The history of the Chandris Lines SS Australia 1967 to her tragic end in 1994

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With Reuben Goossens

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

Please Note: All ssmaritime as well as my other related maritime & cruise sites are 100% non-commercial and privately owned sites. Be assured that I am NOT associated with any shipping or cruise companies or agencies or any other organisations! The author has been in the passenger shipping industry since May 1960, but although retired and unwell, I occasionally attempt to write an article now and then, in order to bring enjoyment and pleasure to ship enthusiasts past passengers and crew.

 

Inside front cover photo of SS Australis found in her official 1967 brochure

PLEASE NOTE: Photograph and Images on this SS America / Australis feature are from the author’s private collection or as noted

This page covers the second stage of the SS America life, for she was sold to become the much-loved Chandris Liner SS Australis. I will cover her glory years as wonderful Australis, which was a ship that I was very closely associated considering I worked with Chandris in Australia. However, the ships latter years were rather tragic to say the least. Of course, having had such a long life this great ship as time passed has had her great days, but also her sad ones and after she was sold she had a good number of names, but somehow she never relived her glory days of the SS America of 1940 to 1964 and SS Australis from 1964 to 1978. There after she became the SS America, SS Italis and there after the laid up Noga, the Alferdoss, concluding with a tragic final towing and tragedy named the American Star in 1994. She remained visible until the ocean finally had its way and today she has disappeared and only a small piece of steel may appear at a very low tide!

However, this page contains the complete story of this great ship after the days of the SS America, and I do know that countless thousands of people have many amazing memories of their voyage on the much loved SS Australis, I know, I certainly do!

Reuben Goossens.

Maritime Historian, Author & Lecturer & Cruise'n'Ship Reviewer.

Working & Involved for almost 60 years in the Passenger Shipping Industry.

 

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Part One

Chandris Lines

SS Australis

SS Australis takes to sea bound for Sydney

SS America was sold to Chandris Lines on October 5, 1964, and was handed over 12 days later when she was transformed externally with her funnels pained blue emblazoned with the famed Chandris large white X-. On the same day the America was renamed Australis. With the Greek flag flying from her stern, she departed New York on November 18, to the Chandris Shipyards at Piraeus to be converted to a liner for the UK to Australia and New Zealand service. Her accommodations were substantially increased now accommodating 2258 passengers in an all Tourist Class configuration. In addition both Upper and Main Decks were extended aft, replacing several Tourist Class lounges with cabins. In addition her hull was pained white with a blue ribbon.

The superb grand Ballroom

A postcard provided by past steward Amos Ramponi

 

The Smoke Room

A postcard provided by past steward Amos Ramponi

SS Australis departed Piraeus for her maiden voyage to Australia on August 21, 1965, sailing via the Suez Canal, and arriving at her destination, Sydney on September 15. She departed Sydney heading for Southampton, sailing via New Zealand and Tahiti, the Panama Canal, and Port Everglades. Her next voyage from Southampton to Australia was in reverse, sailing via the Panama Canal and returning to Southampton via the Suez Canal. Thereafter she sailed mostly to and from Australia via the Suez Canal until it was closed in 1967 due to the Middle East war and began sailing via Cape Town and Durban. SS Australis was the largest of all Chandris liner and she became a popular ship with Australians and New Zealanders. For this reason Chandris decided to commence operating cruises out of Australia during the summer of 1967.

A wonderful photograph of the SS Australis in Sydney in 1966

In 1968 several exterior changes were made, with her hull being painted a light grey, and her mainmast was removed. In 1967 she was reregistered in Panama, however, one year later Chandris Lines returned her to Greek registry.

The Australis is seen in Sydney directly after her 1968 refit

She is now has an aft funnel short signal mast on top of her aft funnel

 

SS Australis seen after the 1968 refit

 

1971 Chandris schedule

In 1970 Chandris obtained the much sought after contract to bring British migrants to Australia, however on October 22, 1970, whilst sailing between Auckland and Suva, a fire broke out that damaged around 40 cabins as well as the famed red and gold Ballroom. Whilst in Suva minor repairs were made and she was able to continue eight days later. She continued on her regular Southampton to Australia service (as well as cruise duties) from both Britain and her popular cruises from Australia of the Pacific and New Zealand.

One of my wonderful long time supporters and friend, Mr. Stan Evans enjoyed cruising on SS Australis and he kindly provided the following photographs of the ships taken during his cruises.

