Sitmar Line - SS Castel Felice History - Page 1

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer & Author

Please Note: All ssMaritime and other related maritime/cruise sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any shipping or cruise companies or any travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! Although the author has been in the passenger shipping industry since 1960, although is now retired but having completed around 690 Classic Liners and Cargo-Passengers Ships features I trust these will continue to provide classic ship enthusiasts the information the are seeking, but above all a great deal of pleasure! Reuben Goossens 

The Sitmar Ships

Part Two

Please Note: Unless marked otherwise, photographs and images on this page are from the authors’ private collection

Introduction to “The Sitmar Ships”:

Over the years I have received unbelievable numbers of requests to add a feature on all the Sitmar Liners and Cruise Ships. Well, it has taken a considerable time, but in this work, I will present a short history on each ship, together with a number of photographs. Therefore, I hope and pray that the following pages will have you reliving your Sitmar experience or possibly experiences, be it sailing to or from Europe/UK to New Zealand or Australia or the America’s on a line voyage or later as a passenger on one of their many cruises!

I certainly have enjoyed writing and compiling this very special feature on a company that I greatly love and have sailed with many times!

Thus now go and read all aboutThe Sitmar Ships.

Reuben Goossens.

TN Castel Felice, ex Kenya Built in 1930

It is obvious that although at 12,150 GRT (Gross Registered Tons) Sitmar’s Castel Felice was a relatively small liner, nut she had excellent facilities and certainly a most pleasant, if not a somewhat classic profile, which was a pleasing one!

However, she was originally built in 1930 for the British India Company as the Kenya by “A. Stephen & Sons, Glasgow and was she launched on August 27, 1930. This ship was designed to operate on the company’s Indian Ocean service from Bombay to East Africa and Durban. As she was completed just four months later, the SS Kenya commenced her maiden voyage on December 18, 1931 and she headed for Bombay.

She offered sixty-six berths in First Class and Hundred and twenty in Second Class both having pleasant public facilities and ample deck spaces. In addition to this, there was also space for up to 1,700 Third Class, come deck passengers. This area offered the most basic of accommodations indoors as well a deck spaces, and was only sold only to Indian as well as African passengers many who would sail on short voyages.

A black hulled SS Kenya has just been launched on August 27, 1930


Seen as the British India Company - SS Kenya

In 1940 she was seconded and she was refitted as a troopship, but later she was again refitted as an infantry-landing vessel. She was renamed “Hydra” in 1941, and later that same year she was again renamed, “Keren.” With the war ended she was sold in April 1946 to the Ministry of Transport however, in August 1948 she was laid up in Holy Loch.

A New Life for The British Ship:

Early in 1949 the Vlasov Group commenced negotiations to purchase the SS Keren, ex Kenya. But sadly during the negotiations, on February 19, Keren broke loose from her moorings during a storm and she was badly damaged. Having been refloated she was taken to Glasgow to be repaired and was renamed Kenya again. but she remained laid up at Rothesay Bay and she was renamed Keren again, yet later that same year her original name Kenya was returned, Heavens know, why all the name changes?

In 1950 she was sold and registered in Panama for the Alva Steamship Co and was she was renamed “Fairstone.” But once again renamed “Kenya” in June 1950 and registered in Italy by Sitmar Line in October 1950. In March 1951 she once again became the “Keren,” but this time for the very last time. On October 15 she was towed to Falmouth where initial rebuilding commenced. She departed undertow on March 10, 1951, heading for Antwerp, where further work was undertaken. Finally, August that year she headed for Genoa undertow, where she received her final Italian touch from her owners.

Here we see Sitmar Line’s first artist impression postcard of their new SS Castel Felice in 1952

Both her profile and interiors saw many changes. Her funnel was shortened, a new shapely raked bow was fitted and her promenade deck was extended fully aft. Her main masts were removed whilst a new mast atop the bridge and King posts with derricks added. Her interiors were completely remodelled, with many new cabins added to her old hold spaces. When complete she could now accommodate 1,400 single class passengers.

With her bright new look, this gleaning white line was finally renamed the “Castel Felice” in September 1952 and she was made ready for her maiden voyage.

SS Castle Felice departed Genoa on October 6, 1952, for her maiden voyage to Australia, arriving in Fremantle (Perth) on November 1. Then arriving in Melbourne on the 5th.and Sydney on the 7th. Upon her return to Genoa she was placed on the Italy South American route commencing in January 1953. In 1954 she made several voyages to Canada and the United States. Later that year she made her second voyage to Australia.

Here we see the Castel Felice as she was first rebuilt and refitted in 1952 in Genoa


Promenade Deck


Forward Dinning Room

Early 1955 air-conditioning was installed and accommodations were changed to accommodate 28 First Class, and 1173 Tourist class passengers. Upon completion the new look Sitmar Line flagship departed Genoa on February 26 for her third Australian voyage, after which she retuned to the South American route.

A gleaming white Castel Felice berthed in Southampton in 1957 just prior the refit

1957 Refit:

Late in 1957 Sitmar obtained the lucrative contract to transport assisted migrants from Britain to Australia. She was given another refit, including having her forward promenade deck being partially enclosed making her ready for her new role and commenced duties on the Australian service.

A postcard of the Castle Felice after her 1957 refit


A Luncheon Menu from Thursday November 21, 1957

Provided by Mr. Robert Kenneth Williams


New 1957 schedules - Australia to UK and back


Mini Photo Album


 The Main Social Hall


 Enjoying the ships ban in the Social Hall


The Tavern 


 Lido Bar 


 Forward Dinning Room


Swimming Pool 


Children’s’ play room could also be used as the Cinema


The author’s item of memorabilia a cigarette lighter from the Castle Felice

From the author’s private collection

A tragic event takes place in Naples in 1965!

