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Fabre (Shipping company, France)

Last modified: 2005-02-19 by
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[Fabre house flag]by Ivan Sache


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Presentation of Fabre

The Fabre family, from the city of La Ciotat, was involved in trade and shipping in the Mediterranean Sea and to the West and East Indies since the XVth century. Cyprien Fabre started his career in the company Régis. In 1868, aged 30, he founded his own Société Cyprien Fabre et Cie and bought a few sailing ships for the service of his trade posts in West Africa.
Fabre was rapidly interested in steam navigation, then still controversial, and 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).
Beside its traditional activities, Fabre was also involved in the transport of fishers from Saint-Malo to Newfoundland (1887-1906), the of pilgrims to Mecca, and of troops to China and Madagascar. When Fabre died in 1896, his company represented 10% of the fleet based in Marseilles.
Around 1900, the company started to be known internationally as the Fabre-Line. This 'trademark' was 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. SS Libia, Provincia and Liberia were the three other vessels lost by the company during the war. At the end of the war, the fleet of the company was reorganized. The Middle-East line, suspended in 1914, was reopened 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 and the African lines were extended to Douala (Cameroon) and Pointe-Noire (Congo).

However, alliances with the other companies in Marseilles were necessary. Fabre and Fraissinet opened joint agencies. In 1927, Fabre took a majoritary stake in Chargeurs Réunis. The company was renamed Compagnie Générale de Navigation à Vapeur Cyprien Fabre & Cie in 1933.
The Italian government set up a monopoly on the transport of emigrants and the Fabre line to America was suppressed in 1931. The liners no longer used were ceded to the Messageries Maritimes or reallocated 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 deveoted 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 reopened to New York and the Gulf of Mexico, and later (1950) to Canada and the Great Lakes. In 1954, transatlantic lines were opened from Le Havre, Bordeaux and Brest.

In 1955, the merging with Fraissinet was completed, forming the Compagnie de Navigation Fraissinet et Cyprien Fabre, directed by Roland Fraissinet, Cyprien Fabre's grandson. However, the crisis was not stopped and the company 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.
All operations were reorganized but the traditional Fabre lines were preserved under the house flag of the company and complemented with lines fom the other members of the new company. Those lines were 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 but was less and less profitable. The last cargo ships, MS Joliette and Frontenac, were sold in 1979 and the house flag of the company was definitively lowered.

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


House flag of Fabre

The flag of Fabre is white with a light blue cross, that is identical to the municipal flag of Marseilles.

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, 27 June 2004

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