The Lessing Family's Path Crosses with the Arosa Sky

Wilhelm Lessing immigrated to Canada on the Arosa Sky in 1957. Below is a description of that ship’s history.


Postcard sent from the Lessing family to Germany upon arrival in Canada. The "X" on the image marks their room.

In December of 1938 the firm Messageries Maritime ordered a new addition to its fleet of passenger ships. Intended to carry passengers between France and French Indochina, the new vessel was designed to be luxurious and fast, with dimensions that would enable her to manoeuvre in the river port of Saigon. Her keel was laid on June 15, 1939 at the yards of Societe Provencale de construction Navale of La Ciotat situated in the south of France between Marseilles and Toulon. Work on the hull, designated number 161, did not continue for long. Construction was suspended due to the outbreak of the Second World War in September and did not resume until after the defeat of France in December of 1940.

Although the newly installed Vichy government had suffered major naval losses and needed to re-establish its merchant fleet, construction progressed slowly, hindered according to some reports by resistance sabotage. Whatever the case, it was not until June 8, 1944 that the still unfinished hull was launched on the order of the German Kriegsmarine. She was christened Marechal Petain in honour of the President of Vichy and towed to Port Bouc. The launch came too late to be of any use either to Vichy or to Germany. Two months later, in August 1944, Allied forces invaded the south of France and German soldiers scuttled the ship during their retreat.

The Marechal Petain was apparently not badly damaged and was lying in shallow water where she could be salvaged. However it was not until May 1946 that the hull was re-floated and towed to Toulon where she was dry-docked.

Finally in March 1949, more than ten years after she was originally ordered, the Marechal Petain was finally ready to undergo preliminary sea trials. But first a new name was needed. "Marechal Petain" was too closely associated with the collaborationist Vichy regime and a humiliating occupation. The ship was patriotically re-christened La Marseilles and her launching was a major event.

On August 18 La Marseilles began regular service between Marseilles and the Far East with stops in Port Said, Djibouti, Colombo, and Singapore. She arrived in Saigon on September 5th and then continued on to Hong Kong and Manila.

Nicolo Rizzi, a Swiss-Italian financier had begun assembling a trans-Atlantic passenger line after World War II. He chose the name "Arosa" in honour of the Swiss village where he and his wife had spent their honeymoon. With the purchase of La Marseilles the Arosa line acquired a new flagship. She underwent a three month re-fit at Marseilles and was transformed from a luxury liner to a more utilitarian vessel with accommodation for 64 first class and 834 tourist class passengers

Re-christened the Arosa Sky, the largest and newest liner of the Arosa Line left Marseilles on 10 May 1957 for a cruise to Le Havre and Bremerhaven where she arrived on 16 May. Under the command of Captain Clemens Broering she sailed the next day on her maiden trans-Atlantic voyage via Southampton and Halifax to New York. The passengers included a large number of immigrants as well as refugees from Hungary. The crossing was rough in heavy seas but the ship arrived safely in Halifax on May 24th and then continued on to New York where she arrived on May 26th. The Arosa Sky began her last voyage from Bremerhaven on September 21, 1958, and arrived in New York on the 30th. On her return to Europe, she was sold to the Costa Line.


Back of the postcard sent from the Lessing family to Germany upon arrival in Canada.

On November 8, 1958 the Arosa Sky arrived in Genoa and was handed over to Giacomo Costa fu Andrea, head of the Costa Line. Again the ship underwent extensive re-fitting to make her more suitable for the Caribbean route. At the Cantiera Navali Riuniti del Tirreno shipyards her passenger capacity was increased to 220 in first class and 1032 in tourist class. She was re-christened BiancaC after the owner's daughter and registered in the maritime district of Genoa.

On October 22, 1961, the ship was in the harbor of St. George's, Grenada preparing for a return trip to Naples. A fire onboard resulted in the evacuation of her crew and passengers. The English frigate HMS Londonderry based in Puerto Rico was called in. While towing the remains of the BiancaC the cable snapped and the hull settled in the sandy bottom in about 50 meters of water.

The BiancaC is now the largest shipwreck in the Caribbean and likely the largest wreck in the world that is readily accessible to scuba divers.

A bronze statue "Christ of the Deep" was presented to Grenada by the Costa Line and was erected at the entrance of the port of St. George to commemorate the BiancaC and the assistance provided by the people of Grenada in evacuating and caring for the ship's passengers.

Text and photos primarily from http://www3.sympatico.ca/joachim.sparkuhl