SS Canberra 1964 to 1997

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With Reuben Goossens

Maritime Historian, Cruise‘n’Ship Reviewer, Author & Lecturer

Please Note: All ssMaritime and my other related ssMaritime sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned sites. Be assured that my sites have never been associated with any cruise or shipping companies or travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! The author commenced working in the Passenger Shipping Industry back in 1960 but is now very much retired and I hope that the well over 625 articles on classic liners and cruise ships that I have written will continue to inform and also bring much joy to ship enthusiasts for many more years to come!

Page Two

Canberra the Cruise Ship

Her Falklands Experience to her Concluding Days!

With 1963 having been a rather poor year for Canberra with her massive electrical breakdown followed with her lengthy repairs, together with a refit that took a good four months, which was obviously very costly for P&O, considering the ship was just two years old. Yet her first two years had been beset with ongoing problems and already there even were some who were talking about this ship would not have a very long life. But thankfully they would be very wrong, for Canberra did in due course settle down rather well and she headed of to Australia again and because of her interior style and comforts, Canberra became more and more popular with every departure.

Here we see the P&O-Orient Lines 1964 60 1966 Sailing Schedule for their comprehensive fleet

According to a Sailing schedule issued for the SS Canberra, Oriana, Arcadia, Iberia, Himalaya, Chusan, Cathay, Chitral, Orsova, Orcades and Oronsay; from July 1964 to January 1966 the Canberra and the fleet would be sailing to and from Australia visiting the following ports of call:

Southampton, Le Havre, Lisbon, Gibraltar, Barcelona, Marseilles, Naples, Malta, Piraeus, Port Said, Aden, Bombay, Colombo, Penang, Port Swettenham, Singapore, Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Savu Savu, Suva, Pago Pago, Manila, Hong Kong, Kobe, Yokohama, Honolulu, Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Acapulco, Panama, Cartagena, Trinidad, Nassau, Port Everglades, Bermuda, Southampton. Of course, Canberra would not call on all ports mentioned!

One of the great aerial views of the Canberra whilst she was in Sydney

However as the 60s entered the 70s, she continued her voyages to Australia and then operated several short cruises out of Sydney and then return home. She departed Southampton in August to return late December 1972 and operated as follows:

P&O 1972/73 Sailing Schedule for the SS Canberra

Southampton, Cherbourg, Port Everglades, Nassau, Cristobal, Balboa, Acapulco, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Honolulu, Auckland, Sydney (cruising from Sydney), Sydney, Melbourne, Fremantle, Durban, Cape Town, Madeira, Lisbon, Southampton

January to May 1973 was as follows: Southampton, Tenerife, Cape Town, Durban, Fremantle, Melbourne, Sydney, Auckland, Nuku'alofa, Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, Honolulu, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagasaki, Hong Kong, Sydney, Auckland, Suva, Honolulu, Vancouver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Acapulco?, Balboa, Cristobal, Montego Bay?, Nassau?, Port Everglades, Lisbon?, Cherbourg?, Southampton.

But sadly, there was one thing that this great ship simply could not fight, for the signs of the times were beset with the ever-increasing Jetliners that were now flying the skies above. In addition, there was a change in thinking within the Australian Government who were making new decisions. But I will come to this subject next in “Times Are ‘a’ Changing.”

Times Are ‘a’ Changing:

As the decade continued, passenger loading began to lessen, being mostly due to emigrants travelling to Australia were no longer travelling by sea as much for two reasons. 1. The Australian Government had become much fussier who came and entered the country, but also 2. Those who did come, the way they travel. And considering the original flight of the Boeing 747 across the Atlantic with over 350 passengers on board, this signalled the writing on the wall the ocean liners in general. But it was more than that, for P&O was well aware the combination of falling passenger demand combined with the high fuel costs and thus P&O had to do something else with the Canberra fast! Therefore, considering that she had considerable success as a cruise ship, they sadly made a huge mistake, and sent her to New York where she was to be marketed by Cunard Line for her to operate cruises to the Caribbean.

Of course, this was the wrong placement, and thus this new cruise venture not at all successful, considering that bookings were very low to say the least, and for a large ship with space for 2,000 passengers for those sailing, “It was like living in a ghost town!” Having operated just two cruises P&O decided on a dramatic move and decided to Lay Canberra up at anchorage, at the mouth of Cape Fear River. The closest town was Wilmington which was around 25 miles (40.2 Kilometres) from her anchorage. Therefore if any of her crew had a desire to go ashore, it took 30 minutes to get there using Canberra’s tenders. Usually a local boat came and provided Canberra’s crew with deliveries as ordered, including newspapers and mail and that is why the vast majority of the crew did not even think of going ashore, as the ship had everything!

The lay-up continued for three long weeks and for all of this time, things had not looked very good for the Canberra. There had been great fears for her and there were countless rumours that she might be sold. But then suddenly, P&O had her returned to New York and she was made ready to complete her nine final cruises of her schedule.

However, Canberra somehow managed to continue with her problems times for she ran aground on Lloyd’s Shoal near St. George in Grenada and remained stuck there for three days. Before she could be moved, fuel had to be pumped from her in order to re-float her, and during this sadly an accident occurred and a laundryman Rozario Gomes died when a towline snapped and it hit him. With Canberra having been freed, it was just a month later on August 14, Canberra did it all over again, this time in the US Virgin Islands, but this time it was not her fault, but being due to extremely high and powerful winds caused her to drag anchor near the mouth of the port.

