Safmarine Mail Ships


Safmarine operated a passenger liner service between the United Kingdom and South Africa in 1965—1977

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 in order to satisfy demands from the South African government.

The ships were renamed SA Vaal and SA 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.


As Union-Castle Mail Service


Grey with black top

Three bands blue over white over orange.

The inverse of the RSA flag.

In 1975 the SA Oranje - and her Union-Castle sister RMS Edinburgh Castle - were withdrawn and sold for scrapping.

The popular RMS Pendennis Castle was also withdrawn in June 1976, leaving SA Vaal to remain with Union-Castle's RMS Windsor Castle (and the two smaller cargo/passenger mailships RMMV Good Hope Castle and RMMV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 SA Vaal was sold to Carnival Cruise Lines, becoming SS Festivale.

With the "Transvaal Castle" the "Pretoria Castle" was transferred to Safmarine in a 'one old and one new' deal. Although the ships were to the larger extent manned by British & Commonwealth officers & crew and managed by Union-Castle they were registered in Cape Town.   

In point of fact the transfer of the ships was political, at about the same time B & C 'sold' (they were sold for £1 each) seven cargo ships to Safmarine.   See email below

e-mail 19th June 2009

You state that both these ships were sold for £1 each, which is incorrect.

This a potted version of what happened.

Sanlam had threatened to enter the mail run and B&C were fighting rearguard actions with Safmarine.

When B&C agreed to build the the three refrigerated ships at GDC for Safmarine. They (Safmarine) wrongly believed that B&C had surrendered the fruit rights to Safmarine.

They were somewhat miffed when B&C ordered the four Clan R's.

In the meantime the new mail agreements had stalled.

Sir Nicholas Cayzer travelled to Cape Town in order alleviate the problems.

He agreed that Safmarine could purchase the Pretoria Castle and the Transvaal Castle for £19m and that Safmarine would be responsible for ordering a new mail ship in the early 70's.

The purchase agreement, allowed for repayment over a period of ten years.

Both ships owned by Safmarine were bare boat chartered back to U-C and manned, largely, by B&C personnel.

Sir Nicholas also agreed that Safmarine would have fruit rights provided that they supported B&C in their bid to win the new mail contracts.

Safmarine were true to their word and B&C were given the new mail contract in 1967.

(This précis of events taken from G.R Berridge's book "The Politics of The South African Run" was sent to me by a correspondent).

Note:  It is not correct to say the ship's were entirely manned by B&C personnel, Captain Norman Lloyd, the first master of the SA Vaal was relieved by a Safmarine master, Captain Robin Thompson, who, upon the ending of the Mail Service reverted to command of one of the 'Big Whites'.   There were also other Safmarine personnel employed on both the Vaal and Oranje.  There had always been a clause in the mail contract that a percentage of crews, where possible, were to be South African, as was the clause regarding ships to be registered in South Africa, this clause for many years being filled by the war time 'Empire' ships, Drakensberg and Good Hope Castles.  

Formed in 1946 by South African industrialists and American ship owners

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