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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer & Author

 

The Sitmar Ships

Part Three

MS Fairsea

Sitmar issued this postcard in the mid sixties

Introduction

Over the years I have received hundreds of requests to do a feature on the Sitmar Ships. In this work, I will present a short history on each ship, together with a number of photographs. I hope that these pages will have you reliving your Sitmar experience. All Sitmar ships, except the Fairsky (2) were old tonnage that were given extensive rebuilds to become from austere migrant liners to quality cruise ships. Ships in this feature include; Castel Bianco, Castel Verde, Castel Felice, Fairsea (1), Fairsky (1), Fairwind, Fairsea (2). In 1984 Sitmar’s only new ship, named, Fairsky (2) was completed. Late in the eighties Sitmar ordered a 63,500 GRT cruise ship to be named Sitmar Fair Majesty, however, whilst being built, Sitmar was taken over by P&O Princess Cruises and she was completed as the Star Princess. I trust you will enjoy this feature on the Sitmar Ships.

 

 

A fine view of Fairsea in Fremantle (Perth) Australia

Fairsea was another converted C3 class ship, originally named Rio de la Plato, a passenger freighter, ordered by Moore-McCormack Lines. She was built by Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Co, Chester USA and launched on March 1, 1941. She and her three sisters were the first large diesel driven ships built in the USA. Built as a passenger cargo ship, she has accommodations for seventy passengers and was to sail between New York and South America.

Rio de la Plata under construction

However, prior to completion she was taken over by the US Government in October and was fitted out as an escort carrier for the US Navy. She was handed over to the Royal Navy, named HMS Charger and was commissioned on March 3, 1942. She served on convoy duties in the north Atlantic and had a number of close calls, yet she survived. Later she was returned to the Americans and placed into service in the Pacific, serving the US Navy with distinction.

HMS Charger

Charger was released from naval service on March 15, 1946, and returned to Moore-McCormack, who proceeded to remove her flight deck and converted her to carry troops. This service was brief and she was soon mothballed together with other ships of her class in the James River. Like her many sisters, she was placed on the market.

In 1949, she was purchased by Alexander Vlasov, founder of Sitmar Lines placed her under the management of the Alvion Steam Ship Company. Named the Fairsea she headed for Genoa where she was reconstructed as an austere emigrant ship with accommodations for a massive 1,800 persons.

The Fairsea was placed under contract by the IRO - "International Refugee Organisation" and she would operate three IRO voyages from Naples to Melbourne via the Suez Canal commencing on May 11, 1949. Under this agreement she would carry Refugees and displaced persons to Australia, but she had to return to Italy without any passengers on board whatsoever. It was for this reason she was not officially a “Sitmar liner” in the true sense of the word, for that would not happen until December.

On May 11 Fairsea departed with 1,896 persons onboard, including 457 children who had come out of various camps from around Europe. She sailed through the Suez Canal on May 18 and after a brief call at Fremantle she first arrived at Melbourne on June 8 and was berthed at Prince’s Pier. Having returned to Naples empty, she departed again on July 21 with 1,896 persons onboard. Although some eight countries were represented, there were at least 660 Polish refugees as well as many from East Germany. Fairsea made her call to Fremantle, but continued on to Newcastle to offload her passenger there at Lee Wharf on August 19, 1949. Her third voyage from Naples with 1,890 passengers onboard was on September 23 arriving in Melbourne on October 19.

MS Fairsea, now under the control of Sitmar and Captain Stagnaro, departed from Genoa to Australia on December 3 and she arrived in Sydney on December 31, and berthed at berth 13 Pyrmont. Finally she was able to take on passengers for the return journey to Italy and become the Sitmar Liner she was intended to be! Upon her return to Europe her schedules were changed and she operated the Bremerhaven to Sydney service.

Fairsea seen during her official maiden voyage as a “passenger liner” on 31 December 1949

A good numbers of C3 Class ships were converted into migrant ships, including Fairsea’s Moore-McCormack sister, Mormacmail, which became the German registered (operated by Holland America Line) Seven Seas. She operated to Canada, the US, Australia as well in New Zealand, as well as an occasional cruise ship. Others became the Cogedar Flaminia, and Flotta Lauro Roma and Sydney, also employed on the Australia - New Zealand service.

This postcard was released in January 1954

In November 1953, whilst berthing in Melbourne, a fire broke out I the engine room, which was soon extinguished, the result being that her engine room was flooded. After cleaning up she was able to continue her duties.

