MARGARITA L

MARGARITA L

An extremely rare photo commissioned by John S. Latsis showing the MARGARITA L at Rabigh. Peter Knego collection.

SS MARGARITA L

The MARGARITA L was originally the RMS WINDSOR CASTLE of Union-Castle Line. She was launched June 23, 1959 by Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, at the Birkenhead-based Cammell-Laird shipyard in a greatly publicized ceremony that was covered live on the BBC television network. A severe nosebleed threatened to delay the event, but the calm Queen Mother took control and carried out the christening only one minute past its scheduled time of 1:30 pm. At the time of the ship's launch, she was the largest liner built in England and the largest liner owned by Union-Castle.

The 37,640 gt 785 by 93 foot ship carried 191 first and 591 tourist class passengers attended by a crew of 475. She was driven by twin screws powered by Pametrada geared turbines capable of a 22.5 knot service speed. Her maiden voyage from Southampton to Durban began on August 18, 1960, and was completed in a mere 11 1/2 days. During her second voyage, the WINDSOR CASTLE rendered assistance to the crew of dowager fleetmate, CAPETOWN CASTLE, following an engine room explosion at Las Palmas. In December 1967 she celebrated her 50th voyage, having steamed 700,000 miles and carried 35,000 passengers with no breakdowns or delays. She under went refits in 1967 and 1972, which altered her tonnage to 36,123 and 36,277, respectively.

The great vessel was the flagship of the Union-Castle fleet, but sadly her carreer was short lived. By the 1970s, with the advent of the jumbo jet and economy air travel to South Africa and all parts of the world, Union Castle began to phase out its money-losing passenger services. August 12, 1977 saw her 124th and last sailing from Southampton. It was also the the final mail sailing for Union Castle Line. Her departure from Cape Town on September 6th was attended with great ceremony and she arrived at Southampton on September 19 for the last time.

She was bought by John S. Latsis, the Greek oil and shipping tycoon, and sailed from Southampton on October 3, 1977 for Greece. Renamed MARGARITA L (after one of Latsis' two daughters), her new livery called for an all-white hull and a buff funnel in lieu of UCL's colors of lavender and red, respectively. MARGARITA L was converted at Piraeus for use as an 852 berth luxury accommodation ship at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (port city for Mecca). She was then used as an office and leisure centre for Latsis-owned Petrola Int. S.A. Construction Company at Rabegh. In Feb 1979 she replaced MARIANNA VI (ex-AUREOL) at a special jetty two miles north of Jeddah as the center of a complex with car parks, swimming pools and sports facilities. A helicopter pad was added aft of the former first class Promenade Deck pool area. In 1983 she was dry docked, overhauled and returned for the same use. After 1990 she was removed and towed to Eleusis, Greece and laid up, and occasionally used as private quarters by Mr. Latsis during his visits to Greece. What was most remarkable about the MARGARITA L was how original all of her fittings and appointments remained all the way to the end. Union-Castle silver, crockery, and linens were still used and all the furniture and artwork were left intact. With Mr. Latsis in declining health, the MARGARITA L and three other former British built passenger vessels in his fleet were offered for sale in 1998.

A long campaign to bring her back to Southampton as a preserved hotel ship went nowhere. Finally, with Latsis deceased and his family left with a deterioriating liner languishing off Petrola, she was sold for scrap. Given the name RITA, she raised steam for the first time in over fifteen years and headed slowly to Alang for demolition in April of 2006. Enroute, she broke down and went adrift in the Indian Ocean off Dwarka. The old steam tug sent to her rescue also broke down, but finally mustered enough power to drag the reluctant RITA to the beach, where she arrived on July 20, 2005.

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