1949 - 1961
War II had been devastating for the world. The shipping lines had lost
countless tonnage to mines, torpedoes or bombs. Illustrious ships as Canadian
Pacific’s Empress of Britain, Norddeutscher Lloyd’s Bremen
or the Italian Line’s Rex had all fallen victim to the enemy. But
the most staggering merchant ship loss was without doubt when Compagnie
Générale Transatlantique’s Normandie burnt out and
capsized in New York harbour. CGT, or the French Line, received a severe
blow when their flagship had to be scrapped before reaching the age of
ten years. They were left with the ageing Île de France as
La Marseillaise in calm waters.
same time as France wanted to show its maritime might in North America,
another French shipping line – walking hand in hand with the French Line
– operated on East Asia run. The line was known as Messageries Maritimes
and was based in Marseille. The same year as the war erupted,
they had started construction on a ship which would become roughly 15,000
to 20,000 gross tons large, in the Constructions Navales shipyard in La
Ciotat. But as the war slowed work down, the ship was not launched until
1944, during burning war. The name for the ship used during the launching
ceremonies was Maréchal Pétain.
of the unfinished Maréchal Pétain was later towed
to Port Bouc, where it was supposed to stay until the war had ended. However,
in August of 1944, the Germans who were in full retreat from Southern France
sank the ship in shallow waters.
the Maréchal Pétain had not been all too much damaged,
and Messageries Maritimes raised and towed the ship to Touloun in 1946,
and later to the builders at La Ciotat. During this time, the ship had
been renamed La Marseillaise. Construction started out slowly, and
the ship was not completed until 1949 after two years of lay up. At 17,000
gross tons, La Marseillaise was not an extremely impressive ship,
but she was still the largest French ship to enter service since 1939.
of the ship was quite new. She only had one funnel, and sported a new kind
of rounded bow. The interior was influenced by the ship’s service areas.
As La Marseillaise was planned to go on the route to Saigon, the
people responsible for the interior fitting gave the ship the appropriate
look. In the first class Verandah Café, specially created ceramics
adorned the walls and plants filled the room with the feeling of a tropical
garden. In the first class, the ship offered a wide range of suites and
deluxe cabins. If you wanted to go to
Saigon in style, you definitely choose La Marseillaise!
|The popular Verandah
Café on board La Marseillaise.
engines gave the ship a service speed of 20 knots. Just like the two White
Star liners Britannic and Georgic, La Marseillaise
was a motor ship. She was driven by Sulzer Diesels, which powered three
screws. The ship developed 31,500 BHP and could reach 22 knots at full
power. Her maiden voyage on August 18, 1949 was indeed somewhat of a success.
political status changed in Southeast Asia, ships like La Marseillaise
more and more became a burden. As fewer and fewer people chose to travel
on her, she was sold – only eight years old – in 1957 to the Arosa Line,
based in Panama. They renamed the ship Arosa Sky, and changed the
passenger accommodation from the old three-class system to the newer one
with only two classes. Before the refit, La Marseillaise had accommodation
for 344 first class passengers, 74 second class passengers and 318 third
class passengers, but as the Arosa Sky, she was only able to take
202 first class, but a whole 1,030 in the new tourist class. On May 10th,
1957 the Arosa Sky set out on her premier voyage between Bremerhaven
and New York.
|Restyled for the North
Atlantic run, the former La Marseillaise emerged as the Arosa
Sky in 1957.
business did not go too well for the Arosa Line. Already in 1958, they
had to sell their flagship Arosa Sky as they were facing bankruptcy.
The buyers were the famous Costa Line. The old La Marseillaise went
through yet another ceremony of renaming, and this time she emerged as
the Bianca C, named after the
company manager's daughter. The Costa Line spent much money on refitting the ship
so that she would live up to the present standards of the oceans. The passenger
accommodation was modernised, and in 1959 the Bianca C entered service
with a slightly increased gross tonnage of 18,427. She was put on the Naples-Genoa-La
C served with distinction in the Costa Line for another two years.
But her career was to end abruptly on the morning of Sunday 22nd October,
1961. While anchored off St. George, Grenada, the ship suffered an explosion in the main boiler room who
set the engineroom and subsequently the whole ship on fire. The inhabitants
of St. George all woke up to the loud sound of the Bianca C's whistles
as the ship was attracting attention. A large number of the citizens raced towards
the burning ship in whatever waterborne craft they could find. Fortunately, all people
on board the ship managed to escape in time, except for one crewmember who had been
killed in the explosion. Sadly, when the survivors reached land, two more died from the
terrible burns they had suffered. But the bravery of St. George's citizens had payed
off and they further assisted the survivors when they let them stay as their guests until
they could travel back home. Of the original 673 people on board, 670 had survived.
The Costa Line was so grateful to St. George, that they
presented the town a statue to honour the event. This statue stands in St. George until
|The Bianca C as she appears on the
ocean floor today.
The Bianca C burned for several days – her paint started to bubble in the heat and
the almost glowing hull caused the surrounding water to boil. The visiting British frigate
Londonderry sailed out towards the burning ship and started to tow her to deeper
waters as it was feared that the liner would sink in the harbour and thereby blocking it.
But before deep waters were reached, the Bianca C sprung a leak and sank, on an
even keel, fifty metres down to the sandy bottom.
Today, St. George is a very popular tourist island, and the wreck of the Bianca C
is a great part of the promotion. She is the largest shipwreck in the Caribbean, and she
has become known as the area's answer to Titanic. The wreck is frequently visited
by divers – professional, and less professional ones – and attracts tourists from all over the
world. Just like her 'oceanfloor-mate' Titanic, the former La Marseillaise is
experiencing a great heyday in her career.
|The Maréchal Pétain/La
Arosa Sky/Bianca C - Specifications:
||593 feet (181.2 m)
||75.5 feet (23.1 m)
||17,321 gross tons
||Sulzer Diesels powering
||736 (later 1,232) people