Fairsea in seen 1954, after she received a shapely new funnel and a tripod mast on her bridge.

Note the derricks aft, these would be removed at the next refit

In December 1953 she received some cosmetic changes such as her funnel and mast. Having regularly visited Australia, it was only in February 1957 that she returned home eastward for the first time, making her Maiden call to New Zealand continuing across the Pacific, then undertook her first ever transit of the Panama Canal.

Postcard of a modernised Fairsea

In 1958 Fairsea received another refit at Trieste. Her superstructure was raised one deck, with extensions forward and aft of promenade deck adding new public rooms. Her aft derricks were removed with one of the holds became a swimming pool. Air-conditioning was installed and cabins upgraded. She emerged as a pleasing liner with her tonnage increased 13,432 GRT, accommodating 1,460 passengers. Interior décor was pleasing, exuding Italian flair. Upon completion she headed Downunder flying the official Sitmar flag for the first time.

 

Above & Below: After her 1958 refit, although still very much a C3 class ship, but her lines were more pleasing

 

Being under Government contract, Fairsea continued to transport British passengers to Australia and News Zealand. In 1961 she received another refit, which saw her accommodations further upgraded, which saw her capacity reduced to 1,212. Having become a popular ship in Australia, Sitmar decided to try her out as a cruise ship. She departed Sydney on July 7, 1966, visiting Cairns, the Great Barrier Reef (Hayman Island) and Melbourne. In between her line voyages, she continued to undertake the occasional cruise.

Specifications:

Built by:         Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co, Chester USA

Yard Nr:         188

Tonnage:        11,678 GRT as built

                     13,432 GRT as Fairsea after 1958 refit

Length:          492ft / 150m

Width:           69.2ft / 21.1m

Draught:        24.ft

Engines:         Doxford Geared Diesels by the builder - 9,000 BHP

Screws:          Single

Service speed: 16 knots – 17 max

Passengers:    1,800 One class

                     40 First & 1400 Tourist for 6 voyages only in 1953 to Canada

                     1,460 after 1958 refit

                     1,212 after 1961 refit

                     Fully air-conditioned

 

Seen in Wellington New Zealand - 1967

On January 14, 1969, Fairsea departed Sydney with a complement of 986 passengers heading for Southampton. On the 23rd located around 900 miles west of the Panama Canal she suffered a fire in the engine room. The ship and most of her vital facilities, such as the galley, air-conditioning, toilets, water distilling equipment were all disabled. Fairsea was towed to Balboa by American ship SS Louise Lykes. Sadly, the strain was so great, Captain, Ciro Cardia committed suicide whilst in his cabin. Upon arrival in Balboa, her passengers disembarked and were flown to their destinations. Due to her having Doxford Diesels, parts were no longer available, thus, it was decided to dispose of the once popular ship and she was sold to Italian breakers. On July 9, 1969, she departed under tow of the tug Vortice to La Spezia Italy, where she arrived on August 6, to be broken up.

Fairsea Fire – The Bradford Story

Please Note: The story received from Peter and Penney Bradford was in basic detail and thus I have decided to edit it to a degree to make the story flow and also clarification, etc. However, all the details are as told by Peter and Penney!

Peter and Penny Bradford and their two small children boarded the SS Fairsea in Brisbane in January 1969 bound for Southampton sailing via Panama Canal. The voyage started out as normal with the usual onboard festivities and meals, and of course, not to forget the lifeboat drill.

“As usual we all had to put on our life jacket's which was a perfect time for a photograph and I took one of my wife Penney and my three year old son Peter.”

Eleven month old Peter and Penny out on deck wearing our lifejackets

Photograph © Peter Bradford

Peter told me that although the Fairsea was scheduled to make a call at Auckland, for some reason this port was missed and he wrote …

“Instead we headed straight for Tahiti. It was not long after we left Tahiti (on January 23) the engine room caught fire, and when we came up on deck to see what was happening we could see smoke belching from up from the funnel. Soon the order was given to abandon ship and lifeboats were prepared at the side of the ship and all passengers were ordered to put on their lifejackets. However, after hours of waiting out on deck, we were eventually told that the fire had been contained and we thankfully did not have to abandon ship after all. You can imagine that we were very relieved, but were not quite prepared for the difficulties that ware yet to come.

