Ship History


RETURN TO THE HOMEPAGE                                                                                                                                                                                                                       RMS IVERNIA 1955

With a long and varied career, the Ivernia was a most remarkable ship. She was built in 1955 for Cunard Line's Dominion service to Canada as the second of the Saxonia Sisters quartet. After her time with Cunard she then went on to have a varied career in the Soviet Union's Far Eastern Shipping Company fleet (1973 to 1980) and later the Black Sea Shipping Company fleet. This included service in support of Cuba. She finally was scrapped in Alang, India in 2004.

Design and Construction (1951 – 1955):

In the final weeks of 1951, Cunard Line announced that they had decided to build a completely new class of ships for the service between Liverpool and Montreal. This initial announcement only mentioned two ships, though this was soon extended to include two further ships. They were to be the largest Cunard liners ever built purely for the company’s Canadian service. The ships were to be built by John Brown & Co. Ltd, Clydebank, Glasgow, Scotland, UK. All four ships in this new class were built to meet the requirements of Canada’s rapidly growing population and increasing volume of overseas trade. The basic design of the ships combined a large passenger capacity, in maximum comfort, with space for a substantial amount of cargo – all within the biggest dimensions which would permit safe navigation of the St Lawrence River up to the terminal port of Montreal.

It had been announced on the 25th November 1953, that the first two vessels were to be named Saxonia and Ivernia. The Ivernia was launched on the 14th December 1954, just nine days after the Saxonia steamed into New York for the first time. Originally it had been arranged that the ceremony should be performed by the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister but plans had to be altered, and instead Mrs D. C. Howe, wife of the Canadian Minister of Trade, sent the ship down the ways.

As with the wintertime launching of her sister, the Ivernia’s naming was not blessed with good weather. As she took to the water, she was caught by a strong crosswind. Very quickly, she found herself dangerously close to the river bank with her stern within just a few feet of a storage quay. It took six tugs to guide her out of danger and into her fitting out berth.

The fitting out of the Ivernia, like that of the Saxonia, took nearly six months. On the 13th June 1955, she sailed from Glasgow on a series of trials that lasted until the 17th June.

The Dominion Service (1955 – 1962):

It had been the original intention to begin her maiden voyage from Liverpool to Quebec and Montreal on the 30th June. However, Cunard were being hit by industrial action which resulted in changes to the plans. On the 25th June, Cunard announced that the Ivernia would begin her maiden voyage from Greenock instead of Liverpool and she sailed from there to Canada with 900 passengers on the 1st July 1955.

Ivernia arrived in Montreal, at the end of the first leg of her maiden voyage on the 19th July 1955. The two superb new liners settled on the route and illustrated well Cunard Line’s commitment to the Canadian service. As was usual on that route, once the St Lawrence became impassable due to winter ice, the ships were transferred temporarily to the Liverpool to Halifax and New York route. Ivernia’s first such sailing left Liverpool on the 2nd December 1955. She called at Cobh on the 3rd December, Halifax on the 8th December, and made her maiden arrival into New York on the 10th December 1955. She remained there, unloading and loading her cargo until the 15th December, when she set sail back to Liverpool, arriving just two days before Christmas. Her sailings to the St Lawrence ports resumed in mid April 1956 and continued relatively uneventfully until the 18th November 1956 when she was damaged by a severe Atlantic storm while on an outward voyage. The damage was temporarily repaired while she was in Montreal. Then, instead of returning to Liverpool as usual, Ivernia sailed for London and arrived there on the 2nd December 1956. It was her first visit to that port. She then made four further Atlantic sailings from London.

Although it was planned that the new quartet would replace the old prewar ships that had been running the Canadian service, at the time that Carinthia entered service the Franconia, Ascania and Scythia were still fully employed on the Canadian route. On the 12th October 1956 it was announced that Franconia and Ascania would be withdrawn from service in November 1956. Early in 1957 the Scythia was transferred to the Liverpool to New York service and in January 1958 she was sold for scrap. Now the Canadian service was entirely in the hands of the new quartet. While perhaps eclipsed by the glamour of the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth and Caronia, the new Canadian ships were undoubtedly stars in their own right in the Cunard Line fleet.

