BackHomeOld SaigonOld Saigon Categories [Photos] Saigon’s Colonial-Era Shipping Line Brought the World to Vietnam

[Photos] Saigon’s Colonial-Era Shipping Line Brought the World to Vietnam

During the French colonial era, the Messageries Maritimes shipping line, established in 1851, permitted thousands of men and women to traverse the seas in order to visit French colonies. It had an especially strong presence in Saigon.

This was at a time when “Colonies” was spelled with a capital “C” and it took two months to travel from Marseilles to Saigon or Australia. Typically, these ships would travel from their home port in Marseilles, around Sicily and Crete, passing through the Suez Canal and into what was known as the Far East before docking in Saigon, the second home port of the company. Messageries Maritimes also had shipping routes to America, Africa, the Middle East and other locations in Asia. 

A great number of the company's ships were named after places in Vietnam, such as Annam, Tourane, Sontay and Haiphong.

The Messageries Maritimes' head office was at Nha Rong Wharf, located at the junction of the Ben Nghe Canal and the Saigon River. At the peak of its glory during the French colonial era, Messageries Maritimes had ships all over the world. Their unique, low-slung height and long hulls made them instantly recognizable. 

During World War I, 22 of Messageries Maritimes' ships were lost, many of them commissioned for the war and destroyed in battle. More were lost during World War II, and although more ships were launched in the 1950s, the growing popularity of the airplane soon overtook sea travel. Passenger lines eventually became outmoded, with the last of Messageries Maritimes' passenger journeys setting out for Buenos Aires on September 17, 1972. Afterwards, the company continued on with freighters, tankers and some of the first container ships. In 1977, Messageries Maritimes merged with a firm called CGT, becoming Compagnie Generale Maritime.

During the heyday of Messageries Maritimes, numerous postcards featuring the company's ships and wharves were printed, while old photographs of Messageries Maritimes' ships show the strong presence they had throughout modern Vietnamese history. 

[Photos via Flicker user manhhai]


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