African Lightning

The American South African Line, was founded in 1925 to operate cargo and passenger services from New York to West and South Africa. 

Ten years later, a service was inaugurated to East African ports and Mauritius and in 1948 the company was restyled as Farrell Lines. 

One of the fleet of ships operated by the company in the years following World War II was the C-3-type freighter African Lightning.

Built in 1947 at the Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Company shipyard in Kearny, N.J. and homeported in New York, the 7,974-ton ship was operated by Farrell Lines on the company’s U.S.-Africa trade routes. 

Cargo manifests for the ship show a variety of Africa-bound cargoes including refrigerators, sewing machines, iron fence posts, copper wire, canned vegetables, and glassware, and U.S-bound shipments of manganese, wool, wines, ostrich feathers, dried fruit, and chrome. 

In 1950, African Lightning was briefly time-chartered to transit the Suez Canal to call at ports in the Persian Gulf with a return to New York via the Cape of Good Hope with stops along Africa’s east coastand South Africa to pick-up cargo. 

The ship led a relatively uneventful life until December 1956 when it was berthed at the Farrell Lines’ Brooklyn pier at the Port of New York. 

A chemical explosion at a warehouse on an adjacent pier not only destroyed that pier apart, but came close to engulfing both the African Lightning and another Farrell freighter, African Grove, tied up nearby.  

The seriously injured marine superintendent and three dockworkers braved the flames and cut the mooring lines with fire axes allowing the ships to pull away from the dock. 

The four men received commendations from Farrell Lines and the port authority for their heroic actions.

African Lightning also briefly sailed in July 1963 on a service between the U.S. Great Lakes and west Africa. 

In addition to its cargo operations, Farrell Lines also had a pair of passenger liners in its fleet, but the decision was made in 1965 to concentrate on its cargo operations. 

Over the next decade, the company expanded into service on the  U.S.-Australia cargo routes in the 1970s and, in 1978, purchased U.S-flag American Export Lines. 

Increasing competition, shifting trade patterns, and financial troubles shrank the size of the company and, by 1991, the company’s entire fleet consisted of only four ships serving the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf. 

Nine years later, Farrell Lines’ remaining operations were sold to P&O Nedlloyd. 

After several years in lay-up, the tired African Lightning was sold for scrap to a Spanish shipbreaker in 1973.