The four photographs below are all Stan Evans Newcastle Australia

 

The brass and glass doors with the side murals in the main Lounge as seen from the Mezzanine level above

 

How wonderful it is to see the *sheer of a fine classic liner, as seen here on Boat Deck

*The origin of building a sheer into large ships dates back to the era of small sailing vessels. They were built with the decks curving upwards at the bow and stern in order to increase stability by preventing the vessel from pitching up and down. This curve is called a “Sheer.” 

 Passengers are seen exploring the market stalls at Suva. In this Photograph she is all white,

and without her funnel extension, thus was taken during one of her earlier cruise seasons

 

Here we Stan standing on the wharf at the side of the SS Australis at Suva.

In this photograph we note that she has a grey hull, thus it must have been taken well after 1968!

And must have been at a much later date as she now had a new aft funnel extension

for smoke dispersion that could be raised as required

The four photographs shown above are all Stan Evans - Newcastle Australia 

She continued her voyages and cruises until she arrived in Sydney on December 17, 1977. She was scheduled to undertake another cruise, however this was suddenly cancelled, and she sailed for Auckland where she arrived on December 20. After her arrival she was laid up at Timaru, New Zealand.

 

An excellent model of the Chandris Lines S.S. Australis

 

A sad looking Australis is seen with her name painted out seen in New York - soon she will be renamed the America again

 

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Part Two

Venture Cruise Line

SS America

Chandris sold her to America Cruise Lines, thus, four months after her lay up SS Australis departed New Zealand for New York, arriving there on May 19, 1978. Her new owners placed her in dry-dock, where her hull was painted dark blue, as were her funnels but her band atop was pained red. Externally she looked a little like her original self. America Cruise Lines decided to restore her original name “America” once again, hoping to cash in on old-fashioned patriotism. However, she was not registered in the USA, but rather in Panama, and due to some confusion in regard the company’s name, they changed it to “Venture Cruise Line.”

Here is the SS America heading of on her first cruise on June 30, 1978, and she is looking good, but not is well on board!

On June 30, 1978, SS America departed New York for a mini cruise with 950 passengers on board. However, as renovations had not as yet been completed, a large team of workers remained on board to make her, well the only word I can use is “habitable.” Many passengers rebelled due to the ships poor condition and soon there was chaos on board. It was a very bad start for the new cruise venture, as passengers from the moment they boarded did not feel like the SS America was ready to sail. Six hours after her departure she made a U-Turn and headed back to New York and anchored off Staten Island where 250 unhappy passengers disembarked and taken ashore in the ships lifeboats.

Passengers stated that the America was filthy and that rubbish was scattered all over the ship, this included old mattresses, linen and bags full of rubbish etc. But they also stated; the worst thing was a stench just filled the ship. The bad odour was due to a countless number of blocked toilets on the lower decks, but worse still much of it also came from the ships galley.

There was no doubt, that by the time the Australis was sold she certainly was in a run down state, as Chandris had kept maintenance to a minimum during her last year, as they assumed she would be sold for scrap. Thus slowly her decks had been suffering as no corking or sanding had been done for some time and rust was also adding up in certain places, mostly out of passengers sight, but her forward “dummy” funnel rust was at its worst, and the list of problems on board was just endless. It is sad to say, but this does not seem like Chandris’ highpoint considering their past record as they always maintained their ships meticulously! However the truth is that Venture Shipping Line should have given the ship a full and an extended refit and a complete maintenance regime at a major shipyard before even considering to commence cruising.

From ashore SS America seemed to look fine

Upon her return three days later, she departed for her second cruise with 640 passengers on board, but it was decided during this cruise that due to the ongoing problems, all future cruises would be cancelled. Sadly the revival of the SS America proved to be a total disaster for Venture Cruise Lines who soon filed for bankruptcy.

SS America is seen from a stern view, but she is now awaiting to be sold

 

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Part Three

Chandris Cruises

SS Italis

SS Italis looking somewhat sad without her forward funnel

SS America was sold at auction back to Chandris who purchased her for just $1 million, being 4 million less then what they had sold her for just four months earlier. With a small number of crew on board she departed New York on September 6, 1978, bound for Piraeus, where Chandris gave her an extensive a refit making her ready to become a full time cruise ship. Her hull was repainted in a lighter shade of blue, which suited her, but sadly, this refit saw one other change to her once perfectly balanced external appearance, her badly rusted forward “dummy” funnel had to be removed, as it had become a danger due to the massive corrosion that had taken place over the years, something Chandris knew very well before they sold her. No, not all things about Chandris Lines in their latter years could be considered as being great. In the past I greatly respected Chandris as a company, having worked closely with them, having been their Queensland (Australia) General Sales Agent!