Difficult Times as P&O seem to decide to Sell:

Then came the news regarding the Canberra, being just what so many had feared, for P&O London had made a sudden announcement regarding the beautiful but troubled white maiden, for they stated that she was “to be sold and broken up, yes to be scrapped.” P&O also stated that she was “not suitable for world-wide cruising.” And we all know that P&O really did not know what they were talking about, for she would prove to be one of the most popular and quite a profitable liner come cruise ship, even with her fuel bills! P&O's Richard Adams stated at a press conference that Canberra had lost £500,000 between February and September 1972. Well, as an ex professional Cruise Line Executive, all I can say is, how wrong, stupid and short-sighted P&O management were, for P&O-Orient stupidly sent the Canberra into the wrong market, thus placing the Canberra in New York was there at the wrong time, for she should have been operated out of the England, as well out of Australia were she was extremely popular!

Apparently Canberra had a scrap value of around £600,000, but she would fetch a considerable amount more if she was sold as to another cruise company to be operated as a cruise ship, but P&O refused this option. Although the idea of giving the Canberra a new engine was briefly thought about, but it was not possible due to her deep draught. However, thankfully P&O changed their mind about disposing of her and decided to keep her for as it turned out she was loved by the people of Britain unlike the American’s at that time! SS Canberra was remember a very British Ship!

A New Era - The Era of Cruising:

Whilst Canberra lay stranded, P&O in London announced that due to a massive up-surge in cruise bookings they had decided to retain SS Canberra and instead Canberra would take over next years SS Orsova’s 1974-cruise programme. In the meantime, with fuel being pumped into a barge and with the aid of two tugs the Canberra was refloated and she continued her voyage. Thankfully, she had not sustained any actual damage and went on to complete her American cruise programme. She returned to Southampton where she would be turned into a full time Cruise Ship!

The Canberra was converted to One-Class Cruise Chip and she underwent a 10-week refit that saw a good number of internal alterations. Obviously being a One-Class ship there was no need for two children's playrooms, thus the original first class playroom was refitted into the Card Room. The Letter Bureau on A Deck became the Kiosk and later the Boutique, however towards the end of Canberra career this was converted to additional cabins, and the Writing Room on Promenade Deck became the William Fawcett Shop, later the Ocean Shop.

A good number of cabins had the number of berths reduced from four to just twin bedded and twin to single bed cabins, thus reducing the Canberra’s passenger capacity to just 1,737 guests.

Once completed, Canberra certainly seemed to in her element, being based in Southampton during the summer operating two or three week cruises, then a Christmas/New Year Cruise, which was followed by a major annual event, a three month “World Cruise.” For the most part, she operated alongside the SS Oriana, except during the northern Hemisphere autumn when the Oriana was based in Sydney alongside Arcadia operating Pacific Cruises. there was no doubt about it, P&O almost made a grave mistake, but then they changed their minds and discovered that soon after the changes and redirecting her, the Canberra had finally found her niche! It was in 1977, when the chairman of P&O announced that the passenger division of P&O Lines had made a £4.1 million profit in 1976, as opposed to a huge loss of £6.9 million one year earlier, and whose fault was that, all due P&O’s management bad decisions. But now they were looking in the right directions!

Sadly in the mid-seventies saw the loss of many much-loved names from the Register of Ships, such as the Chusan, Orcades and Iberia; all were scrapped in Asia, then the greatly loved and my favourite the Himalaya, also the Orsova and Oronsay followed the first three to go. No longer would these wonderful ships need to be employed relocating passengers from one part of the world to another as “Jet Liners” would do that far more efficiently in those days of the Passenger Liners, but it was not as much fun great food and excitement of all the great ports visited, just a boring flight and really bad in-flight food. Shipping had entered a whole new era, for now it was an era of cruising!

In 1980 P&O introduced the “theme cruises” and on board there were professional entertainers, who were employed on the all-modern cruise ships. This would involve inviting guest lecturers and various specialty acts and celebrities on board to conduct additional special-interest talks, concerts and classes or arrange games. Themes included golf, bridge, and sequence dancing and later classical music, newcomers and newlyweds.

As the 1980s was approaching it became well known that the cost of fuel was increasing steeply and that fares simply had to be increased. Therefore in 1979 the Canberra was dry-docked in Southampton and she was given her annual refit during which time two new re-designed propellers were fitted. Apparently this in conjunction with new combustion equipment that would mean that the Canberra would steam a little slower and therefore she would burn less fuel and thus be more economical to operate!

Here we see Canberra in Dry-Dock in late 1979 with work to her propellers and other vital work

Canberra returned to service and her ever-popular cruise programme out of Southampton. Over the years I have obtained many brochures and I have boxes full of them and I am using a few on this feature, but there was also the 1982 cruise brochure, which is of particular interest. As we know the Canberra did not complete all her cruise duties due to a tragic War breaking out in the Falklands!

There were two versions of this brochure, and “Advance Programme” and the official brochure, which I have

The Falkland’s War:

On April 2, 1982 the Argentine forces launched an invasion of the British “Falkland Islands” or as the Argentineans preferred to call it “Islas Malvinas.” With the said invasion, the Ministry of Defence requisitioned a task force consisting of a good number of warships, fleet auxiliaries, as well as “ships taken up from trade” or “STUFT,” and it was decided that the SS Canberra would also be requisitioned to be part of “STUFT” and be used as a troopship.

However, on Friday April 2, 1982 as the invasion was taking place, the Canberra was heading home to Southampton from her 1984 “World Cruise” and she was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea. The Captain received a message late in the day from Head Office asking for the ship's ETA at the Port of Gibraltar. Then, a slightly later another message instructed the ship to rendezvous with a launch as she passed through the Strait where she was to take on board a small group of officials and they would brief the Captain and his officers about what was would be “an interesting assignment” after they had arrived back in Southampton.

