Messageries Maritimes’ flag-ship ended up like mini-Titanic… read on…
MM ship leaving Saigon
Dating from 1862, Messageries Maritimes’ “Orient & Indo China” route was its premier route, serving as it did the Jewel in France’s Crown in the East: Indo-China.
Saigon during the golden age before the endless and useless war…
Saigon was always MM’s second homeport centred on la maison aux dragons, the residence of the general agency there.
S.S. La Marseillaise – on maiden voyage…
The La Marseillaise was symbolic of MM’s recovery after the Second World War and was the company’s new flagship. Her maiden voyage on August 18, 1949 was indeed somewhat of a success. Completed in July 1949, her first maiden voyage was Marseilles to Yokohama and she could carry just 341 First Class, 75 Tourist Class and 371 “rationnaires” (troops). This was preceded by two Mediterranean cruises.
Although in service for only 6 years after 11 years under construction, La Marseillaise rivalled the Normandie and Pasteur as magnificent exemplars of the French paqueboat at its zenith. She was the largest liner yet built for MM and the fastest due to her triple-screw Sulzer diesels and a very fine hull form. Unlike her unorthodox square funnelled predecessors, she was truly yachtlike with an all-white livery and a heavily flaired bow with her Normandie like “turtleback” over the mooring deck.
She was remarkably spacious inside with a lighter décor than the older ships. There was a walnut panelled smoking room, veranda café forward with large windows looking over the bows, the first permanent outdoor pool in a MM liner, a domed dining saloon with grand staircase and 20 de luxe cabins with private verandas.
As France’s 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, Messageries Maritimes decided to retire her from service in 1957. Before this however she did for a brief period during the Suez Crisis serve as a hospital ship at Suez.
Arosa Line era (1957 – 1958): However as she was only eight years old she was sold for further service 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.
However, 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.
Costa Line (1958 – 1961):
As a result the Arosa Sky was sold to 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 Guaira service. The Bianca C served with distinction in the Costa Line for another two years.
Sadly 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 this day.
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 former LA MARSEILLAISE — Bianca C — The largest wreck site in the Caribbean, the Bianca C is a 600-foot cruise ship that sank in 1961 and lies on a sandy plain in 167 feet of water. At times there are strong tidal currents, making this an advanced deep dive (with a checkout dive required). The top deck lies at 90 feet and most dives proceed around the stern, where you can swim into the pool, visit the wheelhouse on the aft deck and peer down at the sandy plain below. There are schools of jacks, barracuda and spotted eagle rays in abundance.