|Fate||Cruise ships (operational and in-build) acquired by P&O, 1988|
|Headquarters||Monte Carlo, Monaco|
Sitmar Cruises and its predecessor Sitmar Line were company names derived from the acronym for the Societa Italiana Trasporti Marittimi (English: Italian Maritime Transport Company). SITMAR originally was an Italian shipping line founded by Russian émigré Alexandre Vlasov, however the company's headquarters were later transferred to Monaco. Vlasov initially operated cargo services from 1937, gradually replacing these with passenger services from 1947 until 1988, when SITMAR was sold to the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O). After the sale, most of the former SITMAR ships were transferred to the fleet of P&O subsidiary Princess Cruises, while one, TSS Fairstar, became the sole vessel of the newly created P&O-Sitmar Cruises (later P&O Holidays). As of July 2018, one briefly named former SITMAR ship (Sitmar Fairmajesty) is still operational, as Cruise & Maritime Voyages's Columbus. However, two other vessels originally ordered by SITMAR but delivered to P&O also currently operate from Australia, as Pacific Jewel and Pacific Dawn.
SITMAR began when Alexandre Vlasov carried coal in the Mediterranean, using two small cargo ships. During the Second World War, these ships were lost to the company. Vlasov restarted SITMAR after the war and slowly assembled a new fleet of passenger and cargo ships. SITMAR obtained contracts with the International Refugee Organisation (IRO) to take refugees from Europe to Australia and other nations.
SITMAR's first vessel to operate services to Australia was the Castelbianco. Amongst the many companies contracted to carry displaced people, SITMAR's vessels were noted for providing higher quality accommodation and food.
During the 1950s, SITMAR became a major passenger shipping company. It offered regular services between Europe and Australia for migrants and full-fare paying passengers. For several years, the company operated voyages between Europe, Central America and South America. Periodically SITMAR also engaged in the seasonal tourist trade between Europe, the United States and Canada.
The Central and South America services also the North Atlantic summer services were abandoned by 1957. SITMAR then sold its nominally last cargo vessel, the reefer Fairsky (1), while other V companies such as Silver Line, Italpacific and the Alva Steamship Co maintained the group's extensive cargo ship and oil tanker operations. SITMAR then concentrated on passenger services between Europe and Australasia until the early 1970s, when it also began offering family-oriented cruises from North America, marketed as Sitmar Cruises. Briefly from 1972, in Australia SITMAR entered a line voyage marketing agreement with Shaw Savill Line, named Sea Travel Centres. However, this agreement was short-lived as both partners ceased regular circumnavigations in 1974. The name Sitmar Cruises was subsequently also used in Australia, offering full-time Sydney based cruises, with TSS Fairstar and Fairsky (2).
In July 1988, Sitmar Cruises' name and ships were purchased by the P&O Group. In Australia, the operation was renamed P&O-Sitmar Cruises then in 1991 became P&O Holidays. That company's then only vessel TSS Fairstar was the most popular cruise ship sailing from Australia until 1997, when Fair Princess formerly Fairsea (2), replaced it. In turn this vessel was replaced in 2000 by Pacific Sky.
Vlasov operated cargo ships registered under either Greek, Italian or United Kingdom flags before and during the Second World War. SITMAR ships carried a letter "V" on their funnels, for "Vlasov". After the war, Vlasov purchased the former American troop ships Wooster Victory and Vassar Victory, chartering them to the IRO. Wooster Victory, first operated under its original name then was renamed Castelverde, while Vassar Victory was immediately renamed Castelbianco. Both vessels were Italian registered.
After the IRO charter contracts ended in 1952, Castelbianco and Castelverde were extensively rebuilt and used to carry emigrants, initially from Europe to Central America, later from Europe to Australia. This service ended in 1957 and both vessels were sold to the Spanish Line.