The facts were that a day earlier, some seven thousand miles away, whilst Canberra’s passengers were enjoying the delights of Naples, an Argentine Army stood at the ready to invade the Falklands that took place early the next morning April 2, and they soon seized control of the Falkland Islands.

Thus, the British Government rapidly assembled a task force consisting of warships, fleet auxiliaries and “ships taken up from trade” or STUFT. The Canberra was going to be part of STUFT. The men who had boarded the ship were Commandos as well as Admiralty officials who commenced making preparations for Canberra’s transformation into a troopship and to make her fully capable of operating with at least two helicopters. Thus, even before she was home in Southampton, Vosper Thornycroft had been given detailed plans of the Observation Deck and Crow's Nest, as well, as the Bonito pool and surrounding area. These locations would have to be speedily transformed into helicopter pads.

Canberra arrived home to Southampton at 7.30 AM on April 7, 1982 and she happily but speedily offloaded her passengers and as soon as they had left the wharf, the hard work commenced at full speed. Military officials from Naval Party (NP) 1710 boarded and they took up headquarters at Steiners. A good number of workers from “Vosper Thornycroft” helicopters swarmed all over the ship preparing her and parts of the railings along sections of Games Deck were removed to facilitate the landing of their helicopters. In addition, hundreds of tons of stores and military material and equipment was loaded.

At the time, Canberra’s future role was still very much unknown or even where she would be able to bunker or re-supply, for she needed the ability to replenish her stores, whilst she was at sea, etc!

Members of 40 and 42 Commando Royal Marines and 3 Para embarked the Canberra and P&O’s Captain Dennis Scott-Masson was in charge of the ship and her overall safety. However, Captain Chris Burne was the Senior Naval Officer (SNO) and thus he had overall military control onboard.

Amazingly, just three days in Southampton and the Canberra had been transformed from a luxury Cruise Ship to a battle-ready trooper. Now being ready, she departed at 8 PM on Friday April 9, and a group of “Vosper Thornycroft” workers came with her, to complete the forward flight deck.

Along the shoreline there were huge crowds that gathered to wish Canberra and all on board and good luck. History was made shortly before lunch the following day, when an RAF Sea King helicopter made the very first of many landings on the amidships (Bonito pool) flight deck on the SS Canberra.

Here we see an RAF Helicopter at work over the Canberra at sea near the Falklands

Canberra sailing days was interrupted by the Falklands war! However, rather than me tell the story of the great work that she did, I suggest that you read a great book written by Andrew Vines as shown below. I have a copy and I found it absolutely brilliant and it is a must read for everyone who loves this great ship, the SS Canberra!

Avery Strange Way to go to War” was released by Aurum Press on in, 2012 and is available in a Hardback version for just £20.

Andrew Vine who lives in Leeds and Andrew has become well known by author over the years. I have also read another of his books, such as the very popular work, “Last of the Summer Wine.” Andrew has been a professional journalist for some 35 years and is the assistant editor (at the time of writing) of the “Yorkshire Post”, being one of England’s largest regional morning newspapers.

Andrew having a great love of British classic liners completed this superb book on one of the most loved British liners of the early sixties, being P&O’s 1961 built SS Canberra, but he covers her turbulent days during the Falklands war and so much more. Andrew as he writes has the gift of transporting you back in time, especially with so much new material. It is just like you are on board and being amongst the crew, experiencing various events. A Very Strange Way to go to War” is the untold story of unlikely combatants such as waiters, cooks, nurses and cleaners, who never dreamt they would ever be caught up in a war, and then suddenly they found themselves on the front line at the very end of the world.

Through this compellingly written account of one of Britain’s ‘finest hours’, Andrew Vine weaves together interviews with Canberra’s crew and troops who sailed on her, with previously unpublished archives, and brings to light this remarkable episode of modern war of an epic tale how a luxury liner went into the heart of battle, and ordinary men and women found themselves on an adventure both terrifying and unforgettable!

This book has many revelations and it is thus informative and an exciting book to read, especially for those who have sailed on Canberra or those who simply admired and loved this great ship.

I highly recommend this exciting book as it is a must read and not just for those who admire the SS Canberra, but for all ship lovers!

Click HERE for a £20.00 Hardback 320 pages - Or Click HERE for £9.99 Paperback.

The links above are direct to Aurum Press, and ssmaritime is not associated and I do not receive a commission

In fact they are un-aware that I have this online!

Early on Sunday July 11, 1982 Canberra’s company a wake up call by the means of loud Reveille over ship's circuits for this was the day Canberra was arriving home from her War duties. She reached the Solent and she headed for her berth, being 106-berth as aircraft overflew her in a welcoming gesture. The ship was also briefly joined by the HRH the Prince of Wales together with other dignitaries who arrived by helicopter to the amidships flight deck. Whilst on the forward flight deck, the Royal Marines Band played, as the Canberra was surrounded by more and more, small boats, fire tugs, passenger craft and all kind of vessels that had come out to greet England’s maritime Heroes the Ship and its Gallant Crew!

