SS Iberia (1954)

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Postcard of SS Iberia, date unknown
Name: Iberia
Owner: Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company
Ordered: 1951
Builder: Harland and Wolff
Yard number: 1476
Laid down: 8 February 1952
Launched: 21 January 1954
Acquired: 10 September 1954
Maiden voyage: 15 September 1950
In service: 1950
Out of service: 1972
Fate: Scrapped in Kaohsiung, Taiwan in October 1973
Status: Out of service
General characteristics
Class and type: Himalaya-class ocean liner
Tonnage: 29,614 GRT
Length: 718.8 ft (219.1 m)
Beam: 90.1 ft (27.5 m)
Draft: 36.6 feet (11.2 m)
Depth: 36.2 feet (11.0 m)
Decks: 8
Installed power: Twin single reduction geared steam turbines rated 42,500 HP
Propulsion: Twin propellers
Speed: 24.9 kn (46.11 km/h)
Capacity: 1,414 passengers (679 first class, 735 tourist class)
Crew: 711

SS Iberia was a Himalaya-class ocean liner for the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O) built in 1952. Along with her sister ships Himalaya, Arcadia and Chusan, Iberia mainly provided passenger service between the United Kingdom and Australasia.

Iberia was constructed in two years by British shipyard Harland and Wolff and originally provided service between London and Sydney via the Suez Canal, as well as shorter trips in the Mediterranean Sea. Later, Iberia went on to carry passengers across the Pacific Ocean, as far as San Francisco. Iberia eventually ran into numerous problems, including collisions with other ships, frequent machinery breakdowns, and fuel leaks. For this reason, Iberia was taken out of service in 1972, a full year before her sister ships were decommissioned; all of them were scrapped at a breaker in southern Taiwan.

Background and construction

During World War II, several passenger ships of the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company had been sunk carrying troops for the Allies. After the war, four ships were commissioned by P&O to provide replacements for the lost ships. Of these, Iberia was the last to be constructed, ordered in late 1951, a few months after Arcadia. Although of the same class, Iberia and Arcadia were more similar to each other than to the earlier Chusan and Himalaya. Iberia was laid down in Harland and Wolff shipyards in Belfast, Northern Ireland on February 8, 1952. Her name was derived from an earlier ship that was built around 1833, in turn named after the Iberian Peninsula, the westernmost portion of the European subcontinent. Iberia was launched on January 21, 1954, underwent sea trials in early September, and began sailing for P&O on September 10.[1]

Iberia was the second largest (by weight) of the four Himalaya-class ocean liners. She was 29,614 GRT, 718.8 feet (219.1 m) long with a beam of 90.1 feet (27.5 m). Her passenger capacity was roughly 1,414, with 679 in first class and 735 in second (tourist) class. Her crew numbered 711, and cargo capacity was approximately 239,800 cubic feet (6,790 m3). There were twelve main lifeboats, with six on either side of the top deck. Iberia had twin single-reduction geared steam turbines and twin propellers rated at 42,500 horsepower each, that could power the ship at a speed of 24.9 knots (46.1 km/h) with a normal operating speed of 21 knots (39 km/h).[2]


Iberia departed London on her maiden voyage on September 28, 1954. From there, she crossed the Mediterranean Sea and through the Suez Canal into the Red Sea, traversing the Indian Ocean to call at Fremantle, Western Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, and Melbourne, Victoria, before arriving at Sydney in New South Wales, Australia on November 1. Iberia would operate on this route for most of her working life.[3] Like her sister ships, she would also run on shorter routes between ports in the Mediterranean Sea. On 27 March 1956, while on her standard itinerary from London to Sydney and offshore of the island of Sri Lanka, she collided with the tanker SS Stanvec Pretoria, resulting in a gash amidships in her upper port decks, as well as damage to the bow of Stanvec Pretoria. Fortuitously, neither of the ships was put in danger of sinking. It was only after 17 days of repairs at Sydney that Iberia resumed on her normal schedule.[1]

In 1958, the P&O and the Orient Steam Navigation Company ran a joint venture called the Orient and Pacific Line, which extended Iberia's route from Sydney to ports on the other side of the Pacific, as far as San Francisco, California and Vancouver, Canada. Full ownership of Iberia was taken by Orient in May 1960, one year after the ship suffered a grounding accident in the Suez Canal.[4] Along with Chusan, Iberia was remodeled in 1961 by John I. Thornycroft & Company in Southampton, Hampshire, UK ,where she also was fitted with air conditioning, then new on ocean liners. Just a few months after the restoration Iberia had a blackout near Auckland, New Zealand, and in 1962, grounded again in the Suez Canal, damaging her port screw.[4] In 1964, her port stabilizers (a technology pioneered by Chusan) broke down, causing her to nearly roll over. Through the rest of her working life, Iberia continued to suffer one accident after another.[3]

P&O once again took ownership of Iberia in 1966, reducing her passenger capacity slightly to 651 in first class and 733 in second, and increasing the crew to 718.[4] On June 10, 1966, her turbine couplings failed off the coast of Kobe, Japan, and in 1967, in Funchal, Madeira Island, Portugal, she collided with a dock.[4] In 1968, in the same port, Iberia suffered the same blackout incident she had had in Auckland, New Zealand. P&O switched the London-Sydney route to a Southampton-Sydney route, and on her first run from Sydney to Southampton, Iberia caught fire, went through a third electric blackout, had an engine failure, and suffered a fuel leak.[1] At Southampton, she was temporarily laid for repairs. In 1969, she had a second stabilizer breakdown. In 1971, Iberia sailed on a last voyage from Southampton to Sydney. Because of her frequent breakdowns and mechanical problems, Iberia was taken out of service in 1972, an year earlier than Chusan and Himalaya. In October 1973, she was scrapped in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, alongside Chusan.[1][4] Arcadia remained in operation until 1979.[5]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Goossens, Reuben. "SS Iberia". ssMaritime. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  2. "Statistics". The Ships of P&O. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 "SS Iberia". The Ships of P&O. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 "Ship's History". The Ships of P&O. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
  5. "SS Arcadia". The Ships of P&O. Retrieved 2009-12-26.