In 1957 the Ivernia made her first appearance in Southampton on the 23rd March at the end of a crossing from New York. On the 1st April she sailed on a short cruise that took her to Cherbourg, Plymouth, back to Cherbourg and then returned to Southampton on the 5th April 1957.

While the Saxonia aimed to capture some of the continental traffic by making a call at Le Havre, Ivernia’s sailings often included Rotterdam. She made her first call at the Dutch port on the 7th October 1957 and sailed directly from there to Quebec. She made several more sailings of this kind until early December when she returned to Southampton.

April 1960, 1961 and 1962 all proved unlucky for the Ivernia. On the 8th April 1960 she struck the passenger gangway as she was coming alongside Tilbury Landing Stage. On the 13th April 1961, although the Canadian service had resumed, there was still a great deal of ice around and while in the Gulf of St Lawrence she suffered ice damage. On her return to Southampton on the 25th April, she ran aground off Hythe but lucky was undamaged. In April 1962 her propellers were damaged while navigating along the St Lawrence and she was forced to need dry docking for repairs before she could make the return voyage.

The Cunard Cruising Years (1962 – 1973):

In June 1962, Sir John Brocklebank (Chairman of Cunard Line) announced that both the Saxonia and Ivernia would be taken out of service and given an extensive rebuild and restyling to make them more suited to cruising. Both ships continued with their Atlantic service for a few more months the Ivernia’s final Atlantic round voyage started on the 19th September 1962 and she was back in Southampton on the 5th October. On the 11th October she arrived at John Brown’s on the Clyde for her refit.

The refit was to involve considerable structural alterations and she would be given a completely new décor before taking up her new role as a dual purpose Atlantic liner and cruise ship. It had been announced earlier that month that not only would the Saxonia and Ivernia be remodelled but they would also be renamed. Saxonia would be renamed Carmania and Ivernia would be renamed Franconia. Names associated with previous famous cruising ships in the Cunard fleet. Cunard’s plan was to operate both ships between Southampton and the St Lawrence during the summer with calls at Rotterdam, but during the winter months they were to switch to cruise service from Port Everglades to the West Indies.

Within a few weeks of the Carmania’s return to service, she was joined by the refitted and restyled Ivernia, now called Franconia. On the 25th May 1963 the Franconia, her refitting completed, left Glasgow on a trial voyage and arrived at Southampton on the 30th May 1963. Two days later she resumed the Atlantic service with calls at Rotterdam and Le Havre en route to Quebec.

The Franconia made her Caribbean debut with a series of cruises out of New York. She departed on the first of these on the 23rd November 1963, sailing to St Thomas, Santo Domingo, Kingston and Nassau. A series of similar cruises continued until the 24th April 1964 when she sailed for Southampton to join the Carmania in the summer transatlantic service.

By the winter of 1964/65, both Carmania and Franconia were well established on the cruise scene. Franconia continued with the programme she had established the previous winter, sailing out of New York to the Caribbean. She operated six cruises, the first one departing New York on the 8th December 1964. Due to the extra sailing time required to reach the Caribbean, her cruises were a little longer than those of her sister, Carmania.

Franconia arrived back in Southampton on the 1st April 1965 and underwent an overhaul and refit before resuming her schedule of transatlantic crossings to Canada on the 13th April, with most departures including Rotterdam. On the 1st October 1965, she ventured into the Mediterranean for the very first time. Cunard scheduled her to undertake an Iberian cruise, departing Southampton on the 25th September and calling at Malaga, Cadiz, Lisbon and Pauillac. She followed this with a similar cruise, which called at Casablanca instead of Malaga. A further sailing was made to Canada and then she returned to New York for another season of 6 Caribbean cruises, which ran from the 20th December to the 20th March 1966.