Canberra comes home from a war looking a little worn out

Photographer unknown – Please see the Photo notes at the bottom of the page

Looking at her, the Canberra did look a rather tired ship, as she was badly rust-streaked, however on board there was a happy and a festive feel around the ship as all aboard who were free to do so, clambered along the railings from bow to stern, top to bottom of the ship, wherever there was a vantage point. This included, sitting on top of lifeboats to hanging from gun placements. It was wonderful, for whenever Canberra’s great steam whistle boomed out; there would be a long chorus of ship horns, hooters and whistles heard from the massive flotilla that surrounded the Canberra and ships along the shoreline. Whilst tied to railings there were large handmade banners as well as those that were especially held up for the benefit of the TV cameras. Whilst ashore from every vantage point, it is said that there were well over 120,000 people awaiting the Canberra’s return home, with everyone waving and cheering as they were happy to see her come safely home!

Then as the Canberra neared her berth, an amazing 35,000 people had passed through the dock gates and there were many more to be seen along the quaysides, for obviously there were many relatives of returning soldiers and other crew and staff members all waving flags as well as sobbing away, but in happiness. Soon enough the Band of the Royal Marines began to play “Land of Hope & Glory” as Canberra neared to berth 106, to the accompaniment of 2,500 marines and the many singing along ashore, it was a dazzling experience!

Canberra had been at sea for a good 94 days and during this time she had amazingly steamed a good 25,245 miles without a single mechanical fault worthy of mention, and she carried thousands of troops into battle, as well as repatriated over 4,000 prisoners of war, in addition she was able to treat a good 172 wounded soldiers and sailors. And during all of this, Canberra that had been given the nickname the “Big White Whale” was winning the hearts of Great Britain.

Finally SS Canberra docked and at 11 AM her gangways were swung into position and by 2 PM everyone had come ashore and the Canberra lay completely empty and she would soon be made ready to head for a sixty-three day refit in July/August, which would be the most extensive refit she ever had since she was completed in 1961, for it would prepare her for the next stage of her cruising life!

This extensive refit, which was done by Vosper’s in Southampton, involved around 3,000 tasks that included of course the removal of the two helicopter decks and other RASA equipment and restoring the original forward deck as well as the Bonito Pool and surrounding sun decks, etc. It was decided that there would be a complete overhaul of the main machinery and the replacement of a great deal of auxiliary items, as well as updating all passenger accommodations and public areas!

On August 9, the Canberra was entered the “King George V” Dry-Dock where she remained for three weeks. It was here where the moving of the heavy flight decks were removed and Canberra’s underwater work with her hull needing to be cleaned and given new coating of anti-fouling paint, as well have the ship completely repainted top to bottom!

Canberra is seen in the KGV Dry-Dock just before she is repainted

Photographer unknown – Please see the Photo notes at the bottom of the page

Once her extensive two month refit was completed with the Canberra coming out of it like a brand new ship, both outside and also inside, as her interiors had an amazing amount of work done, for it had really been worn in such a short time, thus a huge refit was required! But the shinning new looking SS Canberra returned to civilian service, and due to her role in the Falklands War she had become even more popular with the British public and also with the Australian’s. This clearly showed in advance ticket sales when her new schedules were released that the SS Canberra was once again a big hit!

Back to Service with a Gala Departure:

Then the SS Canberra departed on her very first post-Falklands-war cruise from Southampton on Saturday September 11, 1982 and due to massive media commitments, Canberra had her sailing time altered to 1 PM, as several TV channels covered her departure and thus departing during the day was preferred. Canberra’s departure was indeed a gala one much like her recent heroic return, for again thousands of spectators came to see her off as they lined the shores whilst others took to small pleasure craft, excursion vessels and even an historic Paddle Steamer Waverly would escort her. Aboard her passengers joyfully lined the ships decks and as Canberra slowly departed from her berth the Royal Marines Commando Forces band played a variety of suitable items commemorating Canberra’s time at the Falklands.

Canberra seen in the Solent September 11, 1982 on her first cruise after her refit

Photograph by the late Jason B. Longman U.K.

Her cruises continued with great success as did her 1983 “World Voyage” that was booked out with British passengers, but as always, also there were usually some Dutch, German, American, and of course a good number of Australians and a few New Zealand’s, who would either sail from Southampton to New Zealand or Australia, or from their country to the UK! The Europeans would do the round trip, and the Americans would do the sector and get off somewhere in the USA.

An excellent photo of this fine ship by Tim Webb

In 1994 the Canberra would undertake in a short, but a very special event, for 1994 just happened to be the 50th.anniversary of the Allied landings at Normandy. In order to commemorate this event, the Royal British Legion decided to charter the SS Canberra in order that veterans and their families would be able to board her and participate in the event. Canberra departed on Saturday June 4 to take part in the Spithead Review by the Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II early the next morning Sunday June 5.

A postcard showing the SS Canberra and the HMY Britannia on the Spithead (Solent) also the QE2 in the background

In addition there were many small craft on the occasion of the 50th.Anniversarry of D-Day on June 5, 1994

Following the fleet review the SS Canberra sailed towards the French coast and Commodore Ian Gibb held a remembrance service around the Bonito Pool for the veterans and their families, whilst a Lancaster bomber flew overhead and dropped a good 850,000 poppies. Many said it was without a doubt one of the most moving experience of their lives! Of course the QE2 and the Royal Yacht was also in the flotilla and they were a wonderful sight to behold!

World Voyages and New Ships:

The SS Canberra having proved to be a most beautiful and a comfortable ship to travel on continued to cruise out of the Southampton as well undertake her very popular and usually booked out “World Voyages” in January. P&O decided that with the grand old SS Oriana now long gone that they did need to build a new ship and out of their carefully laid plans came a new MV Oriana, which commenced sailing in 1995, This ship proved to have an efficient power plant and thus she would prove to be more profitable, thus those in the trade and I know many past passengers, realised that the time would have come that even the wonderful and much loved Canberra would have to be replaced, for she was certainly not an inexpensive ship to operate, to say the least!

