Sitmar Line - SS Castel Felice History - Page 1

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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 I am NOT associated with any cruise or shipping companies or travel/cruise agencies or any other organisations! The author has been in the passenger shipping industry since May 1960 and is now semi-retired, but continues to write article on classic liners and cruise ships in order to better to inform cruise and ship enthusiasts for their pleasure!


The Sitmar Ships

Part Two

Note the crew cleaning the ships funnel

Please Note: Unless marked otherwise, photographs and images on this page are from the authors’ private collection

Introduction to “The Sitmar Ships”:

Over the years I have received unbelievable numbers of requests to add a feature on all the Sitmar Liners and Cruise Ships. Well, it has taken a considerable time, but in this work, I will present a short history on each ship, together with a number of photographs. Therefore, I hope and pray that the following pages will have you reliving your Sitmar experience or possibly experiences, be it sailing to or from Europe/UK to New Zealand or Australia or the America’s on a line voyage or later as a passenger on one of their many cruises!

I certainly have enjoyed writing and compiling this very special feature on a company that I greatly love and have sailed with many times!

Thus now go and read all about … The Sitmar Ships.

Reuben Goossens.

TN Castel Felice, ex Kenya Built in 1930

It is obvious that although at 12,150 GRT (Gross Registered Tons) Sitmar’s Castel Felice was a relatively small liner, nut she had excellent facilities and certainly a most pleasant, if not a somewhat classic profile, which was a pleasing one!

However, she was originally built in 1930 for the British India Company as the Kenya by “A. Stephen & Sons, Glasgow and was she launched on August 27, 1930. This ship was designed to operate on the company’s Indian Ocean service from Bombay to East Africa and Durban. As she was completed just four months later, the SS Kenya commenced her maiden voyage on December 18, 1931 and she headed for Bombay.

She offered sixty-six berths in First Class and Hundred and twenty in Second Class both having pleasant public facilities and ample deck spaces. In addition to this, there was also space for up to 1,700 Third Class, come deck passengers. This area offered the most basic of accommodations indoors as well a deck spaces, and was only sold only to Indian as well as African passengers many who would sail on short voyages.

Seen as the British India Company - SS Kenya

In 1940 she was seconded and she was refitted as the troopship HMS Kenya, but later she was again refitted as an infantry-landing vessel, and was renamed HMS Hydra in 1941. Then she was commissioned into the Royal Navy on July 23, 1942 to became an Infantry landing ship and she was renamed HMS Keren due to a naval ship, a cruiser that was already in operation in the navy with her previous name. She was fitted with 22 anti-aircraft guns and was one six-inch and one three-inch guns, and she was able to carry 1,296 soldiers, and she would have a crew of 297. Located on each side of the ship were five landing craft that hung along the side of the HMS Keren.

HMS Keren is seen as an armed “Infantry Landing Ship”

After the war British India decided to sell the ship and she was sold in April 1946 to the Ministry of Transport however, in August 1948 she was laid up in Holy Loch.

A New Life for the British Ship:

Early in 1949 the Vlasov Group commenced negotiations to purchase the SS Keren, ex Kenya. But sadly during the negotiations, on February 19, Keren broke loose from her moorings during a storm and she was badly damaged. Having been refloated she was taken to Glasgow to be repaired and was renamed Kenya again. But she remained laid up at Rothesay Bay, and she was renamed Keren once again, yet later that very same year her original name Kenya was restored to her, why all the name changes nobody knows?

In 1950 she was sold and registered in Panama for the Alva Steamship Co and was she was renamed “Fairstone,” at least this was a Sitmar style name, but it would be changed in due course, But in June 1950 and registered in Italy by Sitmar Line in October 1950 and named once more the SS Kenya. Then in March 1951 she once again became the “Keren,” but this time for the very last time.

On October 15 she was towed to Falmouth where initial rebuilding commenced. She departed undertow on March 10, 1951, heading for Antwerp, where further work was undertaken. Finally, in August that year she headed for Genoa again undertow, where she received her final special Italian touch from her owners where she became a good looking ship with many new and modern comforts on board.

