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The SITMAR LINERS Past and Present

304 x 227 mm, 288 pp, 182 colour plates, 120 b/w photos

ISBN 9781877058257, $59.95, Hardcover

Peter Plowman

Available: Now

This story of the Sitmar Liners is written primarily from an Australian perspective, but it also covers the general development of the company and its operations throughout the world.

Societa Italiana Trasporti Marittimi SpA, which would always be better known by the acronym SITMAR, was founded in April 1938, the fourth shipping company to be started by Alexandre Vlasov, and survived for fifty years. SITMAR started off in a very small way, initially operating a pair of small cargo ships in the Mediterranean coal trades. Both these ships were lost to the company during the Second World War, so when peace returned, Alexandre Vlasov had to start SITMAR again from scratch. Gradually he managed to build up a new fleet, comprising both cargo ships and passenger carriers.

In the late 1940s SITMAR entered the passenger trades by obtaining contracts from the International Refugee Organisation to transport displaced persons from European ports to Australia and other countries. The first SITMAR passenger ship to come to Australia was Castelbianco, which was only one of many ships contracted to carry displaced persons, but the SITMAR vessels involved in this trade were noted for the superior quality of the food they provided, and having better accommodation.

From these small beginnings, SITMAR developed into a major passenger shipping company during the 1950s, offering regular voyages between Europe and Australia for both migrants and fare-paying passengers. Some of their ships also served for several years on the route from Europe to Central and South America, and for a while they were also engaged in the summer tourist trade across the North Atlantic, from Europe to ports in Canada and the United States of America.

By 1957 the services to Central and South America, as well as the summer service on the North Atlantic, had been abandoned, and all but one of the cargo ships sold, enabling SITMAR to concentrate their attention on the Australian passenger trade. This state of affairs lasted until the early 1970s, when the company entered the highly competitive North American cruise market. In this way, Sitmar Cruises was born, and the name was later used by the Australian operation when it abandoned the liner trades and switched its focus to full time cruising in 1974.

The sale of Sitmar Cruises to the P & 0 Group in July 1988 was totally unexpected, but the Sitmar name did survive for a few more years in Australia, where the new operation was known as P & O-Sitmar Cruises until 1991, when it was renamed P & 0 Holidays. However, the link between Australia and the former Sitmar Cruises liners continues to this day. Up to January 1997 Fairstar remained the most popular cruise liner operating out of Australia, and was replaced by another former Sitmar vessel, Fair Princess, which carried many thousands of travellers on cruises over the next three years. In late 2000 Fair Princess was replaced by yet another former Sitmar liner, Pacific Sky, which has proved a great success on the local cruise market.

Today, the Sitmar name may be gone, but the memories of their ships and the wonderful service they gave lingers on in the minds of many thousands of happy passengers. This book has been written for them, as much as for anyone with an interest in passenger liners. In order to bring the Sitmar history right up to date, the stories of the former Sitmar ships under their subsequent owners and names are told in detail. As well, there is also the story of the introduction of a "new Sitmar", Silversea Cruises, marking the return of the Vlasov Group, now renamed V-Ships, as a major player in the current world cruise market.

Peter Plowman is a noted maritime researcher and writer, having had six books published in Australia over the past 21 years. He has been a member of the World Ship Society for over forty years. From 1978 to 1993 he was editor of the magazine Australian Sea Heritage published by the Sydney Maritime Museum.