MV Oriana made her first “World Voyage” in 1996, although I did not sail on her until a good nine years later in 2005 when I boarded her from my home port of Brisbane in February 2005 and sailed to Southampton via Asia and the Suez, and I sailed on her again in 2008 from Brisbane but this time south around the south of Australia then north via Asia and continued down via the Indian Ocean Islands to South Africa, and up the Atlantic to Southampton England. I do have to say that I did enjoy the Oriana as a ship very much considering she is a ship with many fine and traditional internal touches!

MV Oriana seen at anchor at the Great barrier Reef Australia during my Voyage Brisbane to Southampton in 2008 and same again in 2008

Photograph by and ? Reuben Goossens

With the MV Oriana sailing on her maiden “World Voyage” westward, and the Canberra sailing eastward in 1996, I decided that I would join the Canberra’s “World Voyage” that departed Southampton January 8 and headed to Sydney arriving February 26, sailing via South Africa, then to Asia, down to Fremantle and to Sydney. From there she headed across to New Zealand, after which she headed via the Pacific, USA the Panama Canal to the UK. The truth is that I had the feeling at the time that this could have been her last world voyage, but as it turned out, she had just one more left in her!


For a brief review and photographs of my 1996 cruise on the SS Canberra see the Link at the bottom of the Page!

Then on June 25, 1996 the dreaded announcement came from P&O that the SS Canberra would be retired from service on September 30, 1997, and that Canberra would be replaced by the MV Star Princess, having been fully refurbished as a genuine P&O ship and renamed “Arcadia.” But, this was certainly not the kind of news that anybody who ever sailed on this great white ship wanted to hear, but we just had to face up with the facts!

Canberra’s Final Year:

The Australian “1997 World Voyages” Brochure Cover 

In the evening of Monday January 6, 1997 the much loved SS Canberra departed Southampton and she headed for Sydney sailing via; Palma Majorca, Piraeus Greece, Haifa Israel, Port Said Egypt, Transit the Suez Canal, Aqaba Jordan, Bombay India, Port Klang Malaysia, Singapore, Kota Kinabalu Malaysia, Hong Kong, Bali Indonesia, Darwin Australia, then heading for the Great Barrier Reef (in transit) bound for Brisbane and arriving in Sydney on Saturday February 22.

Her arrival was on a beautiful warm and sunny morning with people lining the shores of Sydney harbour awaiting the Canberra as she made her final triumphant entry into one of the most beautiful harbours in the world. Fire tugs awaited her as well as small craft and she was honoured with huge water sprays on both sides as she came close to the Sydney Opera House and it was a grandiose sight indeed!

Please Note: All photographs below of SS Canberra final arrival and departure to Sydney on February 22 & 23, 1997

by and ? Reuben Goossens


SS Canberra’s triumphant arrival to Sydney on February 22, 1997

Photograph by and ? Reuben Goossens

On her port side there were only four banners or flags, whilst on her starboard, being her berthing side, there were dozens of hand made banners and professional flags hanging from her Promenade and Games Decks! As can be seen on the two photographs I took when I wend shipside.

The Canberra having just berthed at the International Passenger Terminal, Circular Quay Sydney

Photograph by and ? Reuben Goossens


Another wonderful photo of the Great White Dame berthed at Circular Quay on February 22, 1997

Photograph by and ? Reuben Goossens



Above & below: It is obvious that passengers have been busy in the arts and crafts class making banners for their arrival in Sydney

Photograph by and ? Reuben Goossens


Whilst Canberra was in Sydney, I had been invited on board by P&O’s Promotional Department and I given one of the by then extremely rare “Canberra Farewell World Cruise 1997” Cap’s. I was told that they had already been sold out on board and that sadly no further supplies would be available. In addition, later P&O sent me a framed print of their special commemorative painting of the great SS Canberra.

This is my Canberra Farewell World Cruise 1997 Cap and it is seen with the commemorative painting of the Canberra

Photograph by and ? Reuben Goossens

SS Canberra remained in Sydney overnight, but then at 6.30 PM on Sunday the 23rd.she departed Sydney for the final time and she was about to continue her return leg of her very last “World Voyage.” There was no doubt that Sydney put on a massive show of support, as there were around a half a million people or more that had come out to say goodbye to the great white ship. Enthusiasts were simply located everywhere, from the large viewing platform on the Passenger Terminal, or along the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but also at the very top of the Bridge, as people had paid for a special “Bridge Climb” for Canberra’s departure. People also covered every space around and on the terraces of the Sydney Opera House. Then there were countless thousands of people lined along the shores of Sydney Harbour for the many long kilometres in fact as far as Sydney Heads, and even the many parks and islands that Canberra had to pass on the way to the Heads were completely crammed with well-wishers.

In addition, there were hundreds of pleasure craft and many chartered vessels that would follow her, but also “Sydney Ferries” had added special “Farewell Canberra Voyages” that came complete with food and drinks laid on. This is something very new for Sydney Ferries as it was something they had normally never done! Thus, I decided to take one of the traditional Ferries, and it would follow the Canberra as far as it was allowed for Sydney Heads it self is always out of bounds for it can be too rough!

Canberra’s final departure day and many come to see the beautiful ship

Photograph by and ? Reuben Goossens


All photographs were taken by me from the Ferry!


