq if he ever left the country, and to protect it from potential airstrikes, the superyacht spent many of her early years moored in Saudi Arabia.
After Iraq and Saudi Arabia’s relations soured following the former’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the latter passed the superyacht to Jordan. Eventually she was located in Nice, France, and seized by courts.
Iraq finally saw the homecoming of Basrah Breeze in 2010, seven years after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq ousted Hussein. In the years since her retrieval, the yacht was mostly moored in Basra – the Iraqi government made attempts to sell her to new owners, and she was on the market for 30 million U.S. dollars for a period of time, but the government failed to secure her sale.
For the past two years the yacht has been in the hands of Basra University, who have been using her as a research vessel on voyages to study marine biology, but she will now become a permanent part of the port’s infrastructure. Despite her wild and varied life so far, the Basrah Breeze is believed to be in a good condition.
Abdul-Zahra Abdul-Mahdi Saleh, Basrah Breeze’s captain, said to Reuters, “The presidential yacht is in a very good condition. Its two engines and generators are functioning. It only needs periodic maintenance.”
Anmar al-Safi, a spokesperson for Basra Port, added, “The port needs the boat to be a station where sea pilots can rest.”
Although her future now seems fairly certain, the city’s museum still hopes to acquire the vessel and dock her next to its exhibition hall in one of Hussein’s former palaces so that, as the museum’s deputy director Jawad Abdul Kadhaim noted, “Future generations could see how a dictator lived.”
Basrah Breeze was not the only superyacht owned by Hussein. Although also never boarded by the dictator, her sister ship al-Mansur suffered a catastrophic end in 2003 after being bombed 16 times by coalition aircraft in the Shatt al-Arab waterway that courses through Basra. Following the assault, al-Mansur was ransacked and looted; today she lies among countless other wrecks in the Shatt al-Arab waterway.