The French Government's Administration des Postes established a steamship service from Marseilles to the Levant in 1835. The ships were armed and operated by
the French Navy. By 1851 the organisation had a fleet of 18 ships operating to various Mediterranean destinations. The French Government decided to transfer the service
to the ailing national stage coach service, Messageries Nationales, to provide it with an on-going business in the railway age. After an evaluation of the existing
situation it was decided to establish a separate division named Compagnie des Services Maritimes des Messageries Nationales and to replace the naval vessels with more
economical civilian steamers.
In 1853 Napoléon III converted his presidency into a monarchy and as a result the company’s name was changed to Compagnie des Services Maritimes des Messageries
Imperiales. Following the disastrous Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Napoléon III was deposed and the Third French Republic established, so the company’s name was
changed again to Compagnie des Messageries Maritimes.
The fleet grew rapidly to meet French Government mail route requirements, especially after the opening of the Suez Canal. Many of the company’s ships were also
fitted with troop accommodation. Services were established from France to South America, India, Indo-China, Hong Kong, Japan, the Pacific (including New Zealand
and Australia) and the Indian Ocean. By 1900 the fleet consisted of 44 ships engaged on Government routes and a further 14 vessels operated commercially.
In 1912 the French Government re-organised its mail services, awarding the South American routes to the new Compagnie de Navigation Sud-Atlantique. Messageries
Maritimes retained its remaining routes.
During WW1 many of the company’s ships were used as troopships or hospital ships. In 1914 the fleet stood at 58 vessels, during the end of the war it lost 23 ships,
but replacements enabled the company to end the war with 54. Many of these were worn out, however and were replaced by war reparations. In 1919 the company started a
new service to the French Pacific islands via Panama and its 'El Cantara', was the first French ship to go through the Panama Canal. Further luxury ships were added to
the fleet in the 1920s.
In WW2 the company lost half of its ships. After recovering and adding a number of new ships during the post-war period, the company merged with Compagnie Générale
Transatlantique in 1977 and the merged company was called Compagnie Générale Maritime.
Change of name to Trapi and owner to Valenciennes Nav Corp 1976, change of name to Badile and owner
to Astrolabe Nav Corp 1977. Taken to Kaohsiung 27 April 1979 for breaking by Kuo Dar Steel & Iron Enterprise
The vessel sank in the North Atlantic about 500 miles West of Bordeaux at approximate position 46° 16' N, 12° 17' W on 9 November 1971.
She had been en route from Noumea (New Caledonia) to Le Havre with a cargo of 8,000 tons of nickel ingots. She had run into heavy weather
which caused her cargo to break loose resulting in a 45° list and an explosion. Of the 39 on board there was just one survivor - an engine
room officer - who was picked up by German motorship Vegesack.
Change of owner to Cie Generale Maritime 1977, change of name to Rafaela and owner to Cia Naviera Giraf SA 1978.
The vessel arrived at Mombasa from Antwerp to drop off cargo whilst en route to Maputo with a cargo of cars, textiles, chemicals and
general goods. A major fire broke out in hatches 4 and 5 on 19 November 1981 and continued to burn for seven days. The vessel was declared
a constructive total loss and eventually scrapped at Mombasa in April 1983 by Southern Engineering Co.