Shaw Savill and Albion’s new build in 1955, the Southern Cross, was a remarkable vessel for a number of reasons.
She was in service from 1955-1972 and was then sold to a succession of new owners, ultimately ending her days at a ship breaker’s yard in Chittagong in 2003. Whilst not the vessel with the leading longevity record, she certainly outlived her younger sister ship, the Northern Star, which sailed on her maiden voyage in 1962. She was the last passenger liner to be operated by Shaw Savill and in 1975, she was sold to ship breakers after persistent problems with faulty engines.
The more successful Southern Cross made four world voyages each year, from Southampton to Australia and New Zealand, outward via South Africa and return via Panama or in reverse order. She could accommodate up to 1,160 tourist class passengers. The route to New Zealand could also be extended right around the world, carrying on across the Pacific via Fiji and Tahiti, to the American West Coast, then back to England via the Panama Canal and Atlantic Ocean.
The proposed design of the Southern Cross was, in modern parlance, a game changer.
Shaw Savill was one of the leading British shipping lines at the time and when it was decided to build a new passenger ship, the company’s dynamic chairman, Mr Basil Sanderson, envisaged that this liner would be an all passenger ship. He requested ship designers create a ship having her engines aft, providing passengers with additional deck space. As a result, time would no longer have to be allowed for cargo handling and the inevitable delays caused by pier availability. In addition, persistent labour difficulties with stevedores and other unionised labour would be eliminated.
The company had great doubts of the design, however, eventually, on June 16, 1952, it was decided to build this innovative liner. Her estimated cost would be £3.5 million and the contract to build her was given to Harland and Wolff Ltd, Queens Island, Belfast. A little more than six months later, on January 28th 1953, the keel of the new liner was laid down on Harland & Wolff’s no 2 slipway. Not having been named yet, she would be referred to as “Ship Number 1498.” Today, of course, by far the majority of cruise liners are built along similar lines to the Southern Cross and for the same reasons...not least the additional space that could be utilised for passengers.