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Société Navale Caennaise (Shipping company, France)

Last modified: 2004-07-10 by
Keywords: societe navale caennaise | letters: snc (white) |
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[Societe Navale Caennaise houseflag]by Ivan Sache

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Presentation of Société Navale Caennaise

The Société Navale Caennaise is another example of a shipping company that followed the model of dynastic capitalism, successfully picking up again after the two World Wars, and eventually disappeared during the big horizontal integration that took place in the French shipping sector in the 1990s.

Caen is the prefecture of the department of Calvados, the regional prefecture of the Region of Lower-Normandy and one of the former capital cities of the Duchy of Normandy. Caen is linked to the English Channel by the Canal de Caen à la mer (Canal from Caen to the sea), parallel to the river Orne and has therefore an important and ancient port of commerce, originally established downtown, in the St. Peter's Basin (Bassin Saint-Pierre).

The Société Navale Caennaise was founded by the Lamy family, which kept the control of the company until June 1988. The Lamy were coal merchants, who bought their first ship in 1837. They incorporated the limited partnership company René et Georges Lamy in 1898. In 1903, several smaller shipowners from Caen joined Lamy and the company was renamed Société Navale Caennaise - G. Lamy et Cie. The manager of the company was Georges Lamy, who kept his position until his death in 1951. It was decided that all the ships of the company would bear a mythological name, the first of them being the Thisbé.

Lamy bought steamers in the shipyards of Sunderland (England), so that he owned seven steamers in 1914. All of them were requisitioned by the Navy during the First World War, and only three ships survived the war. In 1920-1924, Lamy bought another five ships in England and his first French ship, the Circé 2, in 1926. The main competitor of Lamy in Caen was Armement Bouet, also founded in 1903. However, Bouet did not recover from the War and sold its five ships to Lamy between 1928 and 1934. That same year, the Lamy company was incorporated as the limited liable company Société Navale Caennaise - Anciennement G. Lamy & Cie, with Georges Lamy as its CEO. The SNC operated 17 ships in 1939. Once again, all these ships were requisitioned by the allied forces or captured by the Axis forces, and only five of them were still usable in 1945.

Georges Lamy progressively appointed his son-in-law, Georges Guillin, as his successor. The SNC could buy six new and two second-hand ships as war damages. Between 1951 and 1960, twelve liberty-ships granted by the Marshall plan were added to the fleet, which were the first ocean-going ships owned by the SNC. The SNC penetrated the Mediterranean market in 1958 and operated 'polythermic' ships, with both refrigerated holds and wine tanks. In 1960, the company expanded to the Indian Ocean and to the coast of Africa, especially for tropical hardwood shipping. Including also chemical, ore and wine tankers, the SNC fleet was of 27 units. The war in Algeria caused a first crisis at the SNC, which had to abandon wine transportation between Algeria and France. The SNC diversified out of shipping activity. Guillin died in 1979 and was succeded by the husband of one of his nieces, Jean-Michel Blanchard.

In 1979, the SNC group was restructured and only four main axes were kept, to the African coast, Mediterranean Sea (via the Sudcargos company) and the Indian Ocean, and wine transportation (via the NTV Leduc company).
One of the main competitors of the SNC, Delmas, raided the SNC in 1989 and bought 29% of the shares of the company. The Bolloré group bought 12% of the shares in order to oppose to Delmas. In June 1988, the Lamy family abandoned its 59% of the shares to Bolloré. In 1992, Bolloré incorporated the SNC to Delmas, which they had absorbed a few years before. The SNC ceased to operate ships, although some of the ships formerly sailing under the SNC houseflag are still sailing under other name and flag.

The most famous of the SNC ships was the unfortunate Niobé, sunk by the German Air Force in the port of Le Havre on 11 June 1940. Only 11 passengers and crew members survived the attack. The number of passengers was not exactly known, and the rumor spread that several Dutch and Belgian Jewish diamond merchants were on board. The Niobé was therefore supposed to have carried a "diamond treasure". The wreck was eventually localized in 2002 but its exact location was not disclosed to prevent desecration attempts.

Source: La Navale website, maintained by former employees of the SNC.

Ivan Sache, 22 November 2003

Description of the flag of Société Navale Caennaise

The flag of the SNC is rectangular, in proportion 1:2, horizontally divided white-red-white (1:2:1) with the letters SNC in white on the red stripe (same source as above).

Ivan Sache, 22 November 2003