Here we see Sitmar Line’s first artist impression postcard of their new SS Castel Felice in 1952

Both her profile and interiors saw countless changes. Her funnel was shortened, a new shapely raked bow was fitted and her promenade deck was extended far aft. Her main masts were removed whilst a new mast atop the bridge and King posts with derricks were added. Her interiors were completely remodelled, with many new cabins added in her completely remodelled hold spaces. When the ship was complete, she was able accommodate up to 1,540 passengers, with 596 in Cabin Class and 944 in Third Class (mostly for immigrants).

With her bright new look, this gleaning white liner with her yellow funnel and the famous Sitmar blue “V” logo was finally officially renamed the SS “Castel Felice” in September 1952 and she was made ready for her maiden voyage.

SS Castle Felice departed Genoa on October 6, 1952, for her maiden voyage to Australia, arriving in Fremantle (Perth) on November 1, she then arriving in Melbourne on November 5, and Sydney on the 7th. Upon her return to Genoa she was placed on the Italy South American service commencing in January 1953, then in 1954 she made several voyages to Canada and the United States. Later in 1954 she made her second voyage to Australia.

Here we see the Castel Felice as she was first rebuilt and refitted in 1952 in Genoa


Promenade Deck


Forward Dinning Room

Early 1955 air-conditioning was installed and accommodations were altered to accommodate 28 First Class, and 1,173 Tourist Class passengers. Upon completion the new look Sitmar Line flagship departed Genoa on February 26, for her third Australian voyage, after which she retuned to her previous South American service.

A gleaming white Castel Felice is seen berthed in Southampton


The Castel Felice is seen arriving in the port of Adelaide, South Australia

Note that her far forward lifeboats had been removed as she was due for a refit

Photograph by & Mark Churchman

1957 Refit:

Late in 1957 Sitmar obtained the lucrative contract to transport assisted migrants from Britain to Australia. She was given another refit, including having her forward promenade deck being partially enclosed making her ready for her new role and commenced duties on the Australian service.

A postcard of the Castle Felice after her 1957 refit


A Luncheon Menu from Thursday November 21, 1957

Provided by Mr. Robert Kenneth Williams


New 1957 schedules - Australia to UK and back


Mini Photo Album


 The Main Social Hall


 Enjoying the ships ban in the Social Hall


The Tavern 


 Lido Bar 


 Forward Dinning Room


Swimming Pool 


Children’s’ play room could also be used as the Cinema


The author’s item of memorabilia a cigarette lighter from the Castle Felice

From the author’s private collection

A tragic event takes place in Naples in 1965!

The then eleven-year-old Chris Hemmings sailed on Sitmar Line's Castel Felice with his family early 1965 from Australia to the UK departing from Melbourne, sailing via Auckland, Wellington then back to Australia via Brisbane to Singapore, Colombo, Aden, Port Said, Naples, and Gibraltar to Southampton. Chris tells us that there was tragic incident that took place during the voyage for her Captain, Captain Avolio Matarese sadly passed away of a severe heart attack as the ship was departing the port of Naples and thus the Castel Felice had to return to her berth to offload the Captain's body and the company had to find a another Captain. The voyage from Melbourne to Southampton took about seven weeks.

I wish to thank Chris Hemmings for providing this above short story of his voyage to the UK, although be it a rather sad story, yet it is part of this fine ship's long history!

A wonderful Photo of the SS Castel Felice at sea



The Steve Mercer Story:

“I sailed on the TV Castle Felice from Auckland to Southampton November/December of 1965 for 6 weeks for just NZ125. It was an eventful voyage starting with a storm across the Tasman. I was one of only a handful of passengers able to get up on day two and I have some wonderful memories of huge seas, empty decks but the band named Atanasio and his Happy Boys, were still playing, but mostly to an empty Belvedere Lounge for the afternoon tea dance and I recall a little lady one morning at the refreshment urn and then she had to balance her cups as the ship levelled between rolls, and then having to dash along the promenaded deck until the ship lurched the other way, it was some sight, but she got there!

The Castel Felice was a wonderfully relaxed and such a happy ship with a most imposing tall and elegant looking captain. We particularly liked 'little things' that made it different. For example at midnight in the middle of a frantic dance if you put your hand out you might likely end up with a slice of hot pizza helpfully placed in it by a passing waiter.

