Adieu to SA Vaal

Apr 17, 2003
Author: report initiated by Ken Malcolm

The former Union Castle liner SA Vaal, which for a while has been laid up next to former Rotterdam at Freeport, has been sold to Indian breakers and will shortly depart on her last voyage.

The 30,212-gt passenger ship was launched as the Transvaal Castle in 1961 at the John Brown & Co shipyards at Clydebank, entering service the following year between Southampton and South Africa as a one-class mail ship carrying 728 passengers.

By 1966 the ship appeared in new colours this time the all white of Safmarine, after SA Marine Corporation took transfer of the Transvaal Castle and Edinburgh Castle in a two-seventh sharing of the weekly Union Castle service. Transvaal Castle became SA Vaal and Edinburgh Castle was renamed SA Oranje, although both continued sailing under the British flag until 1969 when they transferred to the South African flag.

In this guise SA Vaal saw service until 10 October 1977 when with the advent of containerisation the ship was sold to Carnival Cruise Line, who undertook considerable alterations and converted the ship for cruising under the name Festivale. The alterations included additional decks and a doubling of passenger accommodation, which increased the gross tonnage to 38,175-gt with 1,432 passengers. Outwardly however the ship retained much of the former outline, but Festivale was set to play a leading role in revitalising the cruise passenger industry.

The ship subsequently passed to Dolphin Cruise Line who renamed her Island Breeze with charters to the UK company Thomson Holidays. With the demise of Dolphin all the ships including Island Breeze/SA Vaal went to Premier Cruise Line. Island Breeze became Big Red Boat III, distinctive now in a bright red hull livery.

For the final voyage to Alang in India the former SA Vaal has had her name abbreviated to Big Boat and, subject to US export clearances, she should be leaving any day now.

This leaves the former Windsor Castle, currently under a preservation campaign, as the sole remaining Union-Castle liner.

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