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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer & Author




PLEASE NOTE: Images on this page (except those marked otherwise) are from the author’s private collection – Some are from *unknown sources, please read the photo notes at the bottom of the page regarding these.

The author received an email from a dear friend who has been a solid supporter and a provider of many fine photographs on ssMaritime, Mr Stan Evans from Newcastle Australia, and he wrote about how he saw the MS Changsha for the very first time, and she was coming through Sydney Heads through some very heavy seas. He was certainly impressed by this “little ship.” As I had been intending to write an article on the China Navigation Co twins for a long time, but somehow never got around to it, I decided, well I have a good number of photographs on file, and Stan will send me more, why not do it NOW! Thus here is the story of the MS Changsha and her sister the MS Taiyuan! I trust that you will enjoy it, and thank you Stan!

The China Navigation Company’s history in short!

The China Navigation Company’s (CNCo) and they have their origins in Liverpool when they were founded in 1816. The background is due to CNCo’s parent company being the well known John Samuel Swire (1825-1898) & Sons Ltd who in 1866 opened his first Far Eastern agency in Shanghai, and in 1872 he founded The China Navigation Company to operate a modest fleet of paddle steamers on China’s Yangtze River.

Within a decade, CNCo had expanded its operations up and down the China coast and had begun regular services to Australia and New Zealand. One of the company’s early successes was to take a monopoly of the previously junk-borne tramp trade in “beancake” – cartwheel-sized cakes of compressed soybean husk (the residue from making oil), which were carried from North to South China to use as a fertiliser. By the turn of the century, CNCo’s by then substantial fleet was covering a complex network of Far Eastern trades, backed up by its own well-established coastal and river feeder services. But after WWII the Australian passenger services became more and more popular.

The 1960s and 70s also saw China Navigation diversifying its scope of activities in two other very different directions. The first was cruise operations, based in Australia and New Zealand, which commenced in 1961. In the early 1970s, CNCo developed a niche market operating seminar cruises out of Japan and successfully dominated this market for almost 20 years. CNCo continues today as a major shipping company but no longer as a passenger operator, but container ship operations and has a massive fleet. However, Australians and new Zealanders will remember the days of the CNCo passenger, services, especially the delightful twins MS Changsha and Taiyuan!

The 1946 / 1947 quartet of ships.

By the late 1950’s The China Navigation Company was a popular shipping company, especially with Australian’s sailing between Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Port Moresby, and Asia, be it for a line voyage or a circle cruise. By this time there were eight ships operating from 3,150-tons, accommodating with just 12 first class to the larger 7,472-ton ships offering 84 first class passengers, and each ship also had space for steerage or third class accommodations, which was mostly used for local inter island coastal traffic.

The MS Sinkiang 3,029-ton was he first of the quartet to be built

In 1946 and 1947 quartet of ships of cargo ships were built, being the MS Sinkiang (12 first class passengers), Szechuen (15 first class), Shansi (11 first class) and Soochow (11 first class). Each ship also had space for 76 in steerage. However, there as slight differences between the first pair, which were built in 1946, and were 3,029-ton & 3,028-tons and the 1947 being slightly larger at 3,152-tons each. All measured: 321ft long, 46ft wide and having a draught of 18.ft, having with Doxford diesels installed (although MS Szechuen had Sulzer Diesels), with a single screw and a service speed of 12 knots (Szechuen 11.5 knots).

However, the 1947 pair, being the MS Shansi and Soochow externally looked quite different as they had a longer Bridge deck that extended as far aft as the mainmast, providing additional facilities for their passengers to the other ships. This quartet became very popular with passengers including the excellent style of service that was available, which was simply superb and it became obvious to the management that they proved to be inadequate and new and larger ships were needed with a larger passenger capacity, thus two new ships had been designed, which resulted in two superb ships being built, the MS Changsha and Taiyuan, which were true passenger-cargo liners in the true sense of the word, offering every possible facility!

1950 and 1951 - Twins that were built world’s apart!

Several other ships to be built are the 1950, 6,100-ton twins MS Anking and Anshun, which officered accommodations for 50 first class passengers as well as 116 in steerage.

MS Anking, the second of the pair to be built

All CNCo’s ships were generally all built by Scotts Caledon or Scotts Inglis in the UK, except for MS Anshun, which was built at the Taikoo Shipyards in Hong Kong and she was the largest ship of her type to be built there! But just prior to building these two ships, our featured ships came into being and we will now concentrate on them!