Passengers were allowed to erect washing lines on the ship's prow so at times it looked more like a Chinese junk. Then there would be a heavy Italian voice over the loudspeaker warning all the “Laydees” that there was a rain shower approaching and to get the washing in. This was just absolutely priceless and that sort of thing would never happen these days!

On the negative side whilst we were in Aden, a hand grenade, which fortunately turned out to be a dud, was thrown on board and there was some panic amongst the passengers, soon a heavy British army and police contingent came on board to collect the evidence. But thankfully it all turned out to be a hoax.

Our call to Egypt and sailing through the Suez Canal raised a smile as well. Although the ship was full of British, New Zealand and Australians, the Egyptians obviously felt that the Italian ownership was far more important and that ideology continued right into Cairo. At the Continental hotel where we were to have lunch, believe it or not the meal started with pasta, but it was in an Egyptian-style! But pasta? On board there is a lot of pasta and it is superb, but we were looking forward to a change!

In my teens I started to use an 8mm camera and I filmed the entire six-week voyage on 8mm film, this includes lots of on-board footage which I watch with great fondness now and then.

On a final point I still have a number of menus from this wonderful and most memorable voyage.”

Steve Mercer - France.

Castel Felice remained on the Australian (including some visits to New Zealand) service until 1970 when sadly Sitmar Line lost their migrant contract to the Greek Chandris Lines. It was then decided that Castel Felice would be retired by the end of the year.

On August 15 of that year whilst the Castel Felice was berthed in Southampton, a fire broke out in part of her accommodations, and Sitmar decided not to repair the damage and kept the section where the fire damaged cabins were under lock and key.

Castel Felice is seen here during this final visit to Southampton in August 1970

Photograph by & J.K. Byass

With a slightly reduced number of passengers, SS Castel Felice departed on her final voyage to Australia, arriving in Sydney on Saturday September 26, 1970. She remained in Sydney for eleven days. Whilst there, her furniture, many fittings and her stores were removed from the ship, making her ready to sail to her Asian breakers with a minimum crew.

The wonderful, and much loved Sitmar liner, SS Castel Felice departed Sydney on Wednesday October 7, 1970 and she headed north for Kaohsiung in Taiwan, where she arrived at the ship breakers’ yard on Wednesday October 21, and soon breaking up of this 40 year old “Lady of the Sea” commenced. In those days 40 years was being a very old ship indeed, as in general most ships were being disposed of between 20 and maximum 30 years of age!

Memories of a Greatly Loved Sitmar Liner!


This is the very last postcard published by Sitmar Lines of the SS Castle Felice

There is no doubt that the SS Castel Felice will be fondly remembered, like many Italian ships of her day, for she had wonderful style and typical Italian finesse, which is remembered by thousands of her past passengers!


Kenya as built:

Built: 1930 Alexander Stephen & Sons Ltd., Govan, Scotland 

Yard: 529.

Official Nr: 162509 - Kenya.

Launched: August 27, 1930.

Tonnage: 9.890 GRT.

Length: 471.3ft - 143,65m.

Beam: 64.3ft – 19.6m.

Draught: 21.11ft - 6.7m.

Machinery: 2 X SR Steam Turbines, 9,610 SHP.

Screws: Twin.

Speed: 16 knots, 17 knots service speed, maximum

Other names: Kenya (1930), Hydra (1941), Keren (1941), Kenya (1949), Fairstone (1950), Kenya (1950), Keren (1951-52).

Castel Felice:

Tonnage: 12,150 GRT.

Length: 493ft – 150.3m.

Passengers: 596 Cabin Class & 944 Third Class.

. 1955 - 28 First Class & 1,173 Tourist Class.

1957 - 1,400 One-Class.



The Castel Felice INDEX:

Castel Felice-1 - History Page - This page.

Castel Felice-2 - Cabin Plan & the Robert Brinkhuis story 1965.

Castel Felice-3 - My 1957 voyage to Canada by W. D. Hempel.

Castel Felice-4 - The Williams family sail to Australia in 1957.

Castel Felice-4 - A family’s voyage to Australia - on another site!

Or Return to:…….The Sitmar Ships - INDEX - For the Other Sitmar Ships!




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I watched them come, I watched them go, and I watched them die.”




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