A fine view of the Canberra with the Sydney Harbour Bridge partially behind her stern and the city centre


I merged two images together to make one making I believe a good view of staff

having released the hundreds of balloons from her top and aft decks!


Although I did take further photographs, but this is a wonderful stern view

of her - Thus I will use this image as my “Farewell my beloved Canberra Photograph”

Once she passed through Sydney Heads into the Ocean, she turned north and sailed directly for Suva - Fiji & Yasawa-I-Rara, Honolulu & Lahaina - Hawaii, Vancouver - Canada. San Francisco - USA, Acapulco - Mexico, then once she had transited the Panama Canal she headed for Bonaire - the Dutch Antilles, Grenada, Barbados, Madeira and she completed her very last ever World Voyage in Southampton arriving on Monday April 7, 1997.

Canberra’s Replacement Ship:

With Canberra’s final 1997 “World Voyage” having passed, I decided to follow up on her replacement and the replacement ship had been named as being the MV Arcadia (3) and thus I decided to book a southbound sector on her maiden 1998 “World Voyage.”

The truth is that I already had an attachment to this ship, considering that she was built as the very last of the super luxurious 5 Star Sitmar Cruise Ships and she was to be the luxurious MV Sitmar FairMajesty in 1987.

This is what the beautiful grand MV Sitmar FairMajesty would have looked like had she sailed as a Sitmar Cruises’ ship!

However, prior to completion in 1988 Sitmar was taken over by P&O and she was transferred to Princess Cruises and was renamed “Star Princess.” However in 1996 with the upcoming demise of the Canberra, she was transferred to P&O UK who gave her a comprehensive P&O style refurbishment. She now featured a great deal of elegant timber veneers, grand pillars and even the beautiful Canoe originally located in Canberra’s Pacific Dining Room was relocated in Arcadia’s Dining room, In addition Arcadia also had a Canberra Room packed with SS Canberra items and some fine pieces of memorabilia, including a fine large model of the Canberra!

The Canoe from Canberra’s Pacific restaurant is seen in the Arcadia’s dining Room

Photograph by and ? Reuben Goossens

But sadly no matter how magnificent her interiors were, and they were indeed by far superior to Canberra, yet the MV Arcadia only made several “World Voyages” for the problem was that she was simply not popular. The question begs why? The truth is that passengers felt that the ship was just “not suitable for the long voyages,” although she was very popular indeed whenever operating on shorter cruises!  

Obviously, passengers had become used to the abundance of public venues on board the SS Oriana, SS Canberra for these were both two-class ships and once they became One Class Cruise Ships, they offered additional venues. However, the new MV Oriana also was generous in her public rooms and facilities as P&O soon learned their lesson with the MV Arcadia which was indeed sadly short of several lounges. She served P&O UK well, but in 2010 she was transferred to P&O Cruises Australia and renamed MV Pacific Pearl.

MV Arcadia on her maiden “World Voyage” is seen in Sydney on February 24, 1998

Photograph by and ? Reuben Goossens

For interior photographs & further details of my Arcadia voyage CLICK HERE

SS Canberra’s Final Cruise:

Having returned to Southampton she commenced a series of cruises and each one was a huge success, but then came the time for her last cruise, which was suitably themed as the “Farewell Cruise” and understandably it was booked out long in advance with the majority of passengers being Canberra’s past passengers!

There was no doubt that the “Farewell Cruise” was something that not a single soul who sailed will ever forget, as the 20-day cruise was a sort of a “Voyage of Commemoration” and of “Celebration” with everyone on board reliving Canberra’s long and successful life, therefore the voyage, unlike some other ships previously was certainly not just a mournful goodbye cruise. All passengers made the very best of this final “screwdriver” cruise as some called it!

Once on board in your cabin there was a copy of your Farewell Cruise Log!

At the Index at the bottom of the page you can enter and read this “4 page Final Cruise Log”

? Part of the ssmaritime Collection

The Mayflower Cruise Terminal was packed with spectators, all taking as many photographs as possible and waving their banners or flags. Whilst there were many homemade banners and flags hanging from the ship’s railings and awaiting her there was a flotilla of small boats and passenger ferries filled the upper reaches of Southampton Water ready to follow her.

On September 10, 1997 SS Canberra slowly moved from her berth to the musical accompaniment of a marching band, whilst thousands of coloured balloons were released from her upper decks, whilst daytime-fireworks were launched from the roof of the 106-berth shed. In addition, Fire tugs and a flotilla of craft escorted Canberra down river as she set sail on her final commercial voyage. On board the passengers all seemed to be in good sprits and ship was ready for quite a party, and I am sure that the Century Bar at night and the Cricketers Club were very popular spots on board.

The cruise took the last passengers to the Mediterranean as far as Haifa in Israel. When she departed Gibraltar for the last time on September 13, many small yachts joined the Canberra as she sailed out of the harbour with then blowing their whistles and hooters, in addition a Royal Navy warship gave Canberra a water salute from her deck hoses and a moving exchange of whistle’s ensued. Everywhere Canberra went, she was given the kind of send-off that a great ship like her deserved!

A postcard purchased on board Canberra during her “Farewell Cruise” - September 10 to 30, 1997

Provided by the P&O Cruises

On September 25, at Cannes both the Canberra and the newer MV Oriana were placed at anchor and passengers were given permission to take Canberra’s tenders and go and visit the new P&O flagship the Oriana.