MS Changsha and Taiyuan.

With the changes happening in mainland China, the China Navigation Company had to seek new routes and were operating all the above between Australia, New Zealand Hong Kong and Japan, with a variety of ports in between. However with these new ships having a large passenger capacity, their services would be more of a cruise style operation, whilst continuing their cargo services, something that appealed to the public!

MS Changsha was built by Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co of Greenock and she was launched on November 2, 1948. Having been completed she run her deep sea trails on May 3, 1949 and she was delivered duly to her owners at Liverpool thereafter. Changsha having loaded with freight departed the United Kingdom on May 17 and she sailed via the Suez Canal to Australia, calling at Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane. Having offloaded all her cargoes at all three ports, she returned to Melbourne where she would commence her official maiden passenger service to Asia from Australia on July 23, 1949, sailing to Sydney, where she remained for five full days, after which she continued to Brisbane, Hong Kong and various ports in Japan.

MS Taiyuan was also built by the same builder and she was launched on May 13, 1949. She ran her sea trails on Tuesday November 1, and she headed for Liverpool to be delivered and handed over. She departed for Australia on November 15, 1949, but unlike her sister, she sailed via South Africa, visiting Cape Town and arrived in Melbourne on December 21, where she remained for five days. Taiyuan departed on her official maiden passenger voyage on the 29th.

They operated regular sailings on two consecutive months each quarter. In general their ports of call were: Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane, Manila, Hong Kong, Keelung, Naha, Pusan, and then ports in Japan concluding in Yokohama, before returning to Melbourne.

For interest, there were two contemporaries that were of a similar design named the MS Changchow and Chungking, but they had been purchased by the British Admiralty as supply ships and were renamed Resurgent and Retainer.

The ships design and interiors.

These superbly designed ships and had traditional lines with rounded forward superstructure, giving them a somewhat more modern look than any of their predecessors, yet they retained the traditional tall slender pipe black funnel and the forward and aft upright masts. The MS Changsha and Taiyuan were the also the largest ships of the fleet, and were managed from the Swire Hong Kong based office.

These were also the only ships in the fleet to enjoy air-Conditioning in all of the pubic rooms, such as the Lounge, Lounge and Bar as well as the Shop and hairdresser, and all cabins on Upper Deck.

The Main Lounge far forward on Upper Deck featured soft timbered walls with book cases built into the aft walls. There was a grand piano for entertainment. The colour scheme was minimal with a gently patterned red to rust carpets, with the sofas and seating in a pale blue accompanies by mahogany tables and incidental furnishings. The smaller Bar and Lounge featured timber floors with turquoise mats, both the walls and ceiling clad in fine woods and a superb Chinese mural featuring the forward facing wall. The furnishing was the same as in the Main Lounge. The Dining Room continued this elegant timber theme with blue upholstery, but with beige patterned vinyl flooring.

From a brochure – provided by Stan Evans Newcastle Australia 


From a brochure – provided by Stan Evans Newcastle Australia


From a brochure – provided by Stan Evans Newcastle Australia 

Accommodations were more designed to make the passenger feel very much at home, yet with a nautical feel, having an abundance of fine timbers in all the furnishings. There were comfortable beds, and spacious bathrooms with bathtubs and showers. All cabins has large windows and looked out onto the deck.

 From a brochure – provided by Stan Evans – Newcastle Australia


From a brochure – provided by Stan Evans Newcastle Australia 

MS Changsha’s and her run of bad luck.

MS Changsha certainly had her share of misfortunes, as she ran aground in Tokyo Bay on Tuesday March 27, 1956 and it would be twelve days later when she was finally refloated on Monday April 9.

Then on September 26, 1959, just over three years later, whilst was on another voyage and again in Japanese waters, during Typhoon Vera she was blown ashore near Nagoya in 1959 during typhoon Vera. However, due to the ferocity of this Typhoon she was one of around 19 vessels that were affected and blown ashore, and Changsha ended up high and dry on a sandy beach with a considerable list. In order to refloat her, sand had to be moved and a channel dug around the hull, it was a massive task, but it was achieved and on December 15 she was pulled clear and towed to Yokkaichi where she was berthed to be repaired. However, her problems had not ended, for just two days later a fire broke out on board, and with the fire controlled, she was towed to Yokohama for dry-docking. She was completed and returned to service in March 1960.