Vlasov also bought two war surplus United States Maritime Commission C3 class ships, the first in 1949 being the former escort carrier USS Charger. Austerely refitted to carry 1800 passengers, this vessel became Fairsea (1) under Panamanian registry. Fairsea (1) was used for a series of IRO and other refugee organisations' charters, including voyages to Australia and North America. Another passenger vessel, Castel Felice - completed in 1931 as SS Kenya for the British-India Steam Navigation Company - was acquired in the late 1940s and after refurbishment joined the SITMAR fleet in 1952, seeing duty in a number of markets.
From 1955 until 1970 SITMAR won successive 5 year contracts from the Australian government to carry British emigrants from Southampton to Australia under the Assisted Passage Scheme. These commenced in December 1955 using the extensively refitted Fairsea (1). In 1957 the arrangement was expanded, so SITMAR arranged for the conversion of their idle other C3 design ship, Castel Forte, formerly the escort carrier HMS Attacker (D02). Castel Forte received major structural alterations for her new role in New York in 1957, transferring to Italy at the end of that year for internal fitting-out. As Fairsky (2), the ship joined the Australian migration service from Southampton in May 1958. Eventually Castel Felice - and still later TSS Fairstar, formerly the British troopship Oxfordshire purchased from Bibby Line in 1963 - from 1964 also operated migrant voyages between England and Australia until 1970, when Chandris Lines instead won the migrant contract.
In 1968 Vlasov purchased the Cunard liners Carinthia and Sylvania, intending for them to replace Castel Felice and Fairsea (1). However, after 15 years' continuous service, SITMAR's bid to retain the 1970 UK-Australia migration contract was unsuccessful. The two former Cunarders, since renamed Fairland and Fairwind, were laid-up at Southampton until reactivated prior to refurbishment in late 1970 and early 1971. The pair received major refits in tandem at the San Marco shipyards in Trieste. From 1972, SITMAR successfully built a fine reputation in the North American cruise market with Fairsea (2) (previously Fairland) and Fairwind. Fairsea (1) was scrapped in 1969 after a disabling engine-room fire, while the veteran Castel Felice was scrapped in 1970, following the loss of the Australian contract.
Operating from Australia as a full- time cruise ship since 1974, Fairsky (2) was sold in 1977 after a collision, so the company sought a larger vessel to replace it. SITMAR failed to secure the Queen Anna Maria, which was bought by Carnival Cruise Lines. In 1979 SITMAR instead bought the Portuguese ship Principe Perfeito and renamed it Fairsky (3), intending to convert the vessel in Spain. However, the conversion was deemed uneconomic and the ship was sold in 1982 to John Latsis. In result, SITMAR decided on its first new-build, the Fairsky (4). Built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique at Saint Nazaire, France, Fairsky (4) entered service for the North American market in 1984. In 1988 this became Sky Princess for Princess Cruises, then Pacific Sky for P&O Cruises Australia. Next sold to the Spanish operator Pullmantur Cruises, the ship was renamed Sky Wonder, later becoming Atlantic Star. After a prolonged lay-up in Marseille, France, this fuel-hungry turbine steamship was sold for scrap in 2013, being its 29th year.
At time of writing, the only extant former SITMAR named ship is that which was briefly Sitmar Fairmajesty. Following Fairsky (4), this vessel was also built by Chantiers de l'Atlantique (launched in 1988), but due to P&O having acquired Sitmar Cruises, entered service as Star Princess for P&O's Princess Cruises brand. Later transferred between other P&O companies, the vessel was renamed Arcadia, Ocean Village, Pacific Pearl, (under P&O Cruises Australia), and finally MV Columbus.
However additionally a pair of approximately 70,000 GT cruise ships were also ordered by SITMAR in the mid-1980s, but still under construction when P&O bought the cruise line. Built by Fincantieri at Monfalcone, Italy, to external designs by Renzo Piano, these vessels entered service as Crown Princess (July 1990) and Regal Princess (August 1991). Both now operate for P&O Cruises Australia, the former as Pacific Jewel and the latter as Pacific Dawn.