Later that day, the famed the “Golden Cockerel” that was transferred from the old SS Oriana to the Canberra was again due to be moved. This is a large metal silhouette of a cockerel that sits on a pole and it has always been traditionally located on the fastest ship of the P&O fleet, therefore, with the end being near, it was due to be handed over to the MV Oriana (with a top speed of 30 knots, with a cruising speed of 27 knots) in a ceremony that was eagerly observed by passengers of both ships, and the accompaniment was by Gerard Kenny who sang the song he had written especially for the SS Canberra!

Regardless the positive attitude during the cruise, but towards the conclusion of the voyage some sadness certainly did hit most on board and I do mean passengers and crew! People could be seen visiting the various lounges, bars and popular spots on board the ship that would have been a favourite venue, or a place out on deck. It came to a point that on the evening before returning to Southampton, tears could be seen in a good number of eyes out on deck, as well at the Century Bar and other venues, as people were reminiscing their many joyful experiences on board the wonderful Canberra that would sadly come to a permanent end tomorrow morning!

September 30, 1997 - The End had Arrived:

Sadly, the end of the cruise had finally arrived, as SS Canberra arrived for her final return to Southampton and as it turned out it was to be even more spectacular than the one experienced during her great send off almost three weeks ago and even her return from the Falklands. As it turned out the early morning was very cold and rather foggy. However, Canberra’s usual early morning arrival had been purposely delayed in order for her to dock at a suitable time for the countless spectators but more importantly the mass of media coverage. It had been decided by P&O directors that this had to be as a happy memory for everyone for it would be the last memory all those who had sailed on her as well as just adored her from afar would now have of SS Canberra as she still moved herself into her berth using her thrusters.

On the way to the Cruise Terminal she encountered ships and boats of all sizes, from tiny dinghies to the Shieldhall and Waverley. She was escorted by HMS Cornwall who took up position astern. Together, everyone made their way up Southampton Water, all the time the fog going and visibility improving. Fire tugs joined the foray, in addition there was a wonderful flypast by a single Canberra bomber and Gazelle helicopters in a V formation. The Red Devils, the display team of the Parachute Regiment dropped into Mayflower Park, whist the ship was given a gun salute as she passed.

The Canberra is entering Southampton Water as she concludes her very last ever Cruise

Provided by the P&O Cruises


Canberra is seen in Southampton Water with a fire tug entertaining with her high

water spray, welcoming SS Canberra back home for the very last time ever!

From a feature in a UK Magazine


Canberra’s final triumphant return to Southampton, as she berths at the Mayflower Cruise Terminal for the final time!

Provided by the P&O Cruises

As she was berthing, hundreds of coloured balloons were released from Canberra’s top decks and it was a wonderful sight. She finally came alongside and made fast her lines to the music of a marching band. Then it was all finished, as there were many listening to VHF radio’s all around and they were all awaiting Captain Rory Smith command with the words, “Finish with engines” and upon hearing this there was the sounds of hundreds of boats blowing their whistles and horns, thus an amazing spectacle!

Late in the next day the Canberra was forced to move as she had to make room for the Oriana which was due, and thus she was moved to berths 38/39 being the home of the QE2, and these berths would not be in use for a few weeks, thus Canberra could await her fate there. Once safely alongside and a telephone landline was installed, the next thing was to get everyone to the hard work, for the ship had to be completely be de-stored. The process of de-storing had all been carefully pre-planned and a considerable time in advance and the de-store schedule estimated completion by October 10, with the passenger gangways and fire detection equipment being the very last items to go ashore!

The carefully pre-planned de-storing was completed according schedule precisely on the predetermined day, October 10, and on that very same day, in what was considered to be a cold and certainly a most callous manner that P&O announced in a Press Statement, that the Canberra would be sailing that very same evening to a Pakistan, where she would be broken up. The most loved English ship ever, was suddenly treated like a piece of rubbish! They could have done it in a more caring way, they used her to the very last, milking her for the media, but once out of the limelight P&O did not care less, but her past passengers did note it!

A very lonely Canberra seen at berths 38-39 on October 9, 1997

Photographer unknown – Please see the Photo notes at the bottom of the page

Obviously, the reactions to the announcement were mixed to say the least. There were a the modernists who thought it was a fitting end and that it would be better than what had happened to the SS Oriana, that became a failed tourist attraction. But the vast majority felt that the Canberra still had life in her. In Australia there was a genuine attempt to have her as an Hotel in Sydney, considering she was named after the country’s Capital and launched by the wife of the then Prime Minister, Dame Pattie Menzies. But there was no support by the authorities, who are the usual naysayers, unlike the Dutch authorities, who now have the great ss Rotterdam operating as a fine Hotel, and dining venue, etc!

Then came the thought of a world where the Canberra just no longer existed. P&O themselves were obviously in turmoil over the decision to scrap what was probably the most popular ship in history. They had already agreed a price and trading restrictions with the American “Premier Cruise Line,” but suddenly P&O pulled out of the deal at the 11th hour, for they claimed that they never allowed one of their ships to sail for another company, which was not entirely true. But no, she would be broken up no matter what, for that is P&O Policy and we are true to that, we are British and we will never sell ourselves out! Excuse me, you did that in April 2003 when P&O sold the whole company out to the Yanks, and I cannot think of anything worse and suddenly you became “Carnivalised” for the budget Carnival Cruises took P&O & Princess Cruises over, now is that Genuine P&O Policy?

The Voyage of Doom!

Her departure was unlike her previous sailing, no massive cheering crowds. It all occurred under the cover of darkness at 9 PM on Friday October 10, Canberra was under the command of my dear friend Captain Mike Carr, on board there was just a skeleton crew of 72 and she was to quietly slip away from the QE2 berth and quickly go out of sight. But that would not happen, for the Canberra just would not move on her own, like she was holding on to the wharf and thus she two tugs were required to assist her from the berth by some force.

