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Wednesday, 30 September 2015

History of The Sitmar Line

(Societa Italiana Trasporti Marittimi)

The Sitmar Line (Sitmar = Società Italiana Trasporti Marittimi) was formed by Russian émigré Alexandre Vlasov. Sitmar ships all carried a "V" for Vlasov on their funnels. Vlasov operated cargo ships under various flags (including Greek, Italian and British) before and during the war. After the war, numerous American wartime standard ships were available for purchase, and Vlasov bought the Wooster Victory and Vassar Victory. These were suitable for emigrant carriers since both had been troopships in the war. He chartered them to the IRO (International Refugee Organisation - run by the UN). The Vassar Victory was renamed Castelbianco, under the Italian flag, whereas Wooster Victory initially operated under her original name, before becoming the Castelverde when she also became Italian flagged. By 1952, the IRO charters were coming to an end, and Castel Bianco and Castel Verde (as their names were later rendered), were put into service as emigrant carriers between Genoa and Central America. Before starting this service, both ships were substantially rebuilt. Sitmar withdrew the Central American service in 1957, and the two ships were sold to the Spanish Line.

Official postcard of Fairsea
Vlasov also bought two American C3 ships, and rebuilt one as the 1800 passenger Fairsea. She was Panamanian-flagged, and initiated the naming style for future Sitmar ships. Fairsea initially operated IRO charters, and was then put on the Australian run. She also made a few North Atlantic crossings. In 1955, Fairsea was given a long-term contract by Australia to carry emigrants from Southampton. The other C3 ship became the Fairsky in 1957, under the Liberian flag, and also joining the Australian service. Also joining the Australian service were the Castel Felice, originally the BI Line's Kenya, and Fairstar, previously the Bibby Line troopship Oxfordshire. These four ships maintained this service until 1970, when the contract passed to Chandris Lines.

Official Fairsky postcard
An attempt to regain the Australian contract was made when Vlasov acquired the Cunarders Carinthia and Sylvania in 1968. The plans came to nothing, and they remained laid up at Southampton for a number of years as the Fairland and Fairsea. The loss of their regular contracts forced Sitmar to change direction, and they devoted their activities towards becoming a major cruise company. Fairsea had already been scrapped in 1969, following a fire in the engine room, and Castel Felice was scrapped in 1970 at the end of the Australian contract. The ex-Cunarders Fairland and Fairsea received substantial conversions into cruise ships. Although an appropriate name for an emigrant liner, Fairland was deemed unsuitable for a cruise ship, and she was renamed Fairwind before entering service in 1971.

Fairstar sails out of Sydney for the final time in 1997
These two fine conversions joined the Fairsky and Fairstar in building an excellent reputation for Sitmar as a cruise line in the American market. The Fairsky was sold for scrap in 1977. A third large ship was sought to replace her, initial interest in the Queen Anna Maria being thwarted when she was bought by Carnival. Finally, the Portuguese liner Principe Perfeito was bought to replace her in 1979, being renamed Fairsky. She was due to be converted in a Spanish yard, for completion in 1981, but it was eventually decided that the project was uneconomic, and she was sold to John Latsis in 1982. In her place, the new Fairsky was delivered in 1984. In 1989 Sitmar Cruises was purchased by P&O Princess PLC and merged with Princess Cruises.

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