Upon completion, she was renamed Italis and she was now ready to commence Mediterranean cruises out of Genoa. She was marketed as the “Italian lady.” SS Italis departed Genoa on July 28, 1979, for her first cruise, but just two months later she was permanently withdrawn from service. She was laid up at Eleusis Greece. Her 1980 cruise schedule was transferred to her ex running mate, RHMS Ellinis.

After her second, very short career with Chandris, this once great liner would never carry passenger again, however, unlike other vintage ships in her position, amazingly she remained afloat for well over a decade, but it has to be said, throughout those years she was in a sad condition.

SS Italis seen laid up at Eleusis Greece

 

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Part Four

The Final Years

In May 1980, she was sold to the “Inter Commerce Corporation” for “Noga d'Importation et d'Exportation,” who renamed her Noga. But again she remained idle. In 1984 Mr. Wadie Nseir of Silver Moon Ferries Ltd purchased her and she was given an Arabic name Alferdoss, meaning “paradise.” She may well have been named “paradise,” but onboard it was more like hell, whilst she remained laid up. Interestingly, they never painted the name Alferdoss on her hull!

A sad looking Alferdoss is seen during a long lay-up near Piraeus in Sep 1987

She was so badly neglected that in October 1988 things had become so bad, that even one of her bilge pumps had rusted so badly, her engine room flooded resulting to the ship listing to port. It was decided that she had to be beached and there she could be pumped dry. However, only patchwork was done.

The Australian Rescue Attempt in 1992/93:

Amazingly, there was an excellent attempt not to only save the Alferdoss, American Star, ex SS Australis/America that commenced in 1992 by two well-meaning Australian businessmen who were planning to see her permanently berthed at Melbourne’s Station Pier as a Floating Hotel, Maritime Museum and a Tourist and Dining Facility. Mr. Rob Stone went to Greece in order to meet Mr Wadie Nseir, being the ships owner and together they boarded the SS Alferdoss for an inspection and Mr. Stone’s gave me the following report in brief:

“Although externally the decking was mostly gone, but this was not a deal breaker, for replacing timber decking is nothing unusual. Her hull and superstructure were structurally in a good condition, and yes you could well say that she had been generally neglected. Internally her lounges and cabins were still in an overall good condition. I also spoke with Captain Ikiadis who said that she was perfect for a hotel for obviously her engines were just shot! However, the biggest concern was the ships plumbing, as that would cost a considerable amount to fix. But, with other parts of this great ship in better shape than expected all this could be taken care off.”

Mr. Rob Stone (left) is seen holding the plans for the planed Hotel SS Australis in Melbourne-

The Melbourne Port Authorities and the Victorian Government were all keen to see the ex SS Australis, America berthed in Melbourne at Station Pier directly opposite the famed Tasmanian Ferries the Spirit of Tasmania. For we had done our research well in advance, with proper consultation with all parties concerned such as the State Government, Port Authorities, Fire and Engineering and Environmental Departments as well as the Local Council and all was ready to go and the Australian’s were ready to make a deal.

But tragically just before a deal could be completed by the Australian’s, plans suddenly went tragically terribly very wrong!

Considering that there had not been a buyer in sight for many years before the deal could be completed, but another company entered the scene and the Alferdoss was purchased by a Thai Company late in 1992 for just US$2 million dollars, thus Australia who had good intentions with this great liner were badly done by and had they placed their bid just a little earlier, she would be berthed at Station Pier in Melbourne today, but it was not to be!

The Final Tragic Voyage

The Company stated that the intention was to renovate the ship to become a floating hotel in Phuket, but in order to prepare her to be towed to Asia she needed to be dry-docked for two months. When ready she was to be towed by the Ukrainian Tug Neftegaz 67 for the 100-day voyage to Thailand under the name of American Star.

However, there were some very strange circumstances in regard to the company and her intended destination, for the Thai authorities did not have any knowledge of this “Thai” company and there had been no permissions sought or given for the ship to enter any Thai port, or for her to be berthed in Thailand as a floating Hotel. She was a complete unknown, but at the same time she was being, according what everyone was being told going to be towed to Thailand, or was she? We do know from history that she ended her tragic voyage on the rocks along the west coast off Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, and that Lloyds paid out US$6 million dollars insurance but it is difficult to find out whom to, but whatever, $4 million dollars (less expenses) is a very healthy profit!