In early May 1966, Britain was hit by the National Seamen’s Strike. This was to have a devastating effect, practically bringing all ports around the country to a standstill and virtually immobilising many shipping lines. The strike dragged on for over six weeks, not ending until the 1st July. Ports such as Southampton presented an incredible sight. Never had so many liners been gathered together in one place at the same time. In some instances they were berthed three abreast. All four of the Saxonia sisters were caught by the strike action. Franconia, barely a month into her Atlantic season, also became strikebound in Southampton Eastern Docks. So for several weeks, there was no Cunard Line service across the Atlantic to either New York or Canada. With this most prestigious player temporarily out of action, it was left to the liners of Holland America, Norddeutscher Lloyd, French Line and the United States Lines to fill the gap. By mid July, everything had returned to normal, but with so many weeks with its fleet out of action, it had an unfortunate effect on the finances of Cunard.

In 1968 Cunard withdrew the Carinthia and Sylvania from service, however the Carmania and Franconia continued to maintain the company’s cruise programme, as well as a much reduced summer liner service to Canada. Cruising, however, was to become the most important part of their employment. The Franconia in 1967 became a full time cruise ship. That year Furness Bermuda Line ceased operations. Cunard saw this gap as an ideal opportunity to establish themselves in the year round cruise market out of the United States. Arrangements were made with the Bermudan government for Franconia to become the weekly cruise ship between New York and the island.

It was at this time, during their winter refits, that both Carmania and Franconia underwent a further change, their cruising green livery was replaced with a more conventional white hull and upperworks. As before, Carmania was based at Port Everglades but for part of this 1966/67 season she was joined there by Franconia. Franconia made a 10 day Christmas and New Year cruise out of New York returning there on the 2nd January 1967. The following day, she sailed for Nassau and Port Everglades and then into the Caribbean, returning to the Florida port. She made three subsequent cruises from there but with the last one, a 19 day trip, she returned to New York.

It was on the 23rd March 1967 that Franconia sailed from New York on the first of a planned series of 28 cruises to Bermuda. She did, however, make one diversion from this regular route when, on the 18th July, she sailed northwards to what had once been her customary trading area, the St Lawrence River. This cruise took her from New York to Quebec, Montreal and Boston, ending in Bermuda. She then made a second cruise to Montreal and Quebec, this time ending in New York. This allowed her to resume her regular Bermuda schedule. The series of cruises to Bermuda ended on the 17th November and three days later Franconia sailed for Liverpool via Bermuda and Cobh. This was her first Atlantic voyage of the year. She remained in Liverpool, being overhauled, until the 22nd December when she departed on a Christmas cruise to the Atlantic Isles and North Africa.

During 1968, from mid April to November, Franconia again maintained the regular cruise service linking New York and Bermuda. Before that, she began 1968 with a cruise from Liverpool to Portugal, North Africa and the Atlantic Isles before sailing over to New York to make three cruises down to the Caribbean. In late November, after the end of the Bermuda season, she was back in Southampton where she underwent a month long refit and overhaul before sailing on her usual Christmas and New Year cruise. The itinerary was slightly different calling at the Atlantic Isles, North Africa and Dakar in Senegal.

In 1969 Franconia was based in Florida for her winter cruise programme instead of New York. On the 8th January she left Southampton for Miami and made a cruise from there to San Juan and St Thomas. The cruise ended in Port Everglades and the remainder of the cruise programme was based there. The pattern of her 1969 cruise programme was the same as previous years.

By this time the Carmania and Franconia had built up a loyal following and were very popular on both sides of the Atlantic. Early in 1970, their port of registry was changed from Liverpool to Southampton. In January 1970 the Franconia joined her sister Carmania in Port Everglades. Sadly it was to be their last season in the Caribbean.

