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 21st June, 1946 with a capital of a thousand pounds. The formation of the company resulted 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 from the South African end as Henry Mercer promotes the idea of a South African shipping company to partner States Marine in the 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 in Safmarine.


Safmarine establishes an independent office in London, UK, and the first UK board meeting is held in 1961. In the prelude to containerisation, the London office becomes a base for much of Safmarine’s research into the new mode of transport. Safmarine celebrates its 21st birthday in 1967. The 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 and the building of Safmarine’s 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 emerging as the major shareholder.


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

Safmarine celebrates its golden jubilee on 21st June 1996.

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

Safmarine launches its award-winning ‘Containers in the community’ corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. Shipping containers ‘retired’ from the Safmarine fleet are recycled into permanent buildings (school, clinics, etc) that benefit impoverished communities.


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

The company continues to expand the Safmarine brand; Safmarine’s shipping services are marketed in more than 130 countries throughout the world.

Safmarine celebrates 60 years in June 2006.


In 2010, Safmarine intensified its focus on the high-growth, high-potential emerging markets of Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Sub-Continent.

And in 2011, Safmarine became the first in the industry to offer mobile e-business solutions. Safmarine also won a number of important industry and customer awards during 2011.

In February 2012 Safmarine’s head office relocated from Antwerp to Copenhagen.

July 2013 marked the 21st anniversary of Safmarine’s award-winning ‘Containers in the Community’ programme, an initiative that has, over the years won international awards and recognition for providing a positive, practical solution to addressing poverty alleviation in South Africa. 

safmarine stamps background
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