The New Zealand Maritime Record - sponsored by the NZ National Maritime Museum


Maintained by the NZ National Maritime Museum
as a service to Shipping Enthusiasts and Maritime Historians

Go To the NZNMM Website

This website is developed from the site originally conceived developed & maintained by Marcus Castell and associates. Opinions are those of the various authors of the articles, and are not those of the NZ National Maritime Museum unless specifically noted. Information in this site has been updated to 2002 and will be progressively updated as resources allow. More information on historic ships (etc) is contained in the MARITIME INDEX website

The Turbo Electric Vessel   RANGATIRA   of 1971

The first Rangatira was an iron steamer of 196 tons and built in Scotland in 1863.  She sank on 7 September 1880 after striking Pefferies Rock en-route from Manakau to New Plymouth, New Zealand with passengers and mail.  Rangatira II (1890 - 1917) and Rangatira III (1909 - 1916)  were iron steamers built for the Shaw Savill line and saw service on the Britain to New Zealand route until both succumbed to disaster.  The handsome Rangatira IV (1930 - 1968) served the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand for 34 years and during that time received much praise for her speed, excellent accommodation and quality of service.

Launched in 1971, the fourth Rangatira was ordered to replace the two year old Wahine, which sank in Wellington harbour during tropical cyclone Giselle on Wednesday the 10th of April 1968.  With the loss of 51 lives, the Union Steam Ship Company's remarkable record of not losing a single life by marine accident in seventy three years of service was tragically broken.

Believed to be the last surviving turbo-electric passenger ship in the world, the Rangatira only served on the inter-island route for four uneconomical years. Subsequent to a charter as a floating barracks in the Falkland Islands, she has had a somewhat chequered career.  Renamed the Queen M and latterly the Carlo R she carried passengers between Italy, Greece and Turkey.  The vessel has been laid up at Naples for the last five years and will probably go to the breakers soon.

Arrival at Wellington
Wellington 18th March 1972


Twin screw turbo-electric propulsion vessel - official number: 7111731

Gross tonnage:- 9,387.26 - Net tonnage:- 4,030.69

Average service speed: 18.26 knots - Maximum service speed: 22.25 knots

Original complement: 768 single class passengers, 123 crew and 200 vehicles.

Ship's Log

1969     May 15     Order placed.

1971     May     Above: under construction (note the completed funnel to the right of the centre photograph).

1971     June 23     Above: launched at Newcastle-upon-Tyne by Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd.


1971     October 27     Above: photographed while being fitted out at Hebburn-on-Tyne.



1971     November 29     Above: photographed while being fitted out at Hebburn-on-Tyne.


1971     December 10     Above: dry docked at the end of her fitting out period.

1971     December 20     Sea trials.

1972     January     Delivered to the Union Steam Ship Company (U.K.) Ltd, London, in order to qualify for an investment grant. Chartered to the Union Company of New Zealand.

1972     March 18     Arrived at Wellington, commenced her maiden voyage ten days later.

It was subsequently reported "The voice of Chase Nash floated in the background as diners sipped champagne and other imported wines and made their way through succulent steaks or crisp fish dishes. Immaculately clad waiters in Maroon jackets and bow ties scurried efficiently back and forth. It seemed nobody wanted to go to bed early."

In her first role she would complete 2,096 crossings of the 175 mile route from Lyttleton on the East coast of South Island to the Capital of Wellington on the Southern point of the North Island.

Departing Wellington with the Maori in the background.

1972     September     Replaced the laid up Maori until October the 16th when the vessel suffered turbine problems.

1974     July 1     In the Wellington-Lyttelton trade the Rangatira made substantial losses. The combined effect of the rail ferries and increased patronage of air services had removed most of the passenger trade, and the rail ferries much of the ro-ro business. Politically, the link with Lytttelton was a sacred cow, but the new management of the Union Company was in no mood to carry losses of $4 million a year as a national duty. Those days were over. From the first of July, 1974 the government chartered the Rangatira for six months and began carrying the losses. Sir Basil Arthur, then Minister of Transport, considered the Rangatira "too big and elaborate" and talked of two smaller vessels "similar to the Cook Strait ferries ... though faster".

1975     February 16     The NZ government charter was extended for a further twelve months.

1976     March 3     The NZ government announced that her charter would be extended for a short period until a suitable replacement could be found and made ready.

1976     January 31    In the preceeding twelve months she had earned $6.3 million but had cost $10 million to run.

1976     September 14     The last sailing from the port of Lyttelton. Her 267 passengers, with an unknown number of non-paying revellers, partied in the A deck lounge until after 4 a.m. to the music of The Opposition. The part was thrown by the crew who "had a quick whip around to buy the necessary refreshments." The Steamer Express service was officially dead.