We noted that the ship was listing substantially and then when going down to our cabins we discovered that we could not use our cabins to sleep for the air-conditioning no longer worked as it was like an oven down there! Thus, it was find a place up above and try and make yourself as comfortable as possible. After a number of days of reasonable hardship, considering the crowd onboard, a sea-going tug reached our ship and they proceeded to pump the diesel oil from the ship to the tug, but they then discovered that the fuel was unsuitable for the tug and now we had another situation, for suddenly the tug itself was left helpless and drifting. Fortunately the sea remained calm, thus it made things a little easier for us all. However on the 29th, six days after the fire, an American freighter named the SS Louis Lykes, which was on its way home from Vietnam, arrived on the scene.

SS Louis Lykes seen from the starboard side of the Fairsea

Photograph © Peter Bradford

As soon as the salvage arrangements had been arranged, SS Louis Lykes took both the Fairsea and the tug in tow. The tug being towed behind the Fairsea. We were towed to Panama. In Panama we were given the option to either fly to the UK or wait for another ship. When we returned home to the UK, our three year old daughter Pauline was rushed to the hospital as she had caught an unknown virus, which needed urgent attention. She did recover from her illness although it took some time.

The story had already circulated whilst we were still on the Fairsea that our Captain had committed suicide, however, we were never quite sure if the story was factual. But later we realised that sadly it was true and what a tragedy is was. It was an experience and indeed a tragedy that we will never forget!”

Peter and Penney have other happy memories with Sitmar though, for Peter originally came to Australia in January 1965 on the Fairsea. Then in October 1965 Peter and Penny met whilst sailing on the TSS Fairstar. Penney was travelling to England on a working holiday, and Peter was returning to the UK. The Fairstar had recently been refitted and Penney remembers that “She was just a beautiful ship, and thus, beside the sad events of the Fairsea voyage, we both have very happy memories of Sitmar Line.”

I hereby wish to thank Peter and Penney Bradford for providing your story of that fateful voyage on the SS Fairsea, a simple, but a much loved ship by so many!

If you where on that fateful Fairsea voyage or you wish to communicate with Peter and Penney, you can do so per email: peterpen46@bigpond.com.

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The name Fairsea lived on, as it was transferred to another Sitmar ship, ex Cunard Liner RMS Carinthia, which  received a massive rebuild in Trieste, under the name TSS Fairland, but she departed on her maiden voyage with the name of Fairsea proudly pained on her bow and stern. Later she became the P&O Princess Cruises TSS Fair Princess, a successful US and Australian cruise ship. In 2000 she was sold to become a failed and much troubled (business wise) casino cruise ship, the TSS China Sea Discovery. However, she was eventually laid up and in August 2005 she was sold for 4.2 million to Indian breakers and was broken up at Alang in 1996. Read about her troubled life as a casino ship, entitled the “China Sea Discovery Saga – This is her story as told by a senior officer!

Sitmar’s new Fairsea, built as the Cunard’s Carinthia.

Specifications:

Length: 150 m

Beam: 21,1 m

GRT: 13,432 t

Built: 1941 Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co, Chester, Pennsylvania, USA

Operator: Sitmar, Genoa

Engines: 2 X Doxford type diesels

Screws: Single

Speed: 16.5 kn

Passengers: 1,460

Former names: Rio De La Plata 1941, Charger 1942-1949

 

View our Special Fairsea Photo Page

 

The Sitmar Liners - INDEX:

The Early Sitmar Liners

Part One …      Castel Bianco & Castel Verde - Built as a Victory VC2-S-AP2 class of freighters.

                     Castle Bianco - The Karlsson family’s voyage.

Part Two …     Castel Felice - ex SS Kenya.

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

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

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

                     Castel Felice - Three articles about a family’s voyage on the Castel Felice and arrival in Australia.

Part Three …   Fairsea (1) - Built as a C3 class freighter.

                     Fairsea - Photo Page.

                     Fairsea - Deck Plan.

                     Fairsea - The Strachan family migrates from the UK to Melbourne in December 1957.

Part Four …     Fairsky (1) - Built as a C3 class freighter.

                     Fairsky – Deck Plan.

                     Fairsky – Piet Mulder sails on SS Fairsky.

                     Fairsky – Fairsky hits a wreck out of Djakarta – The Pamela Joyce Hansen story. 

The last Sitmar Liner and Cruise Ships

Fairstar - ex Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire – Built as a Bibby Line troop ship.

Fair Princess - ex P&O & Princess, also Sitmar Fairsea (2), Fairland, Cunard Line Carinthia.

China Sea Discovery - ex Fair Princess - broken up.

 

 

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