In 1971, Cunard suddenly found themselves facing the most important event of their long and illustrious history – a takeover bid. In August 1971 a successful £26 million bid came from Trafalgar House Investments Ltd, a company with interests in property, civil engineering, hotel ownership, house building and investments. The new owners of Cunard Line were faced with the fact that both Carmania and Franconia were in need of further refitting and modernisation. With several new purpose built cruise ships coming into the market, the two sisters were beginning to look dated, particularly when compared with their new fleetmates, the striking flagship Queen Elizabeth 2 and the cruise ship Cunard Adventurer. Cunard, and their new owners, Trafalgar House, realised that to bring the Carmania and Franconia up to standard would be an expensive business. It was eventually decided to withdraw the two venerable ships, lay them up and put them up for sale. Their roles in the Caribbean would be taken over by the new cruise ships Cunard Adventurer and Cunard Ambassador.

Meanwhile the two ships soldiered on. Franconia maintained her regular pattern of sailings, with Caribbean cruises in the winter and then on the New York to Bermuda run throughout the summer. She departed New York on the 2nd October 1971 on her final cruise to Bermuda. Her last sailing for Cunard was a transatlantic voyage on which she left New York, never to return, on the 9th October 1971. It was not to be a routine voyage, when she was part way across the Atlantic, she responded to a distress call from the burning Norwegian bulk carrier Anatina. Using one of her launches, Franconia was able to take off eight of the crew from the burning ship. She arrived in Southampton on the 17th October 1971, her career with Cunard at an end. She was laid up and joined by her sister Carmania on the 31st October. A few days later they were joined by the Shaw Savill liner Southern Cross which had also been withdrawn from service. The three redundant liners made a majestic sight awaiting their fate.

Carmania and Franconia remained there for almost 7 months. When it was apparent that there was no immediate prospect of selling them, Cunard decided to place them in more permanent lay up and on the 14th May 1972 the two ships sailed for the River Fal in Cornwall.

The Soviet Years (1973 – 1989):

In August 1973 it was announced that the Carmania and Franconia had been sold to Panamanian interests, Nikreis Maritime Corporation. It seemed a very complicated transaction as it was also announced at the time that Nikreis Maritime Corporation was affiliated to a New York company known as Robin International. It turned out that they would fly the Hammer and Sickle and sail for Russian interests.

Before entering service for their new owners, it was arranged for the Carmania and Franconia to be overhauled by Swan Hunter on the River Tyne. The Franconia was the first to leave the River Fal, sailing from there on the 14th August 1973. She arrived on the River Tyne on the 17th August 1973. It was announced that the Franconia would be renamed Fedor Shalyapin.

The overhaul work on Fedor Shalyapin was completed first and on the 20th November 1973 she sailed from Southampton for Australia. After her refit the Leonid Sobinov, joined her sister (Fedor Shalyapin, former Franconia) in February 1974 in service in Australia. The layout and décor of their public rooms and cabins remained exactly as it had been when the ships had sailed for Cunard. Even the coathangers in the wardrobes were still stamped Cunard Line. The only apparent alteration was the names of the public rooms. The refit work had mainly concentrated on the ships’ machinery, ensuring that the long months of inactivity had not caused any problems. The most obvious external change was that now the funnels were painted white with a broad red band that carried the golden crossed Hammer and Sickle emblem. On both bow and stern the names were spelled out in Cyrillic lettering. The ships were registered in Vladivostock and came under the ownership of the Far Eastern Shipping Company until 1980.

Once they reached Australia both ships embarked on a programme of cruises out of Sydney. The Fedor Shalyapin remained in Far Eastern and Pacific waters. By June, she was scheduled to be in Yokohama. She sailed to a variety of fascinating ports before arriving back in Fremantle and then Sydney.

