|Laid down:||17 April 1941 (as a C3 Cargo Ship)|
|Builder:||Western Pipe & Steel|
|Location:||San Francisco, USA|
|Launched:||27 September 1942|
|Other names:||Steel Artisan, USS Barnes, HMS Attacker, Castel Forte|
|Status:||Scrapped (24 May 1980)|
|Complement:||1,461 one-class passengers|
For the 1984 cruise ship of the same name, see Sky Wonder.
Fairsky was a passenger ship operated by the Sitmar Line, best known for her service on the migrant passenger route from Britain to Australia from the 1950s to the 1970s. In her later career, she operated out of Australia as a popular cruise ship, before being sold for scrap following a maritime accident in 1977.
Fairsky was laid down in 1941 as a C3 cargo ship named Steel Artisan, but with the entry of the United States into the Second World War, she was requisitioned by the US government before launch and converted to an escort aircraft carrier named USS Barnes. The ship was never to see active service under this name either however, since only three days after launch on September 27 1941, she was transferred under the lend-lease program to the Royal Navy which dubbed her HMS Attacker. HMS Attacker was to see extensive service in the convoy escort role for the remainder of the war, first in the Atlantic and later in the Pacific.
Following the end of hostilities, the vessel was decommissioned in 1946 and sold in 1947 to a US company, which began the process of converting her to a peacetime craft by removing her flight deck and armament.
In 1950 the ship was bought by a company owned by Russian entrepreneur Alexander Vlasov and renamed Castel Forte. Laid up for two years, she was eventually transferred to Vlasov's new company the Sitmar Line, and underwent a major refit which was to launch her new career as a passenger liner. The refit was finished six years later in 1958, and the ship re-entered service under the new name of Fairsky.
By this stage, Sitmar had obtained a migrant contract from the Australian government, and in 1958 Fairsky and her sister ship Fairsea (another converted wartime escort carrier) began their new careers plying the migrant route between Britain and Australia. The flow of immigrants at this time was enhanced by the Australian government's Assisted Migration Scheme, through which British adults could emigrate to Australia at the cost of only ten pounds per head and their children for free.
In 1964 the two ships were joined in this role by a third, the Fairstar (a refitted postwar British troopship). In the low season, the vessels would work as cruise ships operating out of Australia. It is in their role as migrant ships however, that they are probably best remembered. While precise figures are not available, the three ships together were responsible for the transportation of hundreds of thousands of British migrants to Australia from the '50s to the '70s.
With the passage to Australia taking weeks, Sitmar was well aware of the need to provide activities for the passengers. Fairsky was well appointed, with four upper decks including a deep swimming pool in the ship's boat deck and playing courts for tennis and quoits on the game deck. The ship incorporated a large dining facility, two bars, a grand hall, a writing room and a cinema.
The ship also provided frequent entertainment for the passengers. Dinner dances and variety shows were periodically staged (one of the bands which played on the ship was The Seekers on their way to the UK to begin a career which would bring their music into homes all over the world), along with the obligatory mock ceremony (performed by the ship's Italian crew) when the vessel crossed the equator. Children were also catered for, with their own entertainment shows and occasional lessons provided, for example about the geography of their destination country. At the end of the voyage, each child would also receive at random a quality toy provided by the Line free of charge.
Typical highlights of the voyage included the trip through the Suez Canal, where local youths in "bum boats" dived for coins thrown by passengers, and the stop at the Yemeni port of Aden - the only time on the voyage where passengers had the opportunity to leave the ship and stretch their legs. Aden was also a place where passengers could pick up cheap consumer goods from around the world, or products made by the local tourist industry such as rag dolls stuffed with sand or leather wallets with ancient Egyptian motifs. More intrepid passengers could take a taxi trip out of the city to surrounding villages, where they were likely to be mobbed by crowds of poor children begging for alms.
Following the stopover at Aden, the journey would resume as a long uninterrupted voyage to Australia. The ship would first berth at Perth in Western Australia, then travel through the Great Australian Bight to Melbourne, Victoria and finally onto Sydney, New South Wales, dropping passengers off at each point. The trip through the typically rough seas of the Bight would not uncommonly add a high point of excitement for the children on board and a low point - through seasickness - for the adults.
In 1970 Sitmar lost the migrant contract to Chandris Lines, and Sitmar was forced to seek new markets for its fleet. Fairsky continued to ply the England-Australia route until 1974, but in that year, like her sister ship Fairstar, she became a fulltime cruise ship operating out of Sydney.
Fairsky served well in this new role for another three years, but in 1977 suffered a mishap when she collided with an undersea wreck near Jakarta, Indonesia. Temporarily patched up, she continued her trip to Singapore, but when the extent of the damage became apparent it was decided not to make repairs. The vessel was initially to be sold for scrap, but was then bought by a Filippino consortium intent on turning her into a floating hotel and casino ship. Before the conversion could take place however, she was gutted by a fire in November 1978 and consequently sold for scrap, bringing to a tragic end a long and varied career.