During the four years of her service she carried a total of 832,260 passengers and 139,656 vehicles, but with a passenger average was only 397 a voyage she proved unprofitable. The vessel arrived back in Wellington on September the 15th and preparations for her return voyage to the U.K. were undertaken.

Enlarged 1972 image opens in new window
Enlarged image opens in new window

It was decided to lay the vessel up as no intersted purchaser had come forward.  By relocating the vessel to Europe, it was hoped tod improve the possibility of attracting a suitable buyer.  All the large spare gear such as spare tail shafts, propellers plus the other spares from ashore were stowed aboard.

On the evening of Friday the 17th of September the Rangatira sailed from Wellington for the last time.  The voyage to the U.K was via Papeete, then through the Panama Canal to Falmouth where she arrived on the 17th of October to lay up and await a buyer.   Cold weather at the end of the year caused a burst pipe in the sprinkler system which flooded some of the passenger accommodation.

A cartoon from the Auckland Star of the 16th of June 1976.

It shows a man standing marooned on the South Island with a barrel of water, salt beef and hard biscuits, while the North Island (as a ship) steams away.

1977     A charter for 12 months with right of renewal was arranged with Sea Truck Trading A/S of Stavanger Norway to use the vessel as an accommodation ship at the building site of an oil production platform at Loch Kishorn on Scotland's West Coast.  Alterations to the ships cafeteria was made at Falmouth prior to leaving Falmouth on March the 12th for the two-day voyage.

The vessel was moored alongside a small jetty near the construction site.  At times she housed nearly 800 workers. The cabins were really designed for overnight occupation only, included in the total were, one 6 berth, one 10 berth and a 12 berth cabin.   There were also crew berths which totalled 123, mainly in 2 berth cabins.


1977     October - November     Above: while laid up at Glasgow's Mavisbank Quay, the vessel underwent a survey before returning to Loch Kishorn for further service.  While there she broke her moorings during a gale, no damage occurred to the vessel but as a result, it led to more stringent requirements to be introduced regarding the mooring of accommodation ships.

1978     Some minor damage occured to the Rangatira on March the 18th when she was struck by the coastal tanker BP Springer.  The Charter lasted a total of 18 months after which the ship returned to Glasgow, arriving there on the 25th of May to undergo survey and lay up. The vessel underwent survey and on June the 8th suffered damage again when being undocked "dead ship", when a wind gust pushed the ship into the wharf and damaged some hull plates.  

After survey, repairs and alterations, the vessel then began a four year charter as an accommodation vessel at Sollum Voe.  This was the site of a large new oil refinery being constructed in the Shetland Isles.  The interior of the ship was extensively altered to provide a high standard of comfort, all the cabins being converted to single berth, additional TV rooms were built into the upper car deck, along with areas for sports such as snooker, table-tennis and a gymnasium.

Rangatira arrived at Sollum Voe on the 2nd of October.  While there the ship was kept manned at all times because it had to be capable of being moved under its own power in case of emergency.  The vessel not only served as comfortable accommodation for the workers but even hosted the Royalty. The Queen officially opened the oil terminal at Sollum Voe on May 9 1981, on which occasion the Royal party dined aboard the vessel despite a bomb threat by the I.R.A.

1981     With her charter as accommodation vessel completed early, the vessel sailed from the Shetland Isles arriving at Falmouth  July the 5th to lay up again.  The ship remained laid up after a possible contract with the Mexican state run Pemex Oil Co. to use the vessel as an accommodation ship fell through.

Dry docked at Falmouth, July 1981.

At this time the Company still endeavouring to find either a buyer or suitable employment for the vessel, they even looked at the possible return of the vessel to the Wellington to Lyttelton run, but with a much increased garage capacity and mainly airline type seating.   The vessel still remained laid up, later negotiations involving Blue Star Line were held with the possibility of using the vessel for cruising off Africa.

It was intended that the Rangatira would be managed by Curnow Shipping Co. of Porthleven, operators of the St. Helena, which was then running a passenger service between Britain and Cape Town, which included calls at the Islands of St. Helena and Ascension.   The conversion would have involved replacing the steam turbines with diesel's, and a complete refit of the accommodation.  The final cost of such a proposed conversion may well have led to the abandonment of the project, but fate intervened.

1982     Events in the Falkland's changed everything, the Rangatira was inspected by the British Ministry of Defence for possible use as a hospital ship. The vessel was chartered from New Zealand's Blue Star Management on May the 15th after successful sea trials had been carried out and was held in readiness. 

