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Formed in 1946 by South African industrialists and American ship owners, Safmarine is now widely known as a north/south trade and African specialist. The line is represented in more than 130 countries throughout the world, with more than 1200 sailors selling their services. Safmarine has been headquartered and registered in Antwerp, Belgium, since 1996, when it completed its acquisition of the Belgian container line, CMBT, which in turn had been an outgrowth of CMB. In 1999, Safmarine was bought by the Danish company A.P. Moller-Maersk Group, and Maersk chose to retain the Safmarine brand rather than integrating it wholly into Maersk Sealand. In 2002, Safmarine acquired Torm Lines.
On October 3, 2011, it was decided that Safmarine would integrate its internal support and management functions into those of its sister company Maersk Line.
Safmarine passenger operations had begun in 1965, when two Union-Castle Line ships used on the Southampton–Durban service, RMS Transvaal Castle and RMS Pretoria Castle, were transferred to Safmarine to satisfy demands from the South African government. The ships were renamed S. A. Vaal and S. A. Oranje respectively, re-painted in Safmarine colours but continued on the same service as before. In 1969, both vessels were transferred from British to South African registry. During the 1970s the South African liner trade started to decline, mainly due to competition from the jet airplane and the rising success of the revolutionary new container ships, in carrying cargoes more efficiently and more economically than conventional, older vessels. Thus, in 1975 the S. A. Oranje and her Union-Castle sister RMS Edinburgh Castle were withdrawn and sold for scrapping. RMS Pendennis Castle was also withdrawn in June 1976, leaving S. A. Vaal to remain with Union-Castle's RMS Windsor Castle, and the two smaller cargo/passenger mailships RMMV Good Hope Castle and RMMV Southampton Castle. In October 1977, both companies withdrew their passenger services and S. A. Vaal was sold to Carnival Cruise Lines, becoming their SS Festivale.
In 1984, Safmarine purchased the cruise ship MS Astor from the West German Hadag Cruise Lines. Following refit she was used to revive the Southampton–Cape Town service, also making cruises out of South Africa and the United Kingdom between liner voyages. However, in service the Astor was found not to have enough speed to maintain the liner schedule, and Safmarine decided to order a replacement ship based on the same design from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft in Kiel, also to be named MS Astor. In preparation for the delivery of the new ship, the first Astor was sold to the East German Deutsche Seerederei via a West German intermediary, becoming MS Arkona. Ultimately the second Astor never entered service for Safmarine, as the company decided to abandon the liner service in 1986. The second Astor, still under construction at the time, was sold to Marlan Corporation in January 1986.
Cargo ships of the 1960s
Safmarine purchased three Victory ships (SS Westbrook Victory, SS Westerly Victory, SS New Bern Victory) from the USA and, after modifications to convert them from war use to general dry cargo, they entered service in 1947. They were named Vergelegen, Morgenster and Constantia. These three ships enabled Safmarine to start a South Africa-based cargo enterprise. In 1961, their names were changed to South African Victory, South African Venture and South African Vanguard. In 1966, the prefix South African on all Safmarine's ships was changed to S.A. In the engine rooms there were two Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers supplying superheated steam to two Westinghouse turbines geared down to a single shaft, giving 6,000 shp and a speed of 16 knots (30 km/h; 18 mph). For electrical power, two steam turbines drove DC generators.
The next four sister ships to be brought into service were South African Trader, South African Pioneer, South African Transporter and South African Merchant. They were designed for carrying general dry cargo and had berths for twelve passengers. All were built in Scotland and entered service in the mid-1950s. Each ship had were two Yarrow water-tube boilers and two Parson type turbines geared down to a single shaft, giving approximately 7,000 shp and a speed of 15 knots (28 km/h; 17 mph). For electrical power, three Ruston Hornsby diesel engines drove DC generators.