I was told the following by my dear friend; “Canberra during those miserable days being berthed at 38/39 had become a huge embarrassment and obviously a most awkward Public Relations problem for P&O and it seemed that the ship had felt the pain, and thus she would just not move, and that is why we seemed to have this problem. It was almost ghost like!

Ashore there were some sixty people who had been there most of the day, but then suddenly just before departure a good number of past crew members headed towards the ship, all cheering, whistling and calling out to their friends still on board.

Mike Carr and Radio Officer Freddie Lloyd had arranged for a cassette of bagpipe music to be played on the deck circuits as the ship sailed, in order that it could be heard, songs were the strains of Flowers of the Forest, Dark Isle and Flower of Scotland. Her departure was a heart wrenching moment for those few who witnessed it, on board as well as those ashore! As soon as the Canberra was mid channel, Captain Carr gave three long blasts on her whistle and then made headway down Southampton Water for the final time. Passing Fawley she was given a grand water salute and received messages and whistles from many other ships, whilst cars along the riverbank flashed their headlights on and off for a very long time.

With Canberra underway and heading for Pakistan one of the first things Captain Mike Carr did was move every crewmember into the best passenger cabins with telephones, whilst the officers remained in their own accommodations. In addition, the Bonito Club became the official wardroom for the all the ship's company and the pool was kept full and a water slide was installed, it had been built out of the main laundry trough. As Canberra headed toward the Suez Canal at a steady 15 knots, the crew work was mostly securing the passenger accommodations in order to reduce the possibility of any fires.

SS Canberra passed the Oriana that was bound for Vigo around 2 AM on October 13. Then on October 19, she anchored off Port Said where she would be awaiting orders, for although Pakistan had been originally announced, it still was not decided whether the ship would end her days in India or Pakistan. In the evening the Suez Canal Pilot came on board and Canberra commenced her very last transit of the Canal she had sailed through so many times before, but in those days she had been packed with happy passengers. The following day Canberra anchored in Suez Bay where she bunkered and Captain Carr awaited news regarding her sale.

The official Bill of Sale was signed on October 21 between P&O and the buyers of the ship a Germany Company Eckhardt Marine GMBH of Hamburg and they would then resell her to the highest bidder, bet it the Indianan’s or Pakistani’s. The Pakistani’s offered the best price and was willing to stand by P&O agreement!

With the Bill of Sale completed Canberra weighed anchor and she heading to the port of choice being Karachi for she had been sold to the Pakistani breakers for $5,640,818.

Captain Carr, officers and crew made the best of their final days on board the ship for they all were rather attached this amazing and wonderful ship! But all too soon Pakistan came into sight!

At 7.30 AM on October 28, Canberra dropped anchor off Karachi. The next day, representatives of her new owners boarded for meetings as well to inspect the ship. The next day, this stop-start voyage continued when the beaching party came aboard, and Canberra headed for Gadani Beach where she arrived at 11 PM before anchoring for the night.

On October 31, 1997 the ships draught was trimmed in order for the angle of her bow to be ready for the beaching at Gadani. Then steaming at almost at top speed, accompanied throughout the ship by those bagpipes played at full volume over the open deck speakers the Canberra was partially beached at 9.40 AM. Early in the afternoon all of the P&O the crew disembarked the ship for the very last time.

However, it seemed that Canberra’s very deep draft was going to prove to be a real problem for her new owners, although she had been beached, but she was much too far out for her to be broken up successfully. A number of attempts were made to winch the Canberra closer inshore, but she proved to be a stubborn ship and remained fast were she was!

A sad image of what was a great ship seen at Gadani beach Pakistan

Photographer unknown – Please see the Photo notes at the bottom of the page

The dismantling of the Canberra had been expected to take around three months, however it took over twelve months, and it has been said that the breakers actually lost money scrapping this great white dame of the sea and that is what I call a fitting end as far as I am concerned, for she did not deserve to have those who destroyed her to profit from it, and that pleased me!


Today, the beautiful sleek SS Canberra is gone and I believe that there certainly will not be another ship that will ever be quite like her. But how wonderful it is to have all those wonderful memories of this great Liner and later she became a wonderful happy Cruise Ship!

Remembering SS Canberra, the Great Liner seen at Sea


Farewell Canberra, you have given me and so many who have sailed on her a life full of joy and happiness!

Please Note: The SS Canberra INDEX below is still incomplete as there are many further pages to come, such as Canberra’s early interiors and her first 1961 First and Tourist Class Deck Plans. Then there are her One Class 1973 Deck Plans. In addition I have a review of my cruise on the Canberra in 1996 which is combined with an extensive photo album of the Canberra at the time, which is combined with her 1996 Deck Plan. For interest, each deck plan can be clicked and a full size plane will be revealed for better details to be seen! I expect there be at least 6 or seven pages when completed!

SS Canberra INDEX:

Page One:     Canberra in building and history 1961 to 1963.

Page One A: Canberra’s Illustrations and Photo Page of 1961.

Page One B:  Canberra 1961 Provisional Deck Plans - First & Tourist Class.

Page Two:    Canberra the Cruise ship & her Falklands days, to her end in 1997.

Page Two B: Canberra 1973 & 1996 Deck Plans - One Class.

Page A:         Four Page interiors of Canberra’s Final Cruise Log.

Page B:         The Bill of Sale of the Canberra to Pakistani breakers.



A MovieTone Newsreal of the launching of the SS Canberra

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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.

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