Last modified: 2013-07-13 by ivan sache
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House flag of Fabre - Image by Ivan Sache, 27 June 2004
The Fabre family, originanting from La Ciotat, was involved in trade and shipping in the Mediterranean Sea and to the West and East Indies since the 15th century. Cyprien Fabre (1838-1896) founded in 1868 the Société Cyprien Fabre et Cie; he bought a
few sailing ships for the service of his trade posts in West Africa.
Interested in steam navigation, which was still controversial at the time, Fabre purchased in the next ten years one paddle ship and ten screw-propelled ships. The company developed its African line and tramping, as well as a scheduled line to Algeria via Spain. In 1879, an attempt to open a transatlantic line failed but a scheduled line was opened between Marseilles and Liverpool.
In 1881, Fabre founded the Compagnie Française de Navigation à Vapeur Cyprien Fabre & Cie and was elected unanimously President of the Chamber of Commerce of Marseilles. Using the subsidies granted by the new French law on shipping, he bought 12 ships in four years, mostly from English shipyards. In 1885, the company operated 16 steamships to Middle-East, Algeria, Brazil and Argentina (specifically, for the transport of Portuguese and Italian emigrants, 1882-1905), New York and
New Orleans, West Africa (line extended in 1902 to Lagos, Nigeria).
Fabre was also involved in the transport of fishers from Saint-Malo to Newfoundland (1887-1906), of pilgrims to Mecca, and of troops to China and Madagascar. When Fabre died in 1896, the company's fleet represented 10% of the commercial ships regesitered in Marseilles. Internationally, the company was known as the "Fabre Line", a 'trademark' that owuld be painted in white letters on the hull of the liners of the company after the Second World War.
In 1914, Fabre owned 11 ships, including eight liners. SS Sant'Anna, commissioned for the transport of troops, was torpedoed in 1918 near
Bizerte (Tunisia) with 2,000 passengers. The company lost another three vessels, SS Libia, SS Provincia and SS Liberia.
At the end of the war, Fabre reorganized its fleet. Suppressed in 1914, the Middle-East line was re-established in 1921 as the Marseilles-Genoa-Syria-Egypt-New York line. Agencies were created in several Mediterranean countries in order to promote leisure cruises. Transatlantic cargo-passenger lines were reorganized via Portugal and Italy, while the African lines were extended to Douala (Cameroon) and Pointe-Noire (Congo).
Alliances with the other companies in Marseilles were deemed
necessary. Fabre first et up joint agencies with Fraissinet. In 1927, the company took a majoritary stake in Chargeurs Réunis. The company was renamed Compagnie Générale de Navigation à Vapeur Cyprien Fabre & Cie in 1933.
In 1931, the Italian government decided a monopoly on the transport of emigrants, which resulted in the suppression of the Fabre line to America. Fabre transferred unused liners to the Messageries Maritimes or reallocated them to the African line. New lines were opened with Fraissinet for the transport of African fruit to France. In 1937, Fraissinet took the control of Fabre, which had abandoned Chargeurs, and set up an alliance with Paquet for a while. This was the only period during which the three big family companies from Marseilles sailed together.
When the Second World War broke out, most activity of Fabre was
concentrated in Africa, with a rapid postal line, a commercial line
resupplying Morocco and Algeria and shipping back their products to
France, and fruit lines with specific ships mostly dedicated to the
transport of bananas.
In 1941, the company was renamed Compagnie de Navigation Cyprien Fabre & Cie. Some ships were lost during the Second World War, whereas the remaining ones had became obsolete. After the war, transatlantic lines were re-established, serving New York and the Gulf of Mexico, and, subsequently (1950), Canada and the Great Lakes. In 1954, new transatlantic lines were established from Le Havre, Bordeaux and Brest.
In 1955, Fabre completed the merging with Fraissinet by forming the
Compagnie de Navigation Fraissinet et Cyprien Fabre, directed by
Roland Fraissinet, Cyprien Fabre's grandson. The new company, however, could keep only two ships in 1960. In 1965, the
company merged with the SGTM to form the Compagnie Fabre - SGTM, which was ceded by Fraissinet to Chargeurs Réunis.
Maintained under the Fabre house flag, the traditional Fabre lines were complemented with lines fom the other partners of the new company: a fruit line to West Africa, occasionally to Reunion, Indian and Pacific Ocean; a container line to the USA, occasionally to the Great Lakes; a cargo line to the Gulf of Mexico; a line to the Antilles and Guyana (originally a SGTM line); and a line to Morocco (originally a Paquet line).
In 1970, the company owned 16 ships, with less and less profit. The company eventually lowered its flag and sold its last cargo ships, MS Joliette and MS Frontenac, in 1979.
Source: Paul Bois. Armements marseillais - Compagnies de navigation et navires à vapeur (1831-1988), published by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Marseille-Provence [boi03].
Ivan Sache, 14 February 2004
P. Bois [boi03] and many other sources show the flag of Fabre as white with a light blue cross, that is identical to the flag of Marseilles.
Ivan Sache, 27 June 2004