It would appear that there were no clauses in the contract of sale of the former Carmania and Franconia restricting their areas of operation, as had been the case with their sisters Sylvania and Carinthia. While her sister Leonid Sobinov divided her time between Europe and Australia. Fedor Shalyapin was employed mainly out of Australia and in the Orient. Between May and November 1976, she undertook a series of Pacific cruises under charter to Shaw Savill Cruises of Australia. It was during this charter that a much reported but unverified incident took place. Fedor Shalyapin was crossing the Tasman Sea on her way from Auckland to Sydney when, in the early hours of the morning, the ship suddenly stopped and all her lights went out. The ship’s cranes started up and a submarine came alongside. There was a transfer of goods and personnel between the two vessels. The incident was of course denied by the Soviet Embassy and Shaw Savill denied any knowledge. So this unusual incident remains a mystery.

In December 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. As a result the Australian government banned all Russian passenger ships from calling at Australian ports. The ban took effect from February 1980. The Leonid Sobinov was the first to leave to return to Vladivostock. Because of the internationally illegal restrictions of civil merchant ships made by U.S. and Australian governments and others preventing USSR ships in their ports because of the political and military assistance to Afghanistan's internationally recognized government with their cruel fight against that country's islamist mujaheddins in late 1970's. As a result in 1980 the Fedor Shalyapin was reregistered in Odessa and transferred to the ownership of the Black Sea Shipping Company and made cruises in Europe as Russia kept to the international maritime laws and they were much successful here. 

Without this lucrative charter work, the two former Cunarders were now used on the most diverse routes to places of political unrest such as Angola. On other occasions they could be found on voyages from the Black Sea across the Atlantic to Cuba. Both the Leonid Sobinov and Fedor Shaliapin  sailed together with the Ivan Franko (1964) on the regular cargo and passenger line (without timetable!) between Odessa and Cuba.  The Leonid Sobinov transported volunteers from all over the world, most from Cuba, to the struggle against the South-African fascist forces in Angola and won there successfully, and many of them came also back with the Leonid Sobinov on 3rd February 1989 in the Port of La Habana welcomed by Chairman Fidel Castro in person.

By 1981 Fedor Shalyapin was back in northern Europe and in the spring made at least two calls in London. It was announced that in 1982 she would make a 97 night World Cruise calling at 21 ports. Not even in her Cunard Years had she undertaken such a varied voyage. There were going to be calls at Guayaquil, Lima, Pitcairn Island, Yokohama, Bangkok, Maldive Islands and then various Mediterranean ports. Sadly this was not to be, the cruise was instead given to the newer and more prestigious Mikhail Lermontov.

Fedor Shalyapin was chartered by the German tour company Jahn Reisen GmbH for several years in the early to mid 1980s and it seemed that this would be her final burst of glory. During the summer she made 10 and 14 day cruises out of Genoa to ports around the Mediterranean. In the winter she cruised in the Far East. On the 20th June 1986, Fedor Shalyapin collided with the tug Amadores II while in Piraeus. Sadly the tug sank with the loss of one crew member.

The Final Years (1989 – 2004):

The beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 changed the future of the two former Cunarders. At first they became part of the Ukrainian fleet. In 1992 Fedor Shalyapin was registered under the ownership of Odessa Cruise (Fedor Shalyapin) Co., another Valetta registered concern. The real ownership of the two ships remained in Ukraine. Although both ships were registered in Odessa as part of the Black Sea Shipping Company, at some point Fedor Shalyapin was listed as being owned by the Far East Shipping Company. The ships no longer carried the Hammer and Sickle emblem on their funnels. The Fedor Shalyapin instead had a broad blue band with a white and gold logo of a bird in flight on her funnel.

For a while both ships continued to sail, looking pristine and well maintained. In mid summer of 1994 Fedor Shalyapin made an extended cruise from St Petersburg calling at 20 ports around Europe and in the Mediterranean ending at Odessa. While outwardly she looked reasonable, it was clear that the end was nearing. By the autumn of 1995, both ships were laid up at Ilichevsk, a Black Sea port some 40 km south west of Odessa.

In January 2004 the Fedor Shalyapin set sail from Ilichevsk under her own power bound for the scrap breakers of India. On the 11th February 2004 the former Fedor Shalyapin, now renamed Salona, was beached at Alang, India for scrapping. A sad end to a fine ship after a long and remarkable career.

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