MS Changsha seen during her troubled days

However, sadly her troubles continued, although her sister MS Taiyuan happily sailed on being the untroubled ship of the pair!

On December 18, 1960, whilst off the coast of Victoria, there was damage to the propeller shaft, which caused her engines to stop, which caused her to drift for around 15 hours. In the meantime her engineers were busy making temporary repairs, and soon she was able to sail to Melbourne not having to request a tow. Thankfully this was the last of her troubles and she sailed on trouble free thereafter as the Changsha!

A fine bow photo of the MS Taiyuan during a heavy overcast day!

A New Service.

In 1965 the Changsha and Taiyuan were placed on a new and shorter service, covering the usual Australian ports, but sailing to Port Moresby, Manila and concluding in Hong Kong, thus making it a shorter return voyage and a value round trip cruise! Also, it was good for the freight services. From that time the Swire Company flag was featured on their funnels.

A new postcard of the MS Changsha featuring the Swire logo on her funnel

However, at the time the competition had increased, for already there had been the famed Dutch company Royal Inter Ocean Lines, that operated what were considered as the finest small liners afloat, the “Elegant White Yachts” the MS Tjiwangi and the MS Tjiluwah, but now there was the Dominion Line twins with the SS Francis Drake and the George Anson, as well as other ships, thus the competition was becoming more and more difficult and a solution had to be found.


Built: Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering, Co Greenock. 1949.

Tonnage: Changsha – 7,412 GRT – Taiyuan – 7,472 GRT

Length: 440ft.

Breath: 57ft.

Draught: 23.7ft.

Propulsion: Doxford type Diesels.

Screws: Single.

Service speed: 15 knots.

Passengers: 82 First Class, 70 Third Class, as well as deck passengers for short haul daylight coastal voyages.


The MS Changsha is seen here on one of her last visits to Sydney.

A new life for the MS Changsha.

In 1969 it was decided by Swire/CNCo to sell the Changsha, and she was soon obtained by the Singaporean - Pacific International Lines Changsha departed Sydney for the very last time on May 20, 1969, and was soon handed over to her new owners who renamed her MS Kota Panjang. She was placed on the Hong Kong, Canton, Singapore, and Penang service.

MS Kota Panjang seen in Hong Kong - early in her new role

*Photographer unknown – Please see the photo notes at the bottom of the page

MS Taiyuan Lives on.

Whilst the Taiyuan was in Hong Kong she was given an extensive refit, improving her facilities bringing her up to date with other ships on the service. The old third class was removed, which provided additional aft deck space which allowed the installation of a swimming pool as well as a children’s playroom. With upgraded accommodations she now accommodated 86 first class passengers.

MS Taiyuan seen berthed in the Brisbane River with the Swire Company flag on her funnel

Photograph by Stan Evans

Upon completion the Taiyuan returned to Sydney in June 1971, and she was placed under the management of the Fiji Australia Line, as she was about to commence a new Pacific service and these voyages were advertised as a “Cruise.”

A Bridge scene on board the MS Taiyuan

From a brochure – provided by Stan Evans - Newcastle

She would sail from Sydney to Noumea, (New Caledonia), Lautoka and Suva (Fiji), then back to Sydney sailing via Brisbane. Taiyuan would depart Sydney every third Saturday. Sadly, she was not a great success, again due to the vast competition with the larger cruise ships operating offering far greater facilities and entertainment, etc, Thus in 1972 this service concluded.

MS Taiyuan sold.

This fine ship that had served the company so well and she and the Changsha had become greatly loved by those who had sailed on them, but sadly, even though they had excellent repeat passenger numbers, this was simply not enough to keep them operating, for there were other factors at hand at the time, such as air travel and of course when it came to cargo, containerisation was slowly becoming the new age of modernisation, and these ships were certainly not suitable for conversion!

The Taiyuan departed Sydney for her final voyage on July 10, 1972 and upon arrival in Hong Kong she was soon sold to the Pacific International Lines who renamed her Kota Sahabat. However, unlike her sister, the company decided not to repaint her hull white, and thus throughout her career she retained her black hull. She joined her sister and operated the same service as the Kota Panjang.

