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The French Liners of Messageries Maritimes

The French Liners of Messageries Maritimes

  • Messageries Maritimes was a French merchant shipping company offering worldwide service.
  • It was originally created in 1851 as Messageries Nationales, later called Messageries impériales, and from 1871, Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes, casually known as “MesMar” or by its initials “MM”.
  • Its rectangular house flag, with the letters MM on a white background and red corners, was famous in shipping circles, especially on the Europe-Asia trade lanes. In 1977 it merged with Compagnie Générale Transatlantique to form Compagnie Générale Maritime. In 1996 CGM was privatized and sold to Compagnie Maritime d’Affrètement (CMA) to form CMA CGM.


Caledonien docking in Sydney, Australia.

Caledonian arriving in Sydney

  • The Messageries Maritimes ships, the Calédonien and the Tahitian (later reborn as the cruise ship Atalante), sailed for two decades (1952 to 1972) on regular round trips between Marseilles to Asia and the South Pacific.
  • The two ships were beautifully designed passenger-cargo liners.

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First Class Bar

  • These handsome ships carried cargo, passengers, and military personnel to French outposts in the Caribbean and the Pacific.
  • They were amongst the last of the real working cargo-passenger liners, plying their trade until long sea journeys were displaced by mass jet passenger travel.
First Class Stateroom

First Class Stateroom

  • The ships accommodated 373 passengers: First Class 71; Tourist Class 84; Third Class 142; Steerage (Dormitory) 76.

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First Class Dining Room

  • First class accommodations were located on first two decks of the superstructure with the public rooms and swimming pool on Promenade Deck. Most were a twin or three berths; all had private facilities.
  • Tourist class cabins were for two or four berths all outside but without private facilities. Third and steerage were basic but comfortable.


  • The French passenger liner SS La Marseillaise is seen arriving in Marseillaise from Vietnam during the 1950s.
  • he was the largest and most luxurious ship operated by the steamship company Messageries Maritimes.
  • La Marseillaise operated between France and the Far East.
  • The elegant vessel was launched in 1944 in the name of Marshal Petain (who was a French general who reached the distinction of Chief of State of Vichy France during the Nazi occupation).
  • SS La Marseillaise had the distinction of sinking on two occasions, the first time in France before being completed during WW II, and the second time after an explosion and fire off the island of Grenada when she had been sold off for Caribbean cruises.
  • La Marseillaise, like many liners after WW II, had many careers with various names.


The Cambodge (13,217 grt) was one of the great Messageries Maritimes ships built following WW 2.

  • Messageries Maritimes, a France-based shipping company, ordered three identical ships to be built around the late 1940s to provide passenger and mixed-freight service on a Marseilles-to-Yokohama route, with many calls in South Asia as well.
  • The first to be completed was SS Viet Nam in 1952, followed by Cambodge, the name which Stella Solaris was first christened, in 1953. Cambodge was built by the Societe des Ateliers & Chantiers in Dunkirk, Nord, in northern France.
  • The name was derived from the Southeast Asian country of Cambodia. Her keel was laid down in 1949, and she was launched on June 28, 1953, then completed and delivered to Messageries Maritimes in July 1953. The third ship, SS Laos, was not completed until 1954.
  • Cambodge and her sisters were only mid-sized. The ship was 13,520 GRT, 545 feet (166 m) long with a beam of 72 feet (22 m). She was powered by twin Parsons geared turbines, which gave her a cruising speed of 21 knots (39 km/h).
  • Cambodge could carry 347 passengers on seven decks—117 in first class, 110 in second (tourist) class, and 120 in third (steerage or cabin) class. First-class cabins occupied the majority of the passenger space in the central portion of the ship, the second class in the stern, and third class in the bow. First-class passengers also had a large pool for their private use.
  • A large amount of artistic flair was employed in the design of Cambodge. A French-style predominated, but some Asian decorations were also incorporated. Italian artist Nino Zoncada was hired to design some of the interiors of the ship.
  • Her sisters, the Viet-Nam (13,162 grt) and Laos (13,212 grt), came into service in 1952 and 1954 respectively. They were both sold in 1970 to be employed in the pilgrim service until firs e in the mid-1970s destroyed both.

Accommodations aboard the Cambodge

Scenes of Messageries Maritimes ships in various parts of the world…

The Routes:

1835-1939 Marseilles – Constantinople – Black Sea – Trabzo Marseilles – (1851 Civitavecchia) – Beirut.
1854-1940 Marseilles – Algiers / Oran / Bone – Tunis.
1860-1912 Bordeaux – Rio de Janeiro + Rio feeder service.
1862-1869 Marseilles – Alexandria – overland – Suez – French Indochina Mauritius feeder service to Aden and Suez.
1866-1914 Saigon – Manila feeder service.
1869-1958 Marseilles – Suez Canal – Ceylon – Indochina.
1869-1981 (French ports) – Marseilles – Suez Canal – India / Far East / Australia.
1881-1981 Marseilles – Port Said – Mahe – Reunion – Mauritius – Adelaide – Melbourne – Sydney – Noumea.
1962-1972 Hamburg – Havre – Bordeaux – South America.

Our thanks to Les Paquebots… Click here to read more…Screen shot 2016-03-02 at 12.16.10 PM


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