In 1961, South African Statesman, South African Seafarer, and South African Shipper joined the fleet. They were designed for carrying general dry cargo, and were built in Scotland in the 1950s for the Clan Line then the Springbok Shipping Co. These ships had a distinctive cowl top on the funnel and were fitted with Babcock & Wilcox water-tube boilers and three Parson type turbines geared down to a single shaft, giving approximately 10,000shp and a speed of 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph). Electrical power came from generators driven by three Ruston Hornsby diesel engines.
Refrigerated motor ships
Three refrigerated motor ships S.A. Langkloof, S.A. Zebediela, and S.A. Hexrivier were built to export frozen fruit from South Africa to the UK and Europe. They were built in Dutch yards and entered service in early to mid-1960s. They were powered by an eight-cylinder MAN K8Z70/120 low speed two-stroke diesel engine developing approximately 9,600 BHP and a speed of 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph). For electrical power, four MAN diesel engines drove AC alternators.
Three further ships, S.A. Letaba, S.A. Tzaneen and S.A. Drakenstein were built in Scotland, entering service in the mid-1960s. They had the same hull design as the Dutch-built ships but used B&W engines at approximately 9,650 BHP.
Heavy lift ships
The following three sister ships were the heavy lift vessels in the Safmarine fleet, also for carrying general cargo. The “S.A.Van Der Stel”, “S.A. Weltevreden”, and the “S.A. Nederburg”. were all built by a Dutch company, and entered service in the mid-1960s. The S.A. Van Der Stel could lift 250 tons with her own derricks and the other two could lift 125 tons. They were all powered by a six-cylinder M.A.N K6Z86/160 low-speed two-stroke diesel engine, developing approximately 14,000 BHP and a speed of 21 knots. For electrical power three M.A.N diesel engines drove AC alternators. These ships were modified in Japan in 1975/1976. An additional hold specially designed for containers approximately 100' long was added amidships. A new heavy lift derrick was added and loading points were added on deck for container mounting.
S.A.S Vergelegen was commissioned in 1969 had a 250 Stulken heavy lift and the number 3/4 & 5/6 holds had been extended. She was last known as the Virgil prior to being decommissioned after 1987. Interesting to see that no mention has been made that this and her sister ships were actually navigation training vessels for the SA Navy. S.A.S Nederburg was decommissioned in 1987 after leaving Durban Harbour via Australia to the Far East to be dismantled.
These were the last of the dry cargo ships to be built in the 1960s for Safmarine.. The “S.A. Alphen” and “S.A. Huguenot” came into service in the mid-1960s, and later the “S.A. Constantia”, “S.A. Morgenster”, and the “S.A. Vergelegen” were built of the same design in Japan. S.A. Vergelegen was later modified in Germany with a Stulken derrick capable of lifting 250 tons. This class of vessel had the most pleasing lines of all the dry cargo ships built for the corporation. They were powered by a six-cylinder Sulzer 6RND90 two-stroke diesel engine developing 15,000 BHP giving them a speed of 21 knots. For electrical power two eight-cylinder and two six-cylinder M.A.N diesel engines drove AC alternators.
Safmarine's pre-buyout containers had the SAMU prefix, and since Maersk bought them new containers have appeared with the parent company marking, MSKU. Maersk kept the original Safmarine graphics but integrated them into a redesigned container.
The old dry van pre-Maersk containers were blue with the Safmarine flag on each side and Safmarine in cursive writing on the back door. The older refrigerated containers had the cursive Safmarine writing on the sides. The newer dry van and reefer containers with the Maersk influence are darker blue (the reefers are white of course) with gigantic Safmarine cursive on the side as well as the flag. Where the 7 point star appears on each door on a Maersk container, the Safmarine flag appears for their containers. The Maersk container redesign for Safmarine makes their containers much more easily identifiable and, to many, more visually appealing. Before the "flag logo" pre-buyout containers, Safmarine did have 2 different container appearances that simply said "Safmarine" in different non-cursive fonts but did not feature the flag on the sides.
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