The then eleven-year-old Chris Hemmings sailed on Sitmar Line's Castel Felice with his family early 1965 from Australia to the UK departing from Melbourne, sailing via Auckland, Wellington then back to Australia via Brisbane to Singapore, Colombo, Aden, Port Said, Naples, and Gibraltar to Southampton. Chris tells us that there was tragic incident that took place during the voyage for her Captain, Captain Avolio Matarese sadly passed away of a severe heart attack as the ship was departing the port of Naples and thus the Castel Felice had to return to her berth to offload the Captain's body and the company had to find a another Captain. The voyage from Melbourne to Southampton took about seven weeks.

I wish to thank Chris Hemmings for providing this above short story of his voyage to the UK, although be it a rather sad story, yet it is part of this fine ship's long history!

A wonderful Photo of the SS Castel Felice at sea



The Steve Mercer Story:

“I sailed on the TV Castle Felice from Auckland to Southampton November/December of 1965 for 6 weeks for just NZŁ125. It was an eventful voyage starting with a storm across the Tasman. I was one of only a handful of passengers able to get up on day two and I have some wonderful memories of huge seas, empty decks but the band named Atanasio and his Happy Boys, were still playing, but mostly to an empty Belvedere Lounge for the afternoon tea dance and I recall a little lady one morning at the refreshment urn and then she had to balance her cups as the ship levelled between rolls, and then having to dash along the promenaded deck until the ship lurched the other way, it was some sight, but she got there!

The Castel Felice was a wonderfully relaxed and such a happy ship with a most imposing tall and elegant looking captain. We particularly liked 'little things' that made it different. For example at midnight in the middle of a frantic dance if you put your hand out you might likely end up with a slice of hot pizza helpfully placed in it by a passing waiter.

Passengers were allowed to erect washing lines on the ship's prow so at times it looked more like a Chinese junk. Then there would be a heavy Italian voice over the loudspeaker warning all the “Laydees” that there was a rain shower approaching and to get the washing in. This was just absolutely priceless and that sort of thing would never happen these days!

On the negative side whilst we were in Aden, a hand grenade, which fortunately turned out to be a dud, was thrown on board and there was some panic amongst the passengers, soon a heavy British army and police contingent came on board to collect the evidence. But thankfully it all turned out to be a hoax.

Our call to Egypt and sailing through the Suez Canal raised a smile as well. Although the ship was full of British, New Zealand and Australians, the Egyptians obviously felt that the Italian ownership was far more important and that ideology continued right into Cairo. At the Continental hotel where we were to have lunch, believe it or not the meal started with pasta, but it in an Egyptian-style! But pasta? On board there is a lot of pasta and it is superb, but we were looking forward to a change!

In my teens I started to use an 8mm camera and I filmed the entire six-week voyage on 8mm film, this includes lots of on-board footage which I watch with great fondness now and then.

On a final point I still have a number of menus from this wonderful and most memorable voyage, some of these are shown below.”

Steve Mercer France.

Castle Felice remained on the Australian (including some visits to New Zealand) service until 1970 when sadly Sitmar Line lost their migrant contract to the Greek Chandris Lines. It was then decided that Castel Felice would be retired by the end of the year.

On August 15 of that year whilst she was berthed in Southampton, a fire broke out in part of her accommodations. Sitmar decided not to repair the damage and kept her damaged cabins under lock and key.

Castel Felice is seen here during this final visit to Southampto in August 1970

Photograph by & © J.K. Byass

With a reduced number of passengers, Castel Felice departed for her final voyage for Australia, arriving in Sydney on September 26, 1970. She remained berthed in Sydney for eleven days. During which time most of her stores were removed.

Finally she departed Sydney on October 7, 1970 and she headed north for Kaohsiung Taiwan, where she arrived on October 21, 1970 at the ship breakers’ yard. There she was soon broken up.

Memories of a Greatly Loved Sitmar Liner!


This is the very last postcard published by Sitmar Lines of the SS Castle Felice

There is no doubt that the SS Castel Felice will be fondly remembered, like many Italian ships of her day, for she had wonderful style and typical Italian finesse, which is remembered by thousands of her past passengers!



Built:                    1930 A. Stephen & Sons., Glasgow, Scotland 

Launched:             August 27, 1930

Tonnage:              12,150 GRT

Length:                 493ft - 150,3m

Beam:                   64.3ft - 19,6m

Machinery:            Geared Turbines

Screws:                Twin

Speed:                  16 knots

Passengers:           1,400 one-class passengers - (based on her final configuration)

Previous names:     Kenya (1930), Hydra (1941), Keren (1941), Kenya (1949), Fairstone (1950), Kenya (1950), Keren (1951-52).

The Castel Felice INDEX:

Castel Felice-1 - History Page - This page.

Castel Felice-2 - Cabin Plan & the Robert Brinkhuis story 1965.

Castel Felice-3 - My 1957 voyage to Canada by W. D. Hempel.

Castel Felice-4 - The Williams family sail to Australia in 1957.

Castel Felice-4 - A family’s voyage to Australia - on another site!

Or Return to:…….The Sitmar Ships - INDEX - For all the Other Sitmar Ships!



“Blue Water Liners sailing to the distant shores.
I watched them come, I watched them go and I watched them die.”



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Please Note: ssmaritime and associated sites are 100% non-commercial and the author seeks no funding or favours of any shape or form, never have and never will!

Photographs on ssmaritime and associate pages are by the author or from the author’s private collection. In addition there are some images that have been provided by Shipping Companies and private photographers or collectors. Credit is given to all contributors. However, there are some photographs provided to me without details regarding the photographer/owner concerned. I hereby invite if owners of these images would be so kind to make them-selves known to me (my email address may be found on only), in order that due credit may be given.

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