She later moved to the Devonport Base near Plymouth where she underwent alterations including the fitting of 4 - 20mm Oerlikon guns on upper decks, the A-Deck lounge was altered and a helicopter pad being built above it, capable of landing a fully laden Chinook helicopter.

The passenger accommodation was increased to around 1200, by increasing the number of bunks in the two berth cabins to six.   The upper car deck was fitted out with 3 mess decks, a Sargent's mess and a lecture hall.  The lower car deck was fitted out with 14 freezer containers, holding provisions for six months for 1,200 people approximately.  This equipment as well as RAS (Replenishment at sea) bunkering equipment being added prior to the departure from Southampton on June the 19th.

The manning was arranged by P and O,  though the senior staff all were Union Company men.  The vessel carried various members of the armed forces bound for the Falklands, it was refuelled at sea from  R.F.A. Plumleaf on the 26th of June. Arrived at Port Stanley on July the 11th and soon after became an accommodation ship yet again.

1982     October     Above: Anchored in Stanley Harbour, with the St Edmund in the foreground.  She remained there for over a year, providing food and accommodation for the troops.  The vessel left the Falklands on the 26th of September 1983 and arrived back at Devonport on October the 18th, where the Ministry of Defence equipment was removed.

1983     "I was an Able Seamen on her in the Falkland Islands, along with the crew before us, we painted her from stem to stern, as would the crew after us.  She had a full Blue Star crew as well as officers, plus a Curnow's chief steward and a Union Steam Ship Company captain for some reason, plus approx 1,000 troops living aboard at that time.  I last saw her in Naples in 1996, all painted white instead of the Green that she was originally."

Later she was transferred to Belfast for refitting at Harland & Wolff before being returned to her owners.

1984    March 29      She departed for the Falmouth, arriving there the next day to lay up again, still in the Union Steam Ship livery.

1986     The vessel remained laid up there until eventually sold to Searoyal Ferries Ltd, a company formed by Panayotis Marangopoulos of Greece.  The new owner also operated Marlines Ferries of Piraeus.  After an overhaul the Rangatira left Falmouth on November the 3rd towed by the oil rig supply vessel Vigen Supplier.

Renamed the Queen M and registered in Limassol, Cyprus, it is probable that some modifications were carried out on the ship to suit its new trade.

1987     The vessel was in service only a few months before being laid up in Piraeus on September the 8th.

1988     In June it was reported that the Queen M was still laid up in Piraeus and as having been the passive element in a collision with the cement carrier Victory V on March the 9th.  It is believed that the damage to both ships was slight.

The Queen M was placed in service on possibly the busiest of the routes across the Adriatic, that between Ancona, Igoumenitsa and Patras. She remained with Marlines for three seasons.

1990     It was announced that she would be used on the longer route between Ancona, Patras and Turkish ports but, instead, she was sold to the Rodriquez group of Messina in Sicily. They were best know as builders of large hydrofoils but they had recently gone into the ferry operating business through a subsidiary called Alimar.

They called their new purchase the Carlo R and registered her under the Maltese flag. In the summers of 1990, 1991 and 1992 they chartered her to Cotunav, the Tunisian state shipping company who used her in their services between Tunis and Genoa and Tunis and Marseilles.

1993     When the charter was not renewed, Alimar tried operating her themselves between Italian ports and Tunis. This was said to have been very successful but the following season she was chartered to a new Greek firm called Horizon Sea Lines for a service between Ancona and Cesme in Turkey.

1995     In the Summer she was to have run for Egnatia Line in the Livoruo - Naples - Trapani - Turin service but by now the Rodriquez group was in financial difficulties and Egnatia Line did not proceed with the charter.

The Carlo R made a few voyages from Bari to Patras, but was then laid up at Naples on the 16th of August and has remained there ever since, for much of the time under arrest.

2000     The Carlo R is under arrest subsequent of her last owner's bankruptcy. The Court at Naples have ordered the forced sale of the vessel with an auction set for September. Subsequent to a  survey arranged by the Court, the value of the vessel has been calculated at approximately NZ$ 2,500,000.

2001     August 10     The vessel is still laid up at Naples.

Above: Detail of the model of the vessel at the Maritime Museum, Wellington, New Zealand.


Thanks to Stuart Cameron, Mark Griffin, Harry Harrington, Paul Mason, Charles Pellett, Mike Pryce, Mike Ridgard, Matthew Smith, Steven McLachlan (specialist in Maritime Covers) for many of the images and Marcus Castell (specialist in Maritime Books) for bringing it all together.

This page is part of the Historic New Zealand Vessels section of the
New Zealand National Maritime Museum
web site.

Copyright (c)2003-2005
NZ National Maritime Museum

Return to the Ship Index

Enquiries & Research