Our history

From modest beginnings in 1946 in South Africa, to a global shipping company spanning the seven seas, we’ve had a long and glorious history. We invite you to embark on a fascinating time travel journey with us through these pages.

A proud heritage


South African Marine Corporation (Safmarine, for short) is formed on 21June 1946, with capital of just a thousand pounds.

The company springs from a partnership between Henry Mercer, the president of the American company States Marine, and Dr. Hendrik van der Bijl, a well-known South African industrialist. Dr van der Bijl is the driving force at the South African end, while Henry Mercer promotes Safmarine as a partner to States Marine in its USA-South Africa trade. Control of the company is in the hands of the US shareholders.


The first Safmarine ship, the South African Merchant, is launched in December 1954. In 1959, the South African Development Corporation (IDC) acquires shareholding control of Safmarine.


Safmarine establishes an independent office in London, UK, and the first UK Board meeting is held in 1961. As containerisation begins to revolutionise global trade, the London office becomes the base for much of Safmarine’s research into the new mode of transport.

Safmarine celebrates its 21st birthday in 1967, by which time its fleet has grown to 26 ships and still includes the three Victory ships purchased when the company was founded.


One of the most significant developments of the 70s is the advent of containerisation in South Africa. Safmarine is part of this development and builds its first container ships.


The IDC sells its shares in Safmarine. A new holding company, Safmarine & Rennies Holdings Limited (Safren), is formed in 1984, with the South African life assurer Old Mutual as the major shareholder.


Safmarine enters the international shipping arena in 1991, when it acquires a strategic 49% shareholding in Belgian shipping line CMB-T. Full ownership of CMB-T is finalised in 1996, when Safmarine Container Lines NV is registered in Belgium.

Safmarine celebrates its golden jubilee on 21 June 1996.

 The Maersk Group acquires the trading name Safmarine and its liner shipping interests in 1999.

Safmarine launches its award-winning Containers in the Community corporate social responsibility programme. Decommissioned shipping containers from the Safmarine fleet are recycled into permanent buildings, including schools and clinics for poor communities.


The Group acquires the liner shipping and MPV interests of Torm Lines in 2002. Torm’s MPV/Breakbulk activities are integrated into the Safmarine brand.

The Safmarine brand continues to grow and, by the time Safmarine celebrates its 60th anniversary in 2006, the company’s shipping services are marketed in more than 130 countries across the globe.


In 2010, Safmarine intensifies its focus on the high-growth, high-potential emerging markets of Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent.

The following year, Safmarine becomes the first company in the industry to offer e-business solutions, and wins a number of important industry and customer awards.

In February 2012, Safmarine’s head office is relocated from Antwerp, Belgium to Copenhagen, Denmark.

By July 2013, Safmarine’s award-winning Containers in the Community programme has been running for 21 years. The initiative has won international awards and recognition for providing a positive, practical solution to alleviating poverty in South Africa.

Present day

Safmarine is one of the world’s leading shipping lines. It specialises in helping customers ship to and from Africa and West Central Asia, but its expertise encompasses the entire globe.

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