Renamed American Star she departed Piraeus on December 24, 1993, however due to extreme weather conditions the American Star had to return to port the next day. Six days later on New Years Eve she recommenced her journey and passed Gibraltar on January 12, 1994.

But trouble struck the ill-fated ship. On January 15, during a severe storm “she broke loose” and remained adrift with four-salvage crew still on board. Several attempts were made to take her undertow again, but this failed. The four-crew members were winched off the ship by helicopter, and she was left adrift. On January 17 American Star ran aground on the west coast off Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands. Then 48 hours later with massive waves pounding her she broke in two. American Star was officially declared a total loss six months later in June.

An excellent photograph of the stranded ex liner

Death of a Liner

As was expected soon enough the American Star suffered from the severe elements and in due course her stern section collapsed into the sea and today her bow, part of her forward superstructure and the lower section of her funnel (the top having fallen into the sea recently) remains. As can be seen from the photograph below, the bridge is also slowly collapsing, and soon the sea will finally claim her.

Due to the rocks, waves would be very constant and they would rage and over time tear and strip the ship to pieces!

Over time the poor American Star was slowly disappearing into the sea as we will see in the images below

Update:

It is now 67 years (October 2006) since SS America was launched, and for 39 years she faithfully transported passengers on line voyages and on cruises, as well as carrying troops during the war. In addition she was laid up in Greece for 14 years and she has sat defiantly on the beach for another 13 years. This old girl certainly has not given up easily, but, I have to say that her end is now close as stated earlier, she is deteriorating rapidly. All this proves that she was a strong and a well-built ship, one America can be proud off, and I hope that Americans will take a stand, and prove their pride in remembering the great shipbuilding days of the Unites States. SS America has gone, but the SS United States remains and she should be retained by America and place in New York as a reminder of America’s great maritime history!

The end of a great liner - American Star is slowly disappearing into the sea

March 2009: As can be seen from the photo below the American Star has slowly succumbed to the sea and will soon disappear altogether. It is amazing how she has stood the forces of the ocean for this long!

 The American Star, once the much-loved Australis & America is arriving at her final hours!

I am well aware that the once great SS America will remain in our memories, as thousands of Americans, English and Europeans have sailed her. Then, as the beloved Chandris flagship SS Australis she provided a service countless thousands will never forget, be it as passengers that came to Australia and New Zealand as migrants, or as holiday makers to and from the UK as well as on Pacific cruises. For 39 years she served the United States Line and Chandris Line well.

I trust that ex passengers and those who admired her whilst she was in port have enjoyed this feature on the great SS America and SS Australis, a ship that will not be forgotten by all who sailed on her!

As stated earlier, I was the General Sales Agent (GSA) of Chandris in Queensland Australia and was fortunate to sail on all the Chandris liners more than once. My company (Australian Express) operated the annual “Round the World Tours,” sailing to and from the UK, and touring the UK and Europe. Each departure saw around 800 passengers depart Sydney heading for the UK, and believe me at times this was a logistical nightmare.

My memories of the Australis, as well as the Patris, Ellinis and Britanis are memorable, especially the many friendships made with the always happy Greek crew!

Cover of the official 1967 Chandris brochure

 

S.S. America & Australis INDEX:

Page One ……………….S.S. America History Page 1940 to 1967.

Page Two ……………….Photo Page.

Page Three ………….1940 Deck Plans.

S.S. Australis INDEX:

Page Four ……………….S.S. Australis History Page from 1964 to her sad end in 1994.

Page Five …………….Brochure & Photo & Page One.

Page Six ………………….Brochure & Photo Page Two.

Page Seven …………….Deck Plans.

Other Chandris Ships INDEX:

SS Patris …………………Ex Union Castle Lines RMS Bloemfontein Castle.

SS Ellinis ………………..Ex Matson Lines liner SS Lurline.

SS Britanis ……………..Ex Matson Lines SS Monterey, but renamed Lurline & Matsonia.

Please Note: Not all pages have been updated and completed as yet.

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“Blue Water Liners sailing to the distant shores.
I watched them come, I watched them go and I watched them die.”

 

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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 www.ssmaritime.com only), in order that due credit may be given.

 

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