MS Kota Sahabat seen in Australian waters in 1977

*Photographer unknown – Please see the photo notes at the bottom of the page

The final days of two fine ships!

1. MS Kota Sahabat.

But, amazingly MS Kota Sahabat (ex Taiyuan) did return to Australian waters for her final days of operation as she was placed on the Australia Fiji run for three years from 1975 until 1978. Then in 1978 she was converted into a sheep carrier and she entered occasional troubled waters, for she was held up for weeks off the coast off Newcastle due to industrial disputes ashore, but as soon she was able to berth and loaded some 12,000 sheep.

Later, in September 1979, whilst en-route to Hobart Tasmania the ship lost radio contact and she became a major search and recue operation off the coast of Tasmania. But, she arrived safely in Hobart on September 16, and took on a further load of sheep.

In December 1979 she was in Singapore and she was laid up for sadly her days were finally at an end, and she was sold to Taiwanese breakers. MS Kota Sahabat departed Singapore in February 1980 and headed for Kaohsiung where she was broken up.

2. MS Kota Panjang.

The all white Kota Panjang continued as a passenger cargo liner until the very end of her days sailing around Asia where she became a familiar sight. Apart from her scheduled Asian sailings, she also made voyages to Tanzania with Chinese workers to build a railway there. However, in her latter days, she did look rather worn and certainly not the best of sights as seen below!

MS Changsha, now named Kota Panjang is seen here in Singapore in 1977 looking rather rusty, but it got much worse!

*Photographer unknown – Please see the photo notes at the bottom of the page

Kota Panjang was finally laid up and sold in 1981 to ship breakers in Karachi, where she was broken up at Gadani Beach.

Remembering Two Fine Ships


Memories of two fine First Class Passenger-Cargo liners; The MS Taiyuan is seen heading out bound through Sydney Heads!

This superb painting is by Second Mate Neil Bohill who sailed on the Taiyuan in 1964. He later became a pilot on the Barrier Reef.

Thank you to Captain Rodger Biggs for advising us.

A ship lover’s love affair, that began back in 1966.


“My love affair with these pretty little ships began in 1966 when I was at Manly in Sydney for the day. It was a cold, and a windy day, and I recall that the seas were rather high. As I looked out to sea I could see this little black ship with a tall black funnel, rolling and pitching heavily, as she struggled her way towards Sydney Heads, but she obviously did so safety. I decided that I would drive up to North Head to see her enter the harbour as the swells at the entrance can be quite high. Her entry was quite something to behold as she turned to enter the harbour and was ‘surged ahead’ by the following huge rollers, dipping her bows deep in the water as she did so. It must have been a very rough trip for all those who were on board. I could not read her name from my vantage point on the top of North Head but I was really impressed by the scene being played out before me, so I rang the Maritime Services Board to ask the name of that little ship that had entered the harbour. The man I spoke to told me that “The pretty little ship you saw battling the waves is the Changsha of the China Navigation Company and she will berth at Pyrmont.” Sadly I did not have my camera with me or I would have driven around to Pyrmont to take a photograph her. Ever since that day I have loved these little ships and still do to this day having watched the Changsha’s heroic battle to gain entry into the harbour on that day, back in 1966! Stan Evans - Newcastle.”


Stan Evans - seen on board MV Dawn Princess October 2009



I trust you have enjoyed reading this page about these much loved passenger-cargo ships, and if you have sailed on them, then I hope that you will have relived some wonderful memories of some fine maritime days now long gone, when passenger shipping was so much simpler and in many ways so much nicer!







 For other China Navigation Company’s read the following:

MS Kuala LumpurMS Anking & Anshun



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Photographs on ssmaritime and associate pages are by the author or from the author’s private collection. In addition there are some images that have been provided by Shipping Companies and private photographers or collectors. Credit is given to all contributors. However, there are some photographs provided to me without details regarding the photographer/owner concerned. I hereby invite if owners of these images would be so kind to make them-selves known to me (my email address may be found on only), in order that due credit may be given. I know what it is like, I have seen a multitude of my own photographs on other sites, yet these individuals either refuse to provide credit or remove them when asked, knowing full well that there is no legal comeback when it comes to the net. However, let us show these charlatans up and do the right